Pascal’s Mugging

I was thinking about dumb logic things today.

So, one dumb thing is Roko’s Basilisk. It’s the dumb rationality obsessed nerd thing where the odds of us being in a computer simulation are less good than us being in reality, so we should give money to a loser who promises to build AI god.

The flip side of Roko’s Basilisk is a slightly different yet still dumb bit called Pascal’s Mugging. The idea is that you meet a mugger on the street who demands your wallet. He doesn’t have a gun or anything, so you could easily just walk away. But then, he promises that if you give him your wallet today, he’ll come back tomorrow with twice as much money to give back to you.

Now, anyone with any life experience would understand, intuitively, that this man is never coming back. There is a 0% chance he will return and double your money.

But, there is a certain type of person who would think, what are the odds of him coming back with the money? Pretty low. And so the mugger offers an “even better” deal: he’ll come back with three times the money. Not good enough? How about ten times? How about a hundred? And, when the number promised gets big enough, it becomes “rational” to give the man your wallet, because what if he really does come back with $20 million, and all you lost was $20 for a day? You’d feel pretty stupid if someone else got rich, wouldn’t you?

Much like Pascal’s famous wager, the cost of being wrong is too high, so one may as well become a Christian/give the guy your wallet.

The problem being that a 0% chance remains 0%, even if he says he’ll come back with the contents of the Fort Knox. It doesn’t change things.

But what does one do with that certain strain of contrarianism that says, no, you’re the dumb one for not handing your wallet over? What does one do about those who are invested deeply in the sunk cost of waiting, like Estragon and Vladimir, for a man who is never going to come? Is there a sweet spot of grifting where the promised return on investment is just enough to be tempting but not raise any suspicion? Will a non-sucker actually purchase that ape picture from you for anything resembling the price you paid for it? Is this yet another example of Hamann’s famous dictum that one should look upon logical proofs the way a well-bred girl looks upon a love letter?

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