THOUGHT’ EXPERIMENTS IN PHILOSOPHY, PSYCHOLOGY, AND LOGIC
The Lady Or The Tiger is a much-anthologised short story written by Frank R. Stockton for publication in the magazine, The Century in 1882. This story has entered the English language as an allegorical expression, a shorthand indication or signifier, representing a seemingly unsolvable problem. This thought experiment makes one think beyond normal perceptions.
It is based on a story taking place in a land ruled by an eccentric king. The king’s method of dispensing justice is through a public trial, with guilt or innocence decided by the result of chance. A person accused of a crime is brought into a public arena and must choose one of two soundproof doors. Behind one door is a fair lady chosen by the king as a possible match for the accused; behind the other is a fierce, hungry tiger. If the accused chooses the door with the lady behind it, he is innocent and is free to marry her, but if he chooses the door with the tiger behind it, he is deemed guilty and is immediately devoured by it.
The king learns that his daughter has a lover, a handsome and brave youth who is of lower status than the princess, and has him imprisoned to await trial. By the time that day comes, the princess has used her influence to learn the positions of the lady and the tiger behind the two doors. She has also discovered that the lady is someone whom she hates, thinking her to be a rival for the affections of the accused.
When the youth looks to the princess for help, she discreetly indicates the door on his right, which he opens. The story ends with the question, “And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door – the lady, or the tiger?”
Stockton later wrote “The Discourager of Hesitancy,” a follow-up to “The Lady, or the Tiger?” that begins with five travelers visiting the kingdom to discover what the accused man in that story found behind the door he chose. An official tells them a second story, of a prince who had come to the kingdom to find a wife. Instead of allowing him to see any available ladies, the king had him immediately taken to guest quarters and summoned attendants to prepare him for a wedding to be held the next day. One attendant introduced himself as the Discourager of Hesitancy and explained that his job was to ensure compliance with the king’s will.
At noon on the following day, the prince was blindfolded and a ceremony was held before the priest. The prince could feel and hear a lady standing next to him. Once the ceremony was complete, the blindfold was removed and he turned to find 40 ladies standing before him, one of whom was his new bride. If he did not correctly identify her, the Discourager would execute him on the spot. The prince narrowed the possibilities down to two, one lady smiling and one frowning, and made the correct choice.
The kingdom official tells the five travelers that once they figure out which lady the prince had married, he will tell them the outcome of “The Lady, or the Tiger?” The story ends with a comment that they still have not come to a decision.
@ Yeshwant Marathe
(Thanks to Prashant Naik for his inputs)