Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Philosophical Game

Alright, here's a thought experiment/game:

There are 50 of "you" in a room. How do you catch someone's attention?

Here's how my thought process went:

(Come to think of it, after re-reading the question, I think the more obvious interpretation is that you're trying to make yourself stand out in a crowd of people very similar in type to you - how does one hipster band stand out at SXSW? etc. But I think I like it better as a question when there are 50 copies of the same person standing around)

Immediately I considered the odds - the odds of simply catching attention when there's 49 other people with the exact same task are miniscule, so you've got to do something extreme risk-reward: something that has a high probability of working, but only if the person whose attention you're trying to catch is the right type of person. The idea being that, if you're in a room with 49 other people, if you're screaming at the top of your lungs you'll at least be noticed - if the person rewards quiet behavior, you're competing with 49 other people...

I then consider the fact that, since it's a room of me's, there's gonna be 49 people doing the exact same thing, so this would mean there's a room of 50 screaming people almost immediately, which would mean that the optimal "make yourself stand out" strategy is to not make yourself stand out, i.e., stand quiet and not do anything; I then realize that every one of the 50 of me is going to come to this exact conclusion, so if this logic worked out then everyone would be fluctuating between screaming/violence and silence/inaction, which is obviously an impossibility theorem on the strategy being the optimal one; then I realize (the obvious) that whatever I can think of to do, 49 other people will also be doing. The first part of this thought-chain takes about 10 seconds, the next 20 seconds is spent going over my logic and trying to figure a way out of it, a way out that no other me could possibly think of (?)...and then it hits me in a flash:

You run out the door. Or, at least, I do. Whichever one of me figures it out first. There's not a solution, I think - the only way to win is to do something that no other "you" can replicate, and there's nothing you can do that you can't replicate - unless it's something that can't be replicated, like being the first at something...

The beautiful thing about this solution is that, even if it's not correct (and I have to think about it, there's some problems with it - you can be the "first" at anything, the idea is just to be first at something that will catch your audience's attention, which could technically be anything...and with running out the door, if that's not what catches their attention, then you've shot your chances at being that "first" at anything else, which means a 2% chance of being the first out, tempered by whatever percentage chance there is that leaving will catch their attention puts you at less than 2% - which is less than what your base odds should be, so this shouldn't be an optimal strategy?), it's the one I would do, which means that, were I ever in this situation, doing this would have to be the correct solution, and you'd have to be lucky, because in about 30 seconds there'd be 50 of me rushing out the door, 1st one out wins.

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