Reacting to Inadequate Data

Two Scenarios

Alice must an­swer the mul­ti­ple-choice ques­tion, “What color is the ball?” The two choices are “Red” and “Blue.” Alice has no rele­vant mem­o­ries of The Ball other than she knows it ex­ists. She can­not see The Ball or in­ter­act with it in any way; she can­not do any­thing but think un­til she an­swers the ques­tion.

In an in­de­pen­dent sce­nario, Bob has the same ques­tion but Bob has two mem­o­ries of The Ball. In one of the mem­o­ries, The Ball is red. In the other mem­ory, The Ball is blue. There are no “times­tamps” as­so­ci­ated with the mem­o­ries and no way of de­ter­min­ing if one came be­fore the other. Bob just has two mem­o­ries and he, some­how, knows the mem­o­ries are of the same ball.

If you were Alice, what would you do?

If you were Bob, what would you do?


More ques­tions to pon­der:

  • Should they do any­thing at all?

  • Should Alice and Bob act differ­ently?

  • If Alice and Bob could cir­cle more than one color, should they?

  • Would ei­ther an­swer change if the op­tion “Green” was added to the choice list?

  • If the ques­tion was fill-in-the-blank, what should they write?

  • If Bob’s mem­o­ries were of differ­ent balls but he didn’t know which ball was The Ball, should his ac­tions change?

  • If Alice and Bob could co­or­di­nate, should it af­fect their an­swers?

Fur­ther Discussion

The ba­sic ques­tion I was ini­tially pon­der­ing was how to re­solve con­flict­ing sen­sory in­puts. If I were a brain in a vat and I re­ceived two si­mul­ta­neous sen­sory in­puts that con­flicted (such as the color of a ball), how should I pro­cess them?

Another re­lated topic is whether a brain in a vat with ab­solutely no sen­sory in­puts should be con­sid­ered in­tel­li­gent. Th­ese two ques­tions were re­duced into the above two sce­nar­ios and I am ask­ing for help in re­solv­ing them. I think they are similar to ques­tions asked here be­fore but their re­la­tion to these two brain-in-a-vat ques­tions seemed rele­vant to me.

Real­is­tic Scenarios

Th­ese sce­nar­ios are cute but there are similar real-world ex­am­ples. When asked if a visi­ble ball was red or green and you hap­pened to be un­able to dis­t­in­guish be­tween red and green, how do you in­ter­pret what you see?

Ab­stract­ing a bit, any in­put (sen­sory or oth­er­wise) that is in­dis­t­in­guish­able from an­other in­put can re­ally muck with your head. Most op­ti­cal illu­sions are tricks on eye-hard­ware (soft­ware?).

This post is not in­tended to be clever or teach any­thing new. Rather, the topic con­fuses me and I am seek­ing to learn about the cor­rect be­hav­ior. Am I miss­ing some form of global in­put the­ory that helps re­solve col­lid­ing in­puts or miss­ing data? When the data is in­ad­e­quate, what should I do? Start guess­ing ran­domly?