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
I believed in this deal so much that I bought two copies of your book: one physical and one ebook. I'll say that I must be a slow reader, because it took longer than 3 hours for me to even get partway through. While I did enjoy the transfer process, I can't say that I'm in the 73% of meaningful life improvement. I actually enjoyed your first book, "The Dilbert Principle" more and even tried to win the autographed comic you had a contest for at the time of its release.
Jan 14, 2014
If this genie is anywhere near as hot as the one from the 60's TV show then I'm buying anything she is selling!!
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
I am sorry, but I find it very very hard to picture a situation where an atheist meets a genie without any tricks involved.

But, if, hypothetically, that particular hurdle gets cleared somehow, I think I would, after asking a few more questions, pay the 20 dollars.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
How many stars did the Genie get on Yelp?
Jan 14, 2014
Been trying to find it at my usual haunts: Costco, Target, etc. Any chance they will be available there soon?
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
[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]

No. The choice in your experiment is clear, no doubt. I am sorry, I left the frame of your question.

It's just that in reality the one genie exists but I can't tell him apart from 10,000 others (your number of "success" books per year, if I remember correctly). And I know that most of them will not give me such a good return. This changes the expected value of the elementary unit; if I need to try a significant number of those than the expected return is not positive at a certain number. If those are 10,000 of the same honest genies then it doesn't matter for me, of course.

But sorry again, I digressed; there really is no doubt in the situation you described. But honestly, then it is not a hypothetical question but (in this context of enough time, a no stress situation, and people who probably can do basic math) just a rhetorical one.
Jan 14, 2014
The credibility and no-trick thing are just hard to buy, even in a hypothetical question.

Several decades ago, I responded to a solicitation in a magazine and purchased a tome on how to initiate relations with attractive females. A full refund was guaranteed if you applied the principles elucidated therein and failed to secure the desired outcome.

The principles required making absurd and/or offensive overtures to every ambulatory female one encountered with no fear of consequences. Presumably, if one remained uninjured and unincarcerated long enough, one would encounter a female who would respond as desired. But it would be at an extreme financial, social and emotional cost, even before considering collateral damage.

Now, to activate the aforementioned money-back guarantee, one would have to assert or at least imply one had done exactly that. For a reasonably honest individual with some remaining self-esteem, that would end the matter. And if it didn't, I assume the publisher could simply send a form to be signed, which attested the purchaser did indeed approach strangers at the beach and offer to oil them up, feign physical distress near nurses on their lunch break, take photos of individuals without asking and then request their personal data, etc.

I still have said volume. Now and again I hand it to women friends of long acquaintance who ask rhetorical questions about male behavior. And I reflect that, technically speaking, the guarantee was valid.
Jan 14, 2014
"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."

I bought the Kindle version of your book, and I am enjoying it so far. However, the above portion of your scenario is not possible with for me, because you did not enable the Lending function in the Kindle store for this book. Was that driven by financial considerations, potential impact to bestseller ranking, or mandated by your publisher?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
One guy can't even accept a hypothetical given that a genie exists.
It's a hypothetical situation for #### sake.

Aren't we supposed to accept the givens that frame a hypothetical question?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
Yes. I did. And I enjoyed it. Thanks, Scott!
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
99% of all people will respond to a hypothetical question containing "you know with certainty there's no trick involved" by saying they can't accept that in a hypothetical question.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
Yeah, I'd take that deal. Its a nobrainer.
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
I decline your offer, because, no, I won't buy your book.
Jan 14, 2014
After thinking about this a little more, I think Scott may have been a little modest in one of his numbers. I would argue that most people that read this blog, and therefor this advertisement-disguised-as-post, enjoy Scott's writing in general. And that likelihood increases for anyone who would actually pay money for the book. So the chances of someone paying money for this book and not enjoying it are likely pretty slim.

As for non-specific improvements to life, I think that generally applies to a great deal of books in this genre. If a book inspires any positive change in someone's behavior, I'd say that's worth way more than $20.

At the same time, I think Scott may be suffering from the same delusion as self-help book writers in thinking that anything they right will actually promote a meaningful change in a person independent of any other factors, and 73% sounds like a delusion worthy of L. Ron Hubbard.
Jan 14, 2014
In the hypothetical scenario, with full faith in those numbers: Yes. In reality with a sample size of 100 people who may be nothing like me, I have to doubt the 74 and 88% figures pretty heavily. That being said, you've done a lot here to pique my interest about your book, and odds are that I will eventually pick it up. Here's a question though: If I know that the book is designed to hypnotize me, does that make it less effective?
Jan 14, 2014
73% chance of something good is not bad, but I know nothing of the Genie's credibility. I keep my $20 and spend it later on Blue Bell ice cream.

I own your book, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet.
Jan 14, 2014
As the question is phrased, I believe almost everyone would go for it. However, if you changed it slightly to: "A genie shows up and gives you $20, no strings attached. He then offers you a deal in exchange for that $20..." and so on. More people would say "no" in that scenario, even though logically it is even better than yours, in that the WORST you can do is break even. Losing hurts more than winning feels good, so people will go for "the sure thing". (In your scenario, spending the initial $20 wouldn't be "losing" something because you already had it.)

I try to be a rational person, and at my current income, $20 is less than 15 minutes of my time, so I would almost certainly take it. If you had asked me this in college, when scraping together enough money for dinner was a challenge, I would probably have answered differently.
Jan 14, 2014
Your last sentence blows the whole bit. You said, "My hypothesis is that some people - perhaps many - will decline the genie's offer even knowing there is no trick involved."

By saying that, you prejudiced your audience away from answering your question in an unbiased manner. You implyed that, in effect, anyone who would decline the genie's offer (which, I will guess, involves receipt of a book written by Scott Adams) is an idiot. Well, here's the thing:

1. Genies don't exist.
2. I worked hard to get that $20.
3. This whole bit is inane.
4. Yes, I read your book. Duh.
5. I got it at the library, so it didn't cost me $20.
6. 73% is way overstated.

I'm still waiting for that anti-AGW piece you're going to write. Might even be more entertaining than your book, as hard as that is to believe.
Jan 14, 2014
Define "know". I know nothing from your description. It sounds like the "Learn in 5 minutes how to make $2000 per week from the Internet" offers I get bombarded with every day in my inbox. So, yes, I would decline since it doesn't pass my !$%*!$%* test. If it sounds to good to be true, it isn't true.

In a hypothetical magical world where this could be true and I knew it would be true I would take this deal on a daily basis. And I know, that using this deal daily will make me a god and immortal. So sounds like a good investment.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 14, 2014
Sounds like $20 for an inexpensive but good hooker. Brightens your day, and maybe learn some skillz. There no mention of ethics..but assuming that my morals aren't compromised, still don't know if I would do it.
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