SoftestPawn’s Weblog

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The Tired Duck Dilemma

Posted by softestpawn on October 24, 2014

“If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck”

A tired duck looking for a safe place to land looks for peaceful ducks on the ground as a sign that an area does not contain predators that would frighten it.

This is also how ducks are shot: an artificial duck is placed in the open, a duck squawker is squawked, and the lure might be moved gently with a fishing line. Passing tired ducks see peaceful duck is peaceful, and fly into the guns of the hidden hunters.

Cautionary tales like this are used to remind us not to judge by appearance; to avoid letting our prejudices drive our decisions without the right evidence.

But that’s a logical failure too. Tired duck is tired; it has to make a decision now, on the evidence it has, about whether to land or struggle to fly to the next possibly safe place. Waiting for more evidence carries risks too.

So what can tired duck do? It can use its background experience – its models of the world, its prejudices, its heuristics tempered by a bit of careful thought – to tell it things about likelihood. Does peaceful duck look and sound and move very much like a duck? Is it the right time of year for that kind of duck look and duck sound and those duck moves that it’s throwing? That judgement will depend strongly on experience in order to ‘fill in’ the assessed situation from tiny bits of evidence. And if tired duck judges it safe, tries to land and is shot, as it plummets to the ground it can always console itself that if it had gone somewhere else it would only have been faced with the same, tired dilemma.

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