[extropy-chat] About ESP, etc.

Benjamin Goertzel ben at goertzel.org
Mon Apr 30 22:11:20 UTC 2007

Nothing to add, but the comments you forwarded seem sensible
to me based on my dim recollection of counting cards at blackjack
too many years ago..


On 4/30/07, Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:
> At 02:49 PM 4/30/2007 -0500, I wrote:
> >I blame science fiction for this absurd counterfactual of an
> >"infallible clairvoyant."
> This comment might have had the unfortunate effect of deterring the
> knowledgeable from further comments that might help disambiguate
> cheaters from psychics in such games. Please don't be put off!
> Meanwhile, I posed the same question to several people with long
> experience studying what's dubbed, in our current partial
> understanding of the phenomena, "the paranormal". Here's one
> response; I'd welcome any comments by gts or Ben or others (but
> knee-jerk, semantically empty cries of BULLSHIT might as well stay at
> home):
> ==============
> Nothing dependent on outside observation of card play can
> disambiguate a psychic from a cheat who's managed to secretly mark
> the cards. This holds for all card games, not just blackjack.
> Aside from this, however, patterns of play depend on what wild (or
> mundane) talent a player is exercising.
> A card-counter, according to most of the card-counting strategies I
> have seen, plays the optimal strategy at all times; sticks the
> minimum bet most of the time and increases it minimally when the odds
> favor winning. Since the optimal strategy is known it can be observed
> that the player is following it; he profits only because he places
> higher bets during his winning streaks. A psychic, on the other hand,
> may get cues that cause cardplay to deviate from the optimal strategy:
> Behavioral clues that a player is a "clairvoyant" who can reliably
> "see through" one thickness of pasteboard:
> -Always buys the "insurance" side-bet if the dealer actually does
> have a hidden blackjack, and never buys it otherwise. [Optimal
> strategy never buys insurance -- lacking inside information, it's a
> sucker bet that increases your overall loss rate.]
> -Never busts when requesting another card. [This may cause him to
> decline a card when the optimal strategy calls for one.]
> -Doubles down whenever his third card brings him to 21, or to a
> number that will beat the dealer's initial hand of 17 or better
> (standard rules require the dealer to stand on such a hand). [This
> will almost certainly produce double-down bets when the optimal
> strategy says otherwise.]
> -Keeps initial bet at a constant level. [Inconsistent with card counting.]
> Less than 100% reliability will turn these absolutes into tendencies,
> while the ability to see more than the very next card (and dealer's
> face-down card) will allow more impressive stunts during play.
> Behavioral clues that a player is a "precognitive" who gets a
> short-term warning only of good or bad outcomes, without details:
> -Bets the lower limit most of the time, but unpredictably raises bet
> to the upper limit, and is always dealt a blackjack when this
> happens. [Inconsistent with card-counting. Over the long run,
> probably also inconsistent with dealer's sanity. I am assuming that
> the precog gets immediate feedback on the outcome of one decision or
> event at a time, and winning on a dealt blackjack is the only
> *immediate* good outcome possible when deciding whether to play another
> hand.]
> -Shows same behavior as clairvoyant with regard to "insurance" bets.
> -Does not show clairvoyant's immunity to busting. (Sometimes the
> sequence of undealt cards is such that you will bust if take a card,
> and lose if you don't. In these cases the precog's good/bad signal
> gives no guidance since it returns "bad" no matter which option he
> considers.)
> -Does not show clairvoyant's knack for knowing when to double-down
> (that decision requires more than 1 bit of information).
> -Will unpredictably stand pat with a poor hand contrary to optimal
> strategy, and wins these hands because dealer busts.
> As in the previous example, less than perfect reliability will turn
> these absolutes into tendencies. For plausible levels of psi talent
> (i.e. comparable to levels seen in controlled experiments), extended
> observation would be needed to identify any of these patterns,
> although even a small edge over the house will allow a player to
> profit consistently in the long term.
> Of course, whether the ongoing stress and distraction of a game of
> chance is consistent with psi operation *at all* is a completely
> separate and open question.
> ===================
> Damien Broderick
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