There is no difference between "the Byzantine generals problem" and "the prisoner dilemma"

Sunday, 04 September, Year 8 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

Consider :

Two prisoners are each given control of a large army composed of perfectly bugless robots and entirely unflinching fanatics who obey every order exactly. Their job is to conquer a town ; their armies together are sufficient for the job, but apart are not - the defenders will butcher one who attacks alone, and then pursue the other one to the ends of the world and butcher his army, too, but allow him to live as a slave.i

If they attack together they will prevail, and feast on fawn and prawn ; but "communication problems" en route could you know... prevent them from reaching an understanding. This totally happens, irl.

Three US generals are captured by the "terrorists". This happens all the time, because the US is made of pussies, then holds periodic contests of faggotry and calls the winners "generals". They are offered a very simple deal (as per the von Flondor doctrine) : either they confess to the US being a rogue state, the US government being a criminal entreprise and the US president chief conspirator, guilty of genocide, simple murder, mass rape, simple rape, arson and jaywalking so he can be hanged by his own guts ; or else they are held in detention indefinitely.

One confessing is sufficient - the others will be deemed co-conspirators and hung together with Bahamas. So this is a dilemma, you realise, or how as they call it in the US a "no brainer".

These are both the same thing ; they are presented as separate things because - let's quote Rochester :

Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain, stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down into doubt's boundless sea where, like to drown, books bear him up awhile, and make him try to swim with bladders of philosophy. In hopes still to o'ertake th' escaping light, the vapour dances in his dazzled sight till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night. Then old age and experience, hand in hand, lead him to death, and make him understand, after a search so painful and so long, that all his life he has been in the wrong. Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies, who was so proud, so witty, and so wise.

When the witty, wise "reasoning" engine wishes to pretend at issue is a matter of procedure, it likes to present "the problem" in terms of the Byzantine generals - conveniently forgetting that the Byzantium is already right here, and its generals as well. Apparently calling mongoloids by their ancient name is improper, but calling pussies by some historical contrivance is a-ok. You know how it goes.

Otherwise, when that same "reasoning" engine wishes to pretend at issue is a matter of it being shitty (oh, but it's not its fault, of course - human fallibility! weakness! etc!) then the "problem" becomes the "dilemma". You know, of prisoners. The difference is intended to propose, but not assume the proposition, that what wasn't optional before becomes optional now, and wouldn't you like to eat the rules of the Universe for its own benefit ? Hm ? You don't want to be like those bad prisoners of no moral values and internal rectitude, yes ? You're not a prisoner, ergo, you will when the time comes magick Shannon's law away so that he doesn't have to lift a finger or get off the couch. It's only fair!

There is no difference between these two. Their only meaning is simply : act always from cause ; and never towards imagined purpose. This because the future is not merely unknown but altogether uncertain, and this uncertainity can never be resolved. Ever, no matter what you do.

There are, of course, those who would pretend otherwise.

Merely for safety, after fame we thirst, for all men would be cowards if they durst.

  1. You know, the sort "independent" and "strong" women always end up reducing themselves to - sniffing used toilet paper in cum-soaked glory hole rooms. []
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36 Responses

  1. The difference, at least in the schoolbook versions of these problems, is that, unlike the prisoners, the generals can... talk.

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    How ?

  3. Like so.

  4. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    This is entirely an exercise in self-delusion. The generals can "talk" just as much as the prisoners can "talk". Take for an instructive example the John Gotti - Sam Giancanna "talk" consisting of the feds playing for the latter a recording of the former.

    There is no talk in nature. Just "talk".

  5. Lamport's original observation concerned specifically the channel capacity (in the Shannon sense) of talk (vs "talk") that is required for the generals to have a sporting chance.

  6. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    Except there also isn't such a thing as a "sporting chance" in nature either.

    And the pretense to the contrary is nothing other than... you've guessed it, an exercise in self delusion, aka the topic of this article. In point of fact, the whole edifice of socialism is built thusly, "we need political corectness to give the bezzletron a sporting chance" and similar arguments.

  7. If you simply cannot help but fall over laughing when reading about Byzantine generals, picture it instead as the 'three broken flight computers' problem.

    Fact remains, it depicts an actual mathematical hard limit on certain processes. Quite like, e.g., Turing/Godel's 'halting problem', or Shannon's theorems.

  8. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    The other fact that remains is that any other creature but Rochester's man resolves this problem 100% of the time : "I have an army ; and I am to take that city. Therefore we march at dawn."

