Number 4 - Thought Experiments

A thought experiment is to propose a situation that may not possibly be feasible, to raise discussion/research about its philosophical consequences. Thought experiments often lead to ground breaking ideas and paradigm shifts. Many occur in sciences but equally as many pop up in sociology, psychology, mathematics and law.

Below are links to many other thought experiments. For this week's resource I want you to choose a thought experiment (not mentioned in this video) and describe in your own words the history/background and implications of this thought experiment, as well as your personal opinion. I have included a few links on where you can find famous thought experiments, but you may also create your own thought-provoking situation. The challenge is on!!


Benjamin Broadbent said...

Not an iPhone (because they suck)
niranjannewlands Jun 4, 2015
What is best for an individual is worst for a group. That is what the Prisoner's Dilemma proves.

The Prisoner's Dilemma is quite famous, but if you already haven't heard of it: here it is.

Imagine you have committed a crime with another person. However, you have been caught by the police, and now you both are in two different cells, with a very clever prosecutor. The prosecutor gives you two options: incriminate your partner or be silent. The prosecutor has also given your partner these two options.

If both of you incriminate each other, you both get 4 years in jail. If one of you incriminates while the other stays loyal, the person who incriminates gets out scot-free while the other gets 6 years. If you both stay loyal, both of you only get 2 years each.

The question is: what is the most logical decision here? You might say it is both staying loyal: since both of them get only 4 years combined, which is better than 6 or 8 years combined. But if you were a single individual, it is better to betray your accomplice: because the two outcomes when you incriminate are 0 years and 4 years, which is far better than 2 years or 6 years if you were silent.

Therefore, logically, both of you would incriminate each other. But then that would be a combined prison time of 8 years, which is the worst possible outcome as a group! Basically, this proves that self-interest is almost always mutually exclusive from common good.

There are lots of real life examples. Here's one:

Imagine Apple, Google and Microsoft's laptops: the MacBook, the Pixel and the Surface (respectively). For an average consumer, it would be good to have them all low price. So the common good is to keep it low price. But if one company increases the price, they are winning over the other two companies because they are getting more profit. So all three companies keep it high price, so that the other companies don't get an advantage. Which makes it a losing situation as a whole.

(I sent an email to the three companies about this but I haven't got a reply yet.)

Or another one: It would be really good if there weren't any countries that had any nuclear weapons. But if that was true, then one country could develop nuclear weapons and terrorise the other countries. So now every country has or is trying to make nuclear weapons, which is the worst situation overall but the best individually.

The traveller's dilemma is almost exactly the same thing, but more open ended. Imagine you and someone else lose your (identical) suitcase after travelling in an aeroplane. The airline manager finds both suitcases and finds and finds two (identical) broken antiques in them. He does not know the true value of the antiques, so he gets you both to write down the value of the antiques (a number between $200 and $10000).

The catch: if you both write the same number, you both get reimbursed with that much dollars. If one person writes a lower number, then both of you get the lower number BUT the person who wrote the lower number gets an extra $200 while the other person loses $200. What is the best number to write down?

In my opinion, this proves that one selfish person can make everyone selfish. This might even explain inflation: it is more logical for one salesman to increase their prices, but I don't know any economics.

(Now I feel tempted to bring two $1 coins to school tomorrow and play this game with Mr. Broadbent and Mr. Dangerfield!)

Benjamin Broadbent said...

