The first episode of Numb3rs: Season Six reminded me of the hangman’s paradox. Here is a one-day version of the hangman’s paradox:
Suppose you are in a prison and the guard says to you, “You will be hanged tomorrow at noon and it will be a surprise.” You presume that you can’t be surprised since they already told you, so there is a contradiction in what they’ve said. Therefore, you conclude that they can’t hang you and you relax. Next day at noon the guard comes for you, to take you to be hanged, and you are utterly surprised. Oops.
What I do not like about this paradox is that it assumes that you do not know about the paradox. I, on the other hand, imagine that you, my reader, are logical and intelligent. So the moment the guard tells you that you will be hanged tomorrow at noon and it will be a surprise, you realize that the situation depends on what you decide to believe in now. If you decide that you won’t be hanged tomorrow, then you will have a relatively relaxing day today and you will be caught by surprise tomorrow and die. If you decide that you will die tomorrow, then you will have a nerve-wracking day today, but the guard may release you, to save his honor, since you won’t be surprised.
The original hangman’s paradox in which the guard tells you that you will be hanged on a weekday the following week and that you will be caught by surprise, also assumes that you are not aware of the paradox. If you are aware of the paradox, you know that usually guards in this paradox come for you on Wednesday, so you can prepare yourself. Actually, to guarantee your survival, if not your feeling of moral superiority, you can daily persuade yourself to belief that you will be hanged at noon the next day. This way, you will never be caught by surprise. If you are a person who can control your own beliefs, you may be able to save your life.Share: