· The Question: There is an island upon which a tribe resides. The tribe consists of 1000 people, 100 of which are blue-eyed and 900 of which are brown-eyed. Yet, their religion forbids them to know their own eye color, or even to discuss the topic; thus, one resident can see the eye colors of all other residents but has no way of discovering his own (there are no reflective surfaces). If a tribesperson does discover his or her own eye color, then their religion compels them to commit ritual suicide at noon the following day in the village square for all to witness. All the tribespeople are highly logical, highly devout, and they all know that each other is also highly logical and highly devout. One day, a blue-eyed foreigner visits to the island and wins the complete trust of the tribe. One evening, he addresses the entire tribe to thank them for their hospitality. However, not knowing the customs, the foreigner makes the mistake of mentioning eye color in his address, mentioning in his address “how unusual it is to see another blue-eyed person like myself in this region of the world”. What effect, if anything, does this faux pas have on the tribe?
· Argument II: 100 days after the address, all the blue eyed people commit suicide. This is proven as a special case of
· Proposition. Suppose that the tribe had n blue-eyed people for some positive integer n. Then n days after the traveller’s address, all n blue-eyed people commit suicide.
· Proof: We induct on n. When n=1, the single blue-eyed person realizes that the traveler is referring to him or her, and thus commits suicide on the next day. Now suppose inductively that n is larger than 1. Each blue-eyed person will reason as follows: “If I am not blue-eyed, then there will only be n-1 blue-eyed people on this island, and so they will all commit suicide n-1 days after the traveler’s address”. But when n-1 days pass, none of the blue-eyed people do so (because at that stage they have no evidence that they themselves are blue-eyed). After nobody commits suicide on the n-1^th day, each of the blue eyed people then realizes that they themselves must have blue eyes, and will then commit suicide on the n^th day. QED
For the countervailing argument, click here.