    The fundamental limit here exposed, by Lamport, or Shannon, or otherwise by Turing, or Godel, or others, is simply that you can not know the future, and this is never going to change. No matter which way you try, you'll find a rock in the way ; and whichever way you choose to name that rock, that exercise in nymics does not institute some sort of ownership or control over the rock in your favour, nor does it take you any closer to "solving" anything - the rock stays. Plan accordingly.

    And therefore, march at dawn.

  9. To clean-hands philosopher - "the rock stays."
    Engineer - shows up with dynamite, and rock crusher.

    Which is how we go from "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley" to hard stats on material strength and component reliability, or from "pray that the flight computer isn't hit by stray photon" to "Byzantine" circuit.

  10. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    And for all this revolutionizing we are back exactly where we started. Unsurprisingly.

  11. Recall American lottery winners who, more often than not, end up in debt / jail / drink, after buying the inevitable three jets, five McMansions, and two import wives who immediately take whatever remains as alimony. Back, at the end, "where started", yes.

    It does not follow that money is useless.

  12. Loper thinks thing has 0 to do with socialists, communists, fascists, americans, the great zimbabwe, etc ; then quotes Burns.

    I'm truly sorry man's dominion has broken Nature's social union and justifies that ill opinion
    which makes thee startle at me, thy poor, earth born companion and fellow mortal!

    So totally nothing to do with socialists and the great zimbabwe whatsoever!

  13. Anon: next, let's do "Jewish physics" ?

  14. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    @Stanislav Datskovskiy At issue is not reason, but the "reasoner's" folly. As the poet says,

    This plain distinction, sir, your doubt secures: 'tis not true reason I despise, but yours.

    @Anon In his defense, there's precious little known outside of the socialist prattle, so even were he quoting randomly odds are he'd end up quoting one of them.

    This, of course, has nothing to do with reality, and everything to do with the invidious quality of imbeciles. The confederacy of dounces has been ongoing for many centuries, and carefully selected out of thousands upon thousands of acres heavy with useful crops just the few ounces of corn-cockle they could find. As years turn to centuries the ounces turn to barnfuls, and so now they have whole "granaries" full of corn-cockle with edible corn kernels few and far between.

  15. The quote was poetry not physics, Mr. Sophistrician, sir!

  16. Let's hear about some concrete flaw in Lamport's theorem ?

    Or do we have here a case of "we found the spoons, but the stain remains" ?

  17. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    Wait... wut ?!

  18. Well, if Lamport's result were flawed, or even finessable, this would have some interesting and practical consequence (e.g., one might achieve a Bitcoin impervious to "51% attack".) So let's have it?

  19. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    "I want to know the future" "You can not" "But what about just this one thing ?" "No." "Well, sometimes I can do things, such as pull on my weewee." "Wait... wut ?!" "If there is a way to know the future let me know".

    What the everloving fuck nonsense is this. You may not protect specific and specified idiocy through pretending to replace it with other things.

  20. Let's "specific and specified idiocy", say, the Pythagorean theorem, next ?

    Or why not, say, Newton's laws. "This brick will fall upwards if Allah wills it. Fuck you for asking to know the future of dropping the brick."

  21. FWIW my reading of the back-and-forth in the comments thus far is as follows :

    MP : "Little did you, dear reader, perhaps realise, A is the same as B"
    Stan : "Ok, so now show me why A is broken"
    MP : "???"

    Sort of like John being shown by Jake that a chair without wheels and one with wheels both work the same way in praxis - viz. one sits on them in the same way - only for John to insist that, in order to back up his original claim, Jake also demonstrate how wheeled chairs aren't really chairs at all. John is arguing nonsequitously.

  22. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    @Stanislav Datskovskiy

    > Let's "specific and specified idiocy"


    There are those who say : things are so and so ; and therefore I want this not that.

    There are also those who say I want this not that ; and therefore I will pretend things to be so and so.

    Above is sense, universally and eternally the same in any sense ; below it, "reason", in the Enlightenment sense of that term, the faux reason of the humanist. This summarizes the constant debate between the conservative and the cloud of idiots running around him like that many beheaded chickens in constant, pointless "revolutions" throughout the ages.

    The former, and only the former is the scientist ; the latter is the magician, always seductive, always delusional. And always muchly preferred by all men - because in point of fact under all criteria except whether his unctions work, he is strictly preferrable.

    And so yes, the shaman tries to masquerade as a scientist, if that's the fashion. He used to masquerade as a prophet ; he'd pretend to be a nail if anyone believed nails have the capacity to enact reality to suit one's will. From this then follows that children (always and everywhere the unwitting victims of the worst of society and the worst in society) are inculcated with a delusional view of science as if it were posited towards a purpose ; something it pointedly isn't.

