Talk:Buridan's ass

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Aristotle's De Caelo or On the Heavens[edit]

The reference to Aristotle's De Caelo or On the Heavens is to line 295b32 (Book 2 part 13 section 3), but the example involves a man not a dog, and a choice between food and drink not between two meals: he mentions (in passing) an analogy involving "...the man who, though exceedingly hungry and thirsty, and both equally, yet being equidistant from food and drink, is therefore bound to stay where he is..." (trans. by J.L. Stocks). I've made the relevant changes in the article. Isokrates 04:16, 15 July 2006 (UTC)

  • an entirely rational ass, placed exactly in the middle between two stacks of hay of equal size and quality, will starve since it cannot make any rational decision. How is it that the rational ass can not just make a random choice for the sake of breaking the deadlock? There is nothing subjective about making a random choice. the implication is that the ass needs a preference in order to choose. That is a fallacy. What do you expect from a guy who claimed that all matter was made up of just 5 elements. --Xrblsnggt 04:36, 15 July 2006 (UTC)
Well, it's not so simple. If the ass is much closer to stack 1, a random choice would be bad. If it is equidistant between the two, a random choice would be good. This means that there is some cut-off point in between where a random choice turns from bad to good. What if the stacks are exactly at that spot? What should the ass do? You can see that this can be done ad infinitum. Dshin 12:34, 5 August 2006 (UTC)
No, it cannot. Can you decide which one is better? If yes, choose better, if not, choose random. Problem solved.-- (talk) 18:05, 6 April 2008 (UTC)

Chinese fortune tellers?[edit]

Is the Chinese fortune-teller information really significant?Guille 23:39, 28 August 2006 (UTC)

who and who not to believe Quote: "In Chinese society, fortune tellers are often used by businesses and individuals to resolve Buridan's ass situations. By consulting the I-Ching, these fortune tellers advise the business or individual to take one option or the other."

How relevant is this? -- 01:14, 24 September 2006 (UTC)

Is what you want[edit]

Devo arguably references Buriden's paradox in the title song from the album Freedom_of_Choice, although they take creative license with the source: "In ancient Rome, there was a poem, about a dog, who had two bones, he picked at one, he licked the other, he went in circles, till he dropped dead." Too bad more things don't rhyme with "Buriden". Asat 22:48, 15 July 2007 (UTC)

A point to make[edit]

A great paradox, but imagine that the ass, in its indecision, decides to walk forward, where it may find food NOT affected by this paradox, thus it satisfies its hunger. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Lozeldafan (talkcontribs) 01:26, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

Buridan's ass paradox isn't a paradox at all. If ass for any reason can't chose what to do and does nothing it'll die from doing nothing. It is str8 logic and not paradox. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:54, 28 August 2009 (UTC)

I disagree. The paradox exists because the ass, for want of a logical reason to choose one over the other, dies of starvation despite the ready availability of food. BlueRobe (talk) 07:16, 30 July 2010 (UTC)
A paradox is an apparent contradiction in the result but there is no contradiction here, the ass dies.George Dishman (talk) 13:45, 28 August 2010 (UTC)
Why do people seem to say that the ass dies of starvation, even though you can survive for longer without food than without water?... Surely it dies due to dehydration. It's only logical. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:19, 14 October 2010 (UTC)

I can't say much for the ass, but the human, with greater reasoning powers, could simply decide to walk over to the food, pick it up and take it over to the water, and satisfy his need for both at the same time. The argument that he wouldn't have enough time for this without starving or dying of thirst is made irrelevant by the fact that if he did not have enough time to preform the above method, then he would not have time to eat the food then go drink the water or vice versa, making the entire paradox meaningless. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:05, 7 December 2010 (UTC)

It's not meant to be an accurate accounting of animal or human behavior, but rather to highlight problems with certain philosophical systems.. AnonMoos (talk) 11:17, 7 December 2010 (UTC)

I believe it is implied you should assume that the individual in question has been without both food and water for the amount of time required to make the absence of each for the same timelength starting from the moment where the individual is faced with the decision result in death, and also that the food contains no water, and of course that the food and water can only be consumed in their respective locations. --TiagoTiago (talk) 06:05, 22 April 2012 (UTC)
Under your scenario, the donkey is going to die whichever decision it makes, whereas normally the conundrum is that the donkey wouldn't have died if it had just made an arbitrary decision, but instead it only dies because it perpetually weighs evenly-balanced alternatives without ever being able to decide between them... AnonMoos (talk) 01:26, 23 April 2012 (UTC)

Popular Culture[edit]

Terry Pratchett uses this idea inn Wee Free Men, in which a toddler is stuck between two large piles of sweets and, being unable to choose between them, gets hysterical. His older sister solves the problem by putting a bucket on his head. Is it reasonable to put this into the main page? (talk) 04:06, 14 August 2009 (UTC)

