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Counterfactuals are thoughts about alternatives to past events, that is, thoughts of what might have been. This article provides an updated account of the functional theory of counterfactual thinking, suggesting that such thoughts are best explained in terms of their role in behavior regulation and performance improvement. The article reviews a wide range of cognitive experiments indicating that counterfactual thoughts may influence behavior by either of two routes: a content-specific pathway which involves specific informational effects on behavioral intentions, which then influence behavior and a content-neutral pathway which involves indirect effects via affect, mind-sets, or motivation.
What Does Newcomb's Paradox Teach Us?
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In Newcomb's paradox you choose to receive either the contents of a particular closed box, or the contents of both that closed box and another one. Before you choose, a prediction algorithm deduces your choice, and fills the two boxes based on that deduction. Newcomb's paradox is that game theory appears to provide two conflicting recommendations for what choice you should make in this scenario.
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Two envelopes problem
In contrast, the closest-world interpretation of counterfactuals e. Lewis a [ 3 ] assigns truth values to all counterfactual sentences, regardless of the logical form of the antecedent. We show that every imaging operation can be given an interpretation in terms of a stochastic policy in which agents choose actions with certain probabilities. This mapping, from the metaphysical to the physical, allows us to assess whether metaphysically-inspired extensions of interventional theories are warranted in a given decision making situation. It has long been recognized that Bayesian conditionalization, i. For example, patients would avoid going to the doctor to reduce the probability that one is seriously ill; barometers would be manipulated to reduce the likelihood of storms; doctors would recommend a drug to male and female patients, but not to patients with undisclosed gender, and so on. Yet the question of what function should substitute for P x y , despite decades of thoughtful debates [ 6 , 7 , 8 ].
Causal Decision Theory
Subjective expected utility SEU theory is a prescriptive theory of decision making that grew out of economics. The translation of economic concepts to medicine has a number of problems. Although SEU can assist with overcoming some of these problems, the value of SEU is primarily in helping the decision maker to structure the decision. Key concepts in SEU are decision making under risk, utility, and probability. These concepts will be briefly described first.
It maintains that an account of rational choice must use causality to identify the considerations that make a choice rational. Given a set of options constituting a decision problem, decision theory recommends an option that maximizes utility, that is, an option whose utility equals or exceeds the utility of every other option. The probabilities depend on the option. Causal decision theory takes the dependence to be causal rather than merely evidential. The literature on causal decision theory is vast, and this essay covers only a portion of it. Suppose that a student is considering whether to study for an exam.