Suppose a genie offered you the following deal.

In return for $20, the genie will grant you a 73% chance of improving your life in a meaningful but non-specified way. You don't know if the potential improvement will come in the form of your career, health, personal relationships, or happiness in general. The genie promises that the benefits to you - should there be any at all - will probably far exceed the value of your $20.

To sweeten the deal, the genie says it will take 2-3 hours to transfer the benefits to you. But to make that process as pleasant as possible, the genie says you have an 88% chance of liking or even loving the transfer process itself. You can do the transfer whenever you want, on your preferred schedule. If you are one of the 12% who doesn't enjoy the process, it will be no worse than, for example, watching a movie you don't enjoy. And you can stop the transfer at any point without penalty. But you don't get your $20 back.

You still look unconvinced, so the genie further sweetens the deal. He says that after the benefits have been transferred to you, you will have the power, for no extra cost, to extend the same unspecified basket of benefits (with a 73% chance of success) to a person of your choice.

Let's say for the sake of the hypothetical situation that you somehow know with certainty there is no trick involved.

Here's the summary of the deal:
  1. You pay the genie $20
  2. There is a 73% chance your life improves in a meaningful way.
  3. The transfer of benefits takes 2-3 hours.
  4. There is an 88% chance you will enjoy the transfer itself.
  5. You can quit the transfer any time you want.
  6. If you don't enjoy the transfer, the worst case is that you are bored for 3 hours.
  7. There is no trick or hidden downside, and somehow you know that for sure.
Would you take the deal? Remember, there is no hidden downside. It is simply $20 in exchange for a high likelihood of getting meaningful benefits to your life that are worth far more than what you paid.

My hypothesis is that some people - perhaps many - will decline the genie's offer even knowing there is no trick involved.


My new book is called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. It has the highest percentage of 5-star reviews of any book I've written.

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Jan 14, 2014
Just where did you get the 73% and 88% numbers from?
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
I'm guessing there is a 93% chance that this genie writes the contracts for cell phone companies.
Jan 14, 2014
Curse you magic beans! Stupid genie!
+37 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that your book costs about $20 and takes about 2-3 hours to read. Am I close?
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
BTW...has anyone seen the prices of movie theatre popcorn and snacks?
Jan 14, 2014
I'm far too conditioned with "there's no such thing as a free lunch" to believe the claims. Hypothetically, if I knew there was no catch, sure, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But it would never happen practically.

In the most popular lottery in my area, the 6/49, you have a 1 in 14,000,000 chance of hitting all six numbers. At $2 a ticket, I made it my obligation to buy a ticket whenever the value built up to $28 million. It was really the responsible thing to do: the odds are in my favor financially. But now they've tacked on a couple of $1 million prizes and increased the price to $3 per ticket. Now I never buy lottery tickets (the pot hasn't grown to $42 million in years, if ever). But everyone else does.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
Why wouldn't anyone go for it? People easily plunk down $20 on lottery tickets or scratch off games with far worse odds. You can easily spend $20 on a bucket of fried chicken nowadays. So for the same price, you have a better than even chance of some sort of positive results with no downside other than the $20 as sunk cost.
Jan 14, 2014
I think the fact your leaving out is real world context. Inmare identified the weak link.

Yes if there was only 1 Genie offering this deal it would be too good not to take. Similarly, if you were the only person to have ever written a book for life improvement purposes, then sure it would be stupid not to read that one book.

People might not be turning down the genie for nothing (as your example suggests). They may be turning him down for a better offer somewhere else.

the fact is there are more "offers" to improve your life (books or otherwise) than there are hours in a lifetime.
Jan 14, 2014
I think most people could improve their lives for free but they don't. A few examples: public libraries, free ebooks (Project Gutenberg), free online courses (Stanford's CS curriculum), etc.

