Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Problem of Corruption

Imagine a jail filled with prisoners of different psychological makeup. They vary from one to another in many dimensions, but let's assume everyone can be rated on a single dimension: goodness. And we'll make one more assumption: good people inspire good in others, and evil people inspire evil in others (to the degree which they are good/evil). The problem: is it possible to organize the activities of the prisoners so that the overall goodness of the jail is increased over time?

If we imagine this situation as isomorphic to some other better-studied phenomena, say, heat distribution, the answer is obvious: there's no solution. Imagine each prisoner as a hot object (heat corresponds to goodness). there's no way of organizing the interaction of the objects to produce more heat than was initially available.

Some possible hopes for our prisoners:

  • There may be some way of bringing outside sources (i.e., society at large) into jails to shift the curve for the best.
  • Because psychology is more complex than a goodness value, perhaps the effect of interaction is not symmetric, and goodness inspires more goodness then evil inspires evil? If we add another dimension to the problem, say extroversion and introversion, maybe this would allow us to augment interaction beneficially?
  • Perhaps the jail system can be subdivided into different tiers of goodness, and the best from each would slowly be moved to the next level? Group behavior may provide unexpected side effects.


Jason said...

I was thinking about this some since you proposed it to me last fall/spring/sometime, and it seems that without nonlinear psychological effects or outside influence, the best you can do is to minimize the entropy (isolate and kill the prisoners, one-by-one, starting with the most evil).

Thus, I think a new model needs to be proposed -- either 2 dimensions (intro/extroversion seems like an intruiging one... just no helping introverted evil, but I think introverted good and extroverted good both inspire and affect others; if others needed to be looked at, I might suggest a scale of sociopathy instead) or some alternate/augmentative force that acts on goodness (inspiration, hope, futility, surrender).

Anonymous said...

There seems to be one key difference between an objects heat energy & a person's goodness. The heat energy associated with an object is assumed to be fixed ( given as you said if there are no external sources) and hence the heat energy of that object fades in intensity as heat is given out to the surrounding colder objects. However, goodness in essence doesn't fade in intensity just because it is bestowed upon a neighbor (almost seems goodness will be reinforced).

Kyle said...

"goodness in essence doesn't fade in intensity just because it is bestowed upon a neighbor." Goodness certainly doesn't fade just due to the "bestowing", but it fades for a different reason: in the prison evnironment (and maybe in general) all actions are interactions. It's not that a good person loses their goodness by being good (as a hot object radiates heat), but that in interacting with someone less good, the less-goodness rubs off. Certainly, if there was an effective means of one-way action, the problem would be solved.