    And from all this, the confusion - of terms, of everything else.

    @Pete Dushenski Reads just about the same to me.

  23. Where do you even see the "posited towards a purpose" ? There are no "revolutions", devils, etc. in there. It's a theorem.

    Lamport's original article concerned a well-specified mathematical problem, and not some nebulous voodoo. Please consider reading it?

    And there are three possible responses to it:

    1) "Proof is incorrect."
    2) "Theorem is inapplicable to any useful physical system."
    3) To spew rubbish.

    (2) is right out, there are systems on my own desk - and yours - to which it is applicable. So this leaves (1) and (3). What'll it be ?

  24. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    > Where do you even see the "posited towards a purpose" ?

    In that the same thing gets called "a problem" once and "a dilemma" later on ; as explained in the text.

    None of this involves Lamport ; what people do with his stuff is not his problem, so to speak.

    How did you get the notion that Lamport's person or work is being impeached, anyway ?

  25. The thesis was "these are the same" - and they are not - the generals have a (noisy) channel, and the prisoners - none.

    And the answer "all proper prisoners know never to turn rat, and all proper generals know that any planned attack is to happen at dawn" is reminiscent of kindergartener's response to "Joe had two apples and then ate one, how many does he have", "None of the Joes I know even like apples!"

  26. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    The prisoners also have a "noisy" channel.

  27. In the classical version of the PD problem, the prisoners can send not one bit to one another. I have no idea which retelling you're thinking of.

  28. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    This is not so.

    In... general, there can be no such thing as "no channel". Ever. So in this sense, the story is kind-of like teacher asking Joe "Jack had three spherical cubes, and ate one - how many has he left" to which Joe answers "Go home, you're drunk". This is both apt and adequate a retort.

    In practice, the prisoners are necessarily and always acquaintances ; which means they have a time-channel whereby they can force the opposition to leak bits for them in numerous manners. The naive attempt to abstract this by pretending "the world starts now" is not unlike proposing to the same Joe that "in a world where muons have no aroma, just flavour ; blablabla and blablabla ?"

    The same is not true of the generals - those haven't previously met (and if they had - they'd just count as one general).

  29. This still reduces to "no Joe I know even like apples." It does not chip away so much as a gram from the original problem as stated. And a clever jailer can trivially avoid leaking any info ("Nacht und Nebel", etc.)

  30. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 5 September 2016

    "A clever jailer" is exactly the same sort of thing as the "lossless channel" - a practical impossibility. On one hand the job of being a jailer requires him to be dumb ; on the other hand the characteristic of being clever requires him not to be a jailer. This stands not just in the general but in the particular - the pigs live strictly off feeding bits from prisoner A to prisoner B, they've nothing else, their entire job is this, MITMing actual people for the star-state.

    Meanwhike "no Joe I know even likes apples" is very different from "the object you posit is self-contradictory and therefore any question you ask about it is meaningless".


  32. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 5 September 2016


    "You're gonna tell us something this time, smart guy!"

  33. > Meanwhike "no Joe I know even likes apples" is very different from
    > "the object you posit is self-contradictory and therefore any question
    > you ask about it is meaningless".

    Will you please detail this?

  34. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 5 September 2016


    You are not at liberty to answer problem A

    At the perpetuum mobile factory, worker Ham produces one perpetuum mobile every ten minutes. Worker Bam is half as fast as worker Ham. How many perpetua mobilia does Bam produce per hour ?

    with "three" for the exact same reason you're not at liberty to answer problem B

    Given that a yellow apple has a calorie value of 44, what is the calorie value of a red apple ?

    by observing that yellow corresponds to a wavelength of about 550 nm whereas red corresponds to a wavelength of about 650 nm and on that basis come up with the red apple having a calorie value of 650/550 * 44 = 52 (or viceversa, for that matter).

    That reason is that in neither case do we have any grounds to suspect any relation between one set and the other : the wavelength of the respective skin colors is not known to be connected to the caloric value of the item underneath the skin ; the speed of factory workers is not known to be connected to the time it takes to produce a perpetuum mobile (which is very much not the same as saying that the two are known to not be connected!).

    It is true that inept schoolteachers train unfortunate schoolchildren to make this error. This is because inept schoolteachers are in the business of creating citizens for the state ; not lords for the republic. Nevertheless, no matter how deeply drilled in, nonsense is still nonsense and that's all there is to it.

  35. Thank you. Always something to learn here.

  1. [...] himself at liberty to put his likes or dislikes at the basis of predictions for the future. This is shamanism pure and simple, for which reason Ivo is illustrative of the biological basis of SUTO. In a rich [...]

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