The problem is most people are lazy and want instant gratification, so they aren't willing to invest time or money in a delayed reward. And after all, $20 buys a Big Mac meal and a couple DVD's - things with predictable and instant rewards. So the reason why the genie loses is because at the $20 price point the genie is competing with WalMart and McDonald's - and those companies have figured out the magic formula for slurping up all the $20 bills that are circulating better than any other entity on Earth.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
As a more or less rational person I would be skeptical of the whole genie thing and based on the adage 'if it sounds too good to be true...' I would decline the offer. On the other hand, I bought and did enjoy your latest book!
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
There are 10.000 genies every year promising that and I know the overwhelming majority will not be honest (or at least the result for me will not be positive despite their claims). I am an outsider who is not in the genie rating business.

This influences the math for me.

[You would turn down a 73% chance of benefit, at a cost of $20, because the world offers unrelated options that have worse odds? -- Scott]
Jan 14, 2014
I'm sure lots of people would turn down the choice, I've often read that people tend to weigh loss more heavily than they appreciate gains, so the meaningful gain would have to compare very favorably to the loss of $20.

Of course promising a 73% success rate is pretty fantastical, I would say bordering on a religious claim, especially when combined with the term 'meaningful but non-specific'. If someone were to offer me such a deal I would be very skeptical.

As a side note, I personally think that giving $20 to a charity (almost any charity) would improve the life of the giver by an amount exceeding nearly any $20 worth of consumption, but that's just my opinion.
+20 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
Joiner's dillemma, looser choice. What next? Wanker's alternative?

[I'm laughing because that's literally on my list of potential topics. -- Scott]
Jan 14, 2014
[Already answered. Only positive and generally glowing reviews from professionals. But true book reviews are somewhat rare these days. These days the professionals are more likely to simply describe the book without much of an opinion. -- Scott]

Yes, I know, and thank you for your responses. Perhaps I ask that question too often, but IMHO you go on too much about your new book here (the last time was less than two weeks ago) and, well, I find it hard to beleive that no book reviewer worthy of the title has come down on your book. Rational, intelligent folks come down on two sides of all sorts of issues, why not on the value of your book?

[That's actually an interesting question. Even more interesting is that as far as I can tell 100% of readers who read each page from the beginning, in order, enjoy it. The few bad reviews signal in their write-up that they skimmed the material or didn't read it at all. (For example, one review says I'm telling him what veggies to eat. That would be a wrong impression that one would only get from skimming.) Skimmers don't like it because skimming doesn't work for this particular material. In this case, the art is in the connecting tissue. It's written using my hypnosis background to have an entirely different impact on the reader who reads it in order from the first page. And the impact should be even stronger for those who finish in one day. So one hypothesis is that I set out to design a book that would have universal appeal (the first time I have tried that) and somehow inexplicably succeeded. . -- Scott]
Jan 14, 2014
brian_e, you win the Sherlock award today. Scott's book is what this is all about. I'm surprised it was this transparent.

For the record, I *did* purchase and read the book. It was good and I too give it a positive review. Besides been good for a significant portion of the general public, it could be a manual for how to get by in life for those with HFA or Ashberger's Syndrome.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
So you're saying we should buy your book then?

[Of greater interest to me is understanding why people do what they do. In the long run that has more value than selling a few more books. -- Scott]
Jan 14, 2014
I'd attempt to give the genie $80 and hope for roughly three benefits.
Jan 14, 2014
And to answer your question yes I would take the deal, but $20 doesnt mean that much to me now. I suspect if you had asked me the same question 20 years ago I would have thought twice and maybe said no. Perhaps this question should be modified to ask folks how much theyd be willing to pay for this deal in relation to their weekly income.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
I don't trust there's no trick b/c you're making up the scenario and you are manipulative. But, if I KNEW there was no trick, I'd take the deal but would like to give it to my husband b/c I think that he could use the possible benefit more than me and if his life was improved, mine should naturally improve (unless the genie/universe thinks that getting rid of me would improve his life - d'oh!)
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
You talked me into it. I've "invested" more with a lesser chance of happiness.
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