Are politicians responsible to a different moral code? Are there extreme situations where even non-politicians might follow a different moral code than they otherwise would? These are the issues at the heart of the philosophical problem of “dirty hands,” which is also the subject of this typically thought-provoking episode of Philosophy Bites. Of course the first example that comes to mind is the 24-esque ticking time bomb scenario, but philosopher Tony Coady teases out a more nuanced case he dubs “extrication morality,” in which a political succsessor might be forced to extend the moral wrong of his predecessor into his own administration rather than immediately reverse it and risk further harm to the public.
To my emerging collection of paradoxes, I now add another: the joyfully alliterative Parrondo’s Paradox, which states that “Given two games, each with a higher probability of losing than winning, it is possible to construct a winning strategy by playing the games alternately.” The paradox was discovered in 1999.
This article from the New York Times written shortly afterward describes one of Parrondo’s experiments with two games involving weighted (non random) coins: “when a person plays either game A or game B 100 times, all money taken to the gambling table is lost. But when the games are alternated — playing A twice and B twice for 100 times — money is not lost. It accumulates into big winnings. Even more surprising, he said, when game A and B are played randomly, with no order in the alternating sequence, winnings also go up and up.”
When visualized, these games take on a rachet-like shape — a shape central to the explanation of trivial phenomena, like the Brazil Nut Effect, and more fundamental matters, like the design of enzymes and proteins.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to get an advance look at the Guggenheim’s newest show, a project by Tino Seghal. While I don’t want to say too much about it — it’s something best experienced for yourself — I will say that it was remarkable and highly thought-provoking, a deceptively simple mix of walking, talking, and the Guggenheim’s remarkable architecture.
In advance of the show’s opening, the New York Times Magazine’s Arthur Lubow penned a profile of Seghal, a man whose life and art are intensely intertwined. I particularly enjoyed Lubow’s description of selling and staging one of Seghal’s works:
As far as money goes, at a museum-discount price of $70,000 it was a minor MoMA purchase; but [Director Glenn] Lowry was not overstating the cost of time and energy. Since there can be no written contract, the sale of a Sehgal piece must be conducted orally, with a lawyer or a notary public on hand to witness it. The work is described; the right to install it for an unspecified number of times under the supervision of Sehgal or one of his representatives is stipulated; and the price is stated. The buyer agrees to certain restrictions, perhaps the most important being the ban on future documentation, which extends to any subsequent transfers of ownership. “If the work gets resold, it has to be done in the same way it was acquired originally,’ says Jan Mot, who is Sehgal’s dealer in Brussels. ‘If it is not done according to the conditions of the first sale, one could debate whether it was an authentic sale. It’s like making a false Tino Sehgal, if you start making documentation and a certificate.”