Predictable Identities: 16 – Newcomblike, Part II

This entry is part 16 of 27 in the series Predictable Identities

A super-predictor millionaire child may seem like a fanciful example, but the general principle of Newcomb’s problem applies to almost every social interaction. People do nice things for you if they predict you are trustworthy, and the only way to be predicted as trustworthy is to be so: leave the cash, work hard, maintain the apartment.

Why not just deceive people? Lying is hard. People put significant cognitive resources into reading your mind, from processing your uncontrollable microexpressions to explicitly simulating your behavior. They also do so as a group, sharing information about your reputation. Conscious deception requires keeping track of two separate stories about your intentions. This imposes an extra cognitive burden when you are already facing a lot of combined brainpower that’s trying to predict you.

One way to lessen the effort of deception is to keep track of only one version — the wrong one. Self-deception is indispensable in social situations, believing yourself to be smarter, better informed, more talented and moral than you really are so that other people treat you as a smart, informed, talented and moral. But for self-deception to successfully affect people’s predictions about you, it must not leak into your conscious awareness. You must sincerely believe you will leave the cash on the ground at least until the child disappears.

If you make it too hard for people to predict you well, you will not be presented with Newcomblike opportunities in the first place. The child wouldn’t offer you money if they couldn’t hack your phone to study you. You won’t get the job offer if you refuse to drink at the networking event and “get to know each other”. The reason I write personal things on the internet every week is to make it easy for faraway strangers to predict my thoughts and values, and to occasionally offer me nice things.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 15 – Newcomblike, Part IPredictable Identities: 17 – Midpoint Review >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog,, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.


  1. It’s interesting.

  2. Thanks for Sharing this type of Article, its help full for us.

  3. Love how this ties back to part 3 about prisoners dilemmas.

    You want to present yourself as someone other people can cooperate with repeatedly, but also as someone that cannot easily be exploited. In most situations this will lead to some tit-for-tat-like strategy.

    As you touched upon in part 3 sometimes you can do better than that when the people in your enviroment are exploitable and let you defect without repercussions. But if you are in an enviroment in which everybody is a good predictor (and this is common knowledge) ‘cooperate’ can become the best strategy even in single prisoners dilemmas because of Hofstadters Superrationality.