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LostInParadise's avatar

Can you come up with a better story to go along with the unexpected hanging paradox?

Asked by LostInParadise (18290 points ) November 24th, 2012

If you are not already familiar with it, here is the unexpected hanging paradox for your erudition and evelasting frustration.

I prefer the version of the paradox where a teacher says that a quiz will be given some day in the next week, but the teacher does not say what day it will be. What I liike about this is that it can be given a practical twist. If the students know the day of the quiz then they can cram for it the night before. I have never seen this version of the paradox expressed in that way. I think that talking in terms of something that can have consequences gets rid of a lot of nonsense like talking about the meaning of the word surprise

I have been trying to think of an even better story with a practical advantage of having knowledge of the event. I have not come up with anything that I like. Can you think of something?

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12 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

A watched pot never boils.

ETpro's avatar

Now I know how Schrödinger’s woebegotten cat felt when confined in that cursed box.

starsofeight's avatar

It is a wrong turn on the interstate of expectation: where a person uses anticipation rather than logic. Only the day would be left up in the air; the hanging was a given, and should not come as a surprise.

I am, however, reminded of a story from the old Twilight Zone TV series in which a judge goes to a barber only to find that the man giving him a shave is a released criminal bent on vengeance. The judge anticipates death by straight razor to such an extreme that he actually dies of a heart attack. The released convict had all the satisfaction of revenge with none of the unnecessary red tape.

flutherother's avatar

I give you two envelopes and say that there is a surprise in one. If the envelopes are marked 1 and 2 and must be opened in order then the surprise cannot be in the second one and must be in the first. If it must be in the first then it isn’t a surprise.

If the envelopes aren’t numbered then either could contain the surprise.

LostInParadise's avatar

In the altered version that I gave of students trying to determine on what day to cram for the test, assuming that they will only be willing to do this once, I can remove the paradox. Students can pick a day at random and have a one in five chance of picking the right day. If a student does not make any choice then the student also has a one in five chance of cramming on the right night in the case that the test is on Friday. Not deliberately choosing is equivalent to choosing the last day.

My problem with the original paradox is that it seems like a word game. What difference does it make when the hanging is to take place? If I were the prisoner, for my own peace of mind, I would assume each day that the hanging would take place the next day. That way, each day that it does not take place is a kind of reprieve. It is like that old saying about lving each day as if it is your last.

kitszu's avatar

@LostInParadise Agreed (a word game, a riddle). It reads like a mathematical riddle, but I think it’s one of those “duh” kind of riddles. The ones wrapped in so much ‘background’ noise, that it tricks you into believing that there is more to think about when the answer is actually contained in the first and last sentences of the riddle itself. The judge tricked the convict into overthinking the words used in the sentencing, so that the convict could only conclude that he wouldn’t be put to death. Therefore, whenever they came for him, it would be a suprise.

starsofeight's avatar

Must it only be viewed from the prisoner’s point of view? What if the matter is viewed from the judge’s point of view? Is it a logic question, or a question of mild misuse of power? The judge fulfilled his duty, plus he got a laugh in the process.

Just from the prisoner’s point of view, the question directs the thinker away from a view that is more inclusive.

WyCnet's avatar

My take on this was to tell a class there is a physics test one day next week, and another the following week. (Taken from my notes on how to be loved by students) .

WyCnet's avatar

@ETpro : Last time I looked the cat was alive, well and waiting to be fed.

ETpro's avatar

@WyCnet And probably looking to adopt a human who wouldn’t risk its life just to push forward a quantum paradox.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@ETpro @WyCnet That cat has been in the box since 1935!

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