sometimes i like to square the hypotenuse
EmilyHollis Jun 2, 2015
I have always contemplated the effects and ideology behind the Chinese Room without actually identifying it as a concept and it's great to see someone has formed one around it. For those of you who are bilingual or lotsoflanguages-lingual, I would presume you understand what minorities and progressions are involved in the formation of languages, and how the most minuscule renditions of languages define the line between English and your other language. In retrospect, having learnt another language can actually prohibit and exclude finer details between the cultures and from this hypothesis, we can identify why cultures and communities behave as they do. For those who only speak English you may be lost in my argument, but try to imagine from my perspective my debate. Cultures are ultimately based on languages, if you are to delve into the deeper psychological roots of the makeup of relativity; we see this through how words convey the 'means to meaning, and for those who listen, the enunciation of truth'. For in many dystopian societies, fictitious or otherwise it is clear that with words there is a gateway to ideas, philosophy, progression, and in it is the reason why many literary works are banned and words are eliminated as they offer a provoking of thought. Not something a conformist society desires in their inhabitants, but something we as thinkers should admire. In context, this actual understanding of a language as opposed to a singular synonymous knowledge of a word which is put into a sentence which is not of much use in the real world is ultimately how we can define Artificial Intelligence as, well, artificial, and exactly how us as humans are so much more complex than that; we contain more than strands of logic collided to produce something which is an illusion of inference yet is simply a word by word phenomenon.

Take, for example, Chinese; I have learnt it since I was born thereabouts, and I can say that I understand Chinese as opposed to containing knowledge on it. In explanation, the understanding of a language is different from knowledge of it in the way that, when you hear the language being said, you process the words in the context of a Chinese native; I generally hear my mum or other people around me who speak it not that I eavesdrop in a pathway dedicated for those who use Chinese in the sense of culture. Languages are all about culture, and understanding a language is being able to immerse yourself in that culture. In opposite to someone who does not understand Chinese I believe they would always be searching for synonyms, parallels to their own tongue in order to comprehend the wording. That is what I did in French last year, and probably why I ended up hating it (don't tell Mr Grimwood).

Benjamin Broadbent said...

Even by the means of talking to friends (yes I have some) about the concept of something they know about yet do not understand is frustrating because they show all signals of understanding it, yet from the view of a veteran of the idea it is obvious to YOU that they do not. Perhaps it is the presence of pride, and humanoid nature conveying spiritualism is what distinguishes artificial intelligence from real understanding. It is this segment of us which allows morality to supersede logic, miracles to occur with faith. It is in hindsight that miracles are achieved through usage of this part of us, and I believe it is also this part of us which contains understanding of a language and not simply knowledge. The ability to submerge oneself in the ideas behind the language, the background, the cascade of history surrounding it. It is something more human about us which bases off the same area as morality, and it is certainly a gift we are provided, as languages and cultures are a symbol of pride and power and this is something AI will never, ever obtain. Knowledge and wisdom are always told by this criteria, and it is what divides us from a robot and from those who deceive.

So if there was a man who had instructions to know Chinese yet did not, in fact understand it he would be overridden by the spirituality of the woman who was conversing with him, and her own knowledge of the language. It is a very interesting topic which branches into those who are bilingual and those are not, and what parallels of opinion occur when deciding the consequences of this paradox.

ps i actually just wrote this comment on the homepage as the ridiculously fabulous creature i am, could you please remove it Mr Broadbent or Mr Lambert thanks :)

Benjamin Broadbent said...

BT Phone Home
BT2015 May 27, 2015
60 second adventures in thought. More like 60 second adventures in awesomeness

For my personal response I am going to make a quick comment on each of the 6 videos. Mainly as to why they are so important and what they have taught us, and then I’ll probably just get more awesome. It happens.

1) Xeno’s Paradox: This one is cool because it makes us thing about the nature of infinity, or more accurately infinitesimals. They are defined as the smallest thing you can possibly imagine, kinda like an opposite infinity. With the exception that it is bigger than zero. Mathematically speaking, Lilly hit the nail on the head that ½ + ¼ +1/8 +1/16….. eventually adds up to 1. It is a geometric series that converges to 1 under an infinite sum of terms. This is why Zenos paradox is really not a paradox, eventually you will get there. An infinite number of terms can add up to a defined value/distance. However, you may be interested to know that ½ + 1/3 +1/4 +1/5 … never converges on anything… it keeps getting bigger Hmmm. Explain that in the context of Xeno and his tortoise.

2) Grandfather Paradox: I see this as a proof that time travel is not possible. If you can arrive at a logically inconsistent situation because you assume time travel is possible, the only conclusion you can make is that it must not be possible after all! It’s kinda like doing some maths and arriving at a statement like 2=5 when solving an equation, the only logical explanation is that the original equation cannot be solved. Wow, Math=Logic=Philosophy. I am still holding out that my Delorean will whisk me away on a Time Travel adventure though, because the Grandfather Paradox does not rule out time travel INTO the future. Mmmmm Robots.

3) Chinese Room: I love it! Question 1. Does it prove that even the most convincing robotic intelligence is still not even conscious? Because it is just following advanced instructions. However this seems to make it clear that our brains (me, you and other humans) aren’t really conscious either, maybe we are just an intricate system of instructions designed by some technition* to follow instructions given certain inputs. Brain surgeons must have this dilemma often. Is the brain something we can one day understand as a ridiculously complex system of neurons interacting or is it something above and beyond physical substance? I’m undecided on if a brain is like a computer or more like an extra-substance, kinda like a soul or spirit.

4) Infinite Hotel: I Love Maths. This clip finishes just short of the reason it became a famous thought experiment. The next level of abstraction is that a coach arrive with people numbered with an infinite amount of irrational numbers… e.g non repeating decimals or PI etc. Hilbert (in his experiment) finds it is impossible to fit them into the hotel!! What does this mean? To sum it up quickly, not all Infinities are the same size. There is a larger amount of irrational numbers then rational numbers. This is only one example. But Hilbert was the first to show that infinity as a number can take on different values in different situations. This seems so weird, because he also proved things like there are the same number of even numbers as whole numbers. What? Surely there is 2 times as many whole numbers. But no. I like Hilbert. I want to stay at his hotel one day.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

5) Einsteins Twin Paradox: This is cool because it has been proven with an experiment. In the 1970’s 2 identical atomic clocks were used in an experiment. Here’s what Wiki has to say:
The Hafele–Keating experiment was a test of the theory of relativity. In October 1971, Joseph C. Hafele, a physicist, andRichard E. Keating, an astronomer, took four cesium-beam atomic clocks aboard commercial airliners. They flew twice around the world, first eastward, then westward, and compared the clocks against others that remained at the United States Naval Observatory. When reunited, the three sets of clocks were found to disagree with one another, and their differences were consistent with the predictions of special and general relativity.
This proved that things that move (not just at really high speeds) observe time slower.

6) Schrodinger’s Cat: This is a classic of Physics. In my Third year university exam at Victoria University I wrote the following passage (and got an A+).I still have the exam.

“(Schrodinger’s Cat) It outlined the fact that with quantum mechanics, the value of a dynamic variable such as kinetic energy or momentum is only known once a measurement has been performed on the system. This caused many to think that quantum mechanics was an incomplete theory. However, this uncertainty is now an integral part of the theory of quantum mechanics, something inherent in all physical systems.”

Put simply, in the world of small particles, you don’t know what you have until you have a look.

Next week I’ll have an awesome explanation of the “Mary and her Room” thought experiment. It is a favourite of mine, and concerns describing the colour red. Is this possible? I hope you have something prepared to present next week!!

Yours barbarically


Benjamin Broadbent said...

I think I contradicted myself, but only in the name of mathematics.
lilly_zhang May 25, 2015
"Some infinities are bigger than other infinities."

Zeno's tortoise paradox was the thought experiment I chose for this topic. I played around with other thoughts, but this one was interesting, mathematically and philosophically, and The Fault In Our Stars (as quoted above), inspired me after I reread it and found this in there (amongst talk of Swedish hip-hop and the abstracted idea of water) which encouraged me over zombie cats, cats with food stuck to them and tennis balls which can go through a wall. Moving on...

"Let us imagine that you are in a race with a tortoise. The tortoise has a ten-yard head start. In the time that it takes you to run that ten yards, the tortoise has maybe moved one yard. And then in the time it takes you to make up that distance, the tortoise goes a bit farther, and so on forever. You are faster than the tortoise but you can never catch him; you can only decrease his lead.