Isaac Asimov also uses a close idea in "Runaround" (novel first published in "I,Robot). This story describes a robot that cannot walk to the place where it was asked to go (because it detects a danger to its "health") nor escape the risky area (because it needs to fulfill its mission). The conflict results in the robot endlessly running in a large circle where contradicting causes find an equilibrium. A link to this story might be put on the main page? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:49, 24 August 2009 (UTC)

Digital Logic[edit]

The component that converts an analogue voltage to a binary value is most usually called a comparator. Many A to D devices use a comparator as a single-bit stage but the overall intended function is not the same. In addition, the relationship to digital logic is IMHO not clear in the article. There is an implicit comparator function on real-world inputs to digital chips which may sample the input at a mid-point value during a transition. I have changed the reference to "an analog-to-digital converter" to "a comparator" and edited the sentence to state the relationship to a normal gate where the logic selection is intrinsic rather than intended. —Preceding unsigned comment added by GeorgeDishman (talkcontribs) 22:42, 14 July 2010 (UTC)

Not a paradox[edit]

A donkey has been placed at equal distance between two piles of hay. If free will doesn’t exist, then assuming the choices of either bale are equally appealing, the ass will not be able to choose and eventually starve to death.

It is extraordinarily unlikely that the animal would be unable to choose between the piles and starve. On the surface, the situation does not yield any kind of dilemma for ass. Simply placing the two piles of hay at equal distance from the ass would not perfectly balance out the causal forces at work in the dichotomy. In order to get to the heart of Buridan's ass-- the inability to choose between to equally appealing options, the previously mentioned causal forces need to become and remain perfectly balanced. If this were the case, the noble beast would in fact starve to death. However, to bring about such a balance would require nothing short of sustained supernatural intervention as the number of distinguishable causal forces at work in the decision number in the millions. Everything from the physical makeup, dispositions, memories, and learned behaviours of the ass to the millions of factors that make up its surrounding environment would need to be accounted for and perfectly balanced out. As daunting as this task seems, it is only a fraction of what is necessary for the ass to remain indecisive. The next instant in time would completely destroy the balance as there are elements of the ass and its environment that need to constantly change for the ass to continue living, for example the flow of blood through veins, air through lungs, or synapses firing in the brain.

Buridan’s ass is often used as an argument against determinism due its status as a paradox. This status is not accurate, however, since the situation does not yield any kind of contradiction; it is merely an extremely improbable event. Suppose I were to drop fifty marbles off the top of the CN tower, one after the other and they all came to rest perfectly balanced on top of each other. Our current understanding of physics claims that this is physically possible, however it would not be reasonable for me to conclude that our current understanding of physics is questionable based on the absurdity of this outcome. I would be confusing possibility with feasibility. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Matthewamol (talkcontribs) 23:22, 31 December 2011 (UTC)

It may not be technically a paradox in strictest logic, but it's a strikingly counterintuitive result which some interpretations of some theories could lead to, and so is of interest in that respect. It may not particularly "refute" determinism, but it's still been discussed by many people down the centuries... AnonMoos (talk) 01:08, 2 January 2012 (UTC)


What is missing from the explanations - and the thing which prevents such effects in real life - is Noise. All systems have noise at some level (except at absolute zero). (See Heisenberg, Boltzman etc..) The hungry ass will make an arbitrary decision. The electric comparator will - perhaps after a delay - start to switch to one state, and so long at the gain is high it will then do so rapidly. The pile of perfectly balanced perfectly smooth marbles will fall as soon as it's disturbed by a breath of wind. Or if done in a vacuum to avoid that, due to the random vibration of the atoms at the surfaces where the marbles touch.

This also explains why the Universe has a structure, and galaxies are not simply smooth spheres of gas, despite there being (as far as we know) no structure or direction to the original big bang [Source: lecture by Prof. Frank Close, 15 Mar 2013; also his book "The Infinity Puzzle: Quantum Field Theory and the Hunt for an Orderly Universe" 978-0465021444 (talk) dww 16 Mar 2013

I have been involved with "The Glitch", or Buridan's Ass, for 50 years. . If the ass starts slightly to one side, he will accelerate in that direction, but noise may drive him in the other direction towards the exactly equal position. So noise has nothing to do with the core problem. However, I took 40 years for me to come to a new development of the problem, which is of course not straw and water, but straw and straw. The new realisation is that at the start, the nearer the ass is to exactly the equal position, it will take him longer and longer to make the decision over which side he is on. If he begins extremely close to the half way point, he will starve because he takes too long deciding which side her is on, calculating the millionth of a centimetre on one or other side. The ass does not only starve if starting at exactly the half way point. He also starves if he starts too near to the half way point. This realisation only came to me 40 years after publishing on the subject. The subject takes decades to fully grasp. This problem arises in digital computers, and there is no solution. I got fired because of it when I tried to stop plane crashes. . It will be very amusing, and saddening, if the Wikipedia Thought Police remove this piece, since I am the expert. Ivor Catt

Uh huh.GliderMaven (talk) 14:43, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

lol "ass" — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2620:101:F000:700:F886:DCC2:D00:406F (talk) 19:31, 6 August 2016 (UTC)