Philosophical Society of Washington

The St. Petersburg Paradox

Klaus P. Heiss
Consulting Mathematician

2144th Meeting Abstract
Friday, March 22, 2002 at 8:15 PM


The St. Petersburg Paradox—first described by Daniel Bernoulli in 1738—describes a game of chance with infinite expected value. Although a theoretically rational person should pay dearly to play such a game, few people will pay more than a trivial sum. Klaus Heiss will explore this paradox and the light it sheds on related problems, such as understanding why people play the lottery, whether this behavior affects public policy, and whether these "irrational" patterns are basic flaws in human behavior or are they the root cause for exciting past and future explorations of what, rationally, one would consider irrational?

About the Author:

Klaus Heiss received his doctorate in economics from the University of Vienna, Austria in 1964. He performed post-graduate studies at Princeton through 1966. He subsequently worked at Mathematica (through 1973) and several private ventures, applying game theory and mathematical economics to diverse issues such as the Plowshares (peaceful use of nuclear weapons) program, arms control, space transportation, space remote sensing, and space defense. He has received numerous professional honors including the NASA public service medal. He pursued voting rights for Austrians living abroad, and continues in efforts to see a simple implementation of these rights.

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