Of course, you just run past the tortoise without contemplating the mechanics involved, but the question of how you are able to do this turns out to be incredibly complicated, and no one really solved it until Cantor showed us that some infinities are bigger than other infinities."

These paragraphs are the ones featured in TFIOS, used to explain the context and paradox.

You (I read that he originally used Achilles for this, but this stands true for most humans) can beat the tortoise, but at the same time, you can't. You can run past him, and win, but while you run up to him, the amount of time and distances grow shorter. One kilometre, say, can turn into less than a millimetres distance, the same way the time taken can change from a day to nanoseconds. The distance between the two (subject and tortoise) grows smaller as the time increases, but if you go into numbers beyond measurement, it can last forever. The infinity between it doesn't stop, as long as everything keeps moving; time, tortoise, man.

The concept of this involves all these infinities. The infinities of smaller distances, shorter times, the distance one moves in comparison to how far another moves. In a mathematical sense, we could chart an infinite graph which shows, over time, the continual but gradual decline of consistency. The numbers, assuming constant speeds and distances, would imply that it is continually divided by one number, whether it be 2 or 33 (infinite choices here! More infinities!) but philosophically, we can just assume that even after we pass that line of indescribable measurements, the infinity will always last. Physically, we can just overtake the tortoise.

One website, while talking about this, raised a good point though. Their example they used was this: 1 = ½ + ¼ + ⅛ + 1/16 + 1/32 + 1/64 ect.

The idea is that an infinite number of numbers adds to a finite number, as they also explained.

“At first this may seem impossible: adding up an infinite number of positive distances should give an infinite distance for the sum. But it doesn’t—in this case it gives a finite sum; indeed, all these distances add up to 1! A little reflection will reveal that this isn’t so strange after all: if I can divide up a finite distance into an infinite number of small distances, then adding all those distances together should just give me back the finite distance I started with. (An infinite sum such as the one above is known in mathematics as an infinite series, and when such a sum adds up to a finite number we say that the series is summable.)”

This explains that you can pass it eventually, after your infinities make something finite, and we know it’s true we can pass a tortoise. The only thing is that the infinity of numbers that stump us grow smaller and smaller and eventually all add up to one finite number, and before you know it, you’ve reached that finite number, whether you’re measuring the distance or time, and overtaken the tortoise.

Benjamin Broadbent said...

Destiny Paradox
natasha_scott May 20, 2015
O.k, this may already exist, and it might not even be a paradox, but I was thinking about this, and I decided to write about it anyways.
I would like to call this the Destiny Paradox, because I'm fabulous that way, and I may confuse myself while trying to explain it, but here goes anyways.
Naturally, I got this idea while watching an American TV show. Don't remember which one, but I was, and I sat there thinking about destiny and fate because they'd been talking about it in said show.
Somehow, from this show, I got an idea about fate and destiny and all that, even though they're basically the same thing.
Fate is where our lives have already been written out for us, and no matter what we do we can't change it.
Let's say for a moment that you believe in fate, whether you actually do or you don't. You accept the fact that whatever happens will already happen, and you sit around and wait for the inevitable.
Then comes along somebody who believes in writing their own destiny. They believe that life wasn't written out for them, that they can do whatever they want and that they have to work to get where they need to be.
They come across the person who believes in fate, and convinces them that they can do whatever they want. The Fate person belives the Destiny person, and gets up off the couch, stops waiting for things to come to him, and works to the best of his ability to get where he wants to be.
But what if that was what fate had intended for him? What if fate had decreed that he would get THERE by doing THIS? And what if the Destiny-believer had, in believing in their own destiny, followed the road of Fate?
Maybe Destiny was given to us to get us moving along the road of Fate, like a nice tasty apple tempting a horse into action? Maybe we had been told that we couldn't escape our Fate, and so everybody just sat around waiting for their Fate? Maybe Destiny was introduced, so we thought we had our own free will and got up and moving, so we would fulfill Fate? What if we were forever stuck on that road, and no matter what we do or say or introduce, we are doomed to march along that road?
Maybe me writing this is Fate, as well, with Destiny hanging around to give that extra push.