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Let $\mathcal{D}$ be a probability distribution with support $[0,1]$. Let $X, Y, Z$ three i.i.d. random variables with distribution $\mathcal{D}$, and $T$ a random variable uniformly distributed in $[0,1]$ independent from $X$, $Y$ and $Z$. We define $$\Delta=\mathbb{E}\left(1-|x-y|~\big|~x,y<t<z\right)$$ and $$\Delta'=\mathbb{E}\left(1-\min\left(|x-y|,|z-y|\right)~\big|~x,y<t<z\right)~.$$


Question: What is the minimum value of the ratio $\rho=\frac{\Delta}{\Delta'}$ over all probability distributions $\mathcal{D}$? (If $\mathcal{D}$ is uniform, then $\rho=\frac{16}{17}$. Is there a distribution $\mathcal{D}$ such that $\rho<\frac{16}{17}$?)

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    $\begingroup$ Are $X,Y,Z$ independent (it seems like you're assuming that but you don't say explicitly)? Similarly, $T$ independent from $X,Y,Z$? $\endgroup$ – Sam Hopkins Sep 22 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, thank you @SamHopkins $\endgroup$ – Penelope Benenati Sep 22 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ Random check: if $\mathcal{D}$ is supported on $\{0,3/4,1\}$ and takes values $0$ and $3/4$ equally often, then I think I calculated $\rho=\frac{32}{33}$. $\endgroup$ – Sam Hopkins Sep 22 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you @SamHopkins In this case, the result that I calculated seems to depend on how often $0$ and $3/4$ are taken. I think there is misunderstanding that I would like to clarify. There are are only $5$ cases satisfying the condition $x,y<t<z$, which I represent with triplets of variables taken values in the support $\{0,3/4,1\}$: $\{x,y,z\}$, $\{y,x,z\}$, $\{(x,y), z, \cdot\}$, $\{(x,y),\cdot, z\}$, $\{\cdot,(x,y), z\}$, right? How did you calculate $\rho=\frac{32}{33}$? $\endgroup$ – Penelope Benenati Sep 23 at 13:24
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Sorry, my computation in the comments was wrong. I think it leads to something with $\rho < \frac{16}{17}$.

Namely, let $\mathcal{D}$ be the distribution with $\mathrm{Pr}(\mathcal{D}=0)=\mathrm{Pr}(\mathcal{D}=3/4)=1/N$, and $\mathrm{Pr}(\mathcal{D}=1)=(N-2)/N$, where $N$ is large.

Then the possibilities for $(x,y,z)$ which fit your conditional probability are:

  • $0 < t < \frac{3}{4}$: $(0,0,\frac{3}{4})$, $(0,0,1)$
  • $\frac{3}{4} < t < 1$: $(0,0,1)$, $(0,0,1)$, $(0,\frac{3}{4},1)$, $(\frac{3}{4},0,1)$, $(\frac{3}{4},\frac{3}{4},1)$

Only one of these has $z\neq 1$; if $N$ is very large, then that case will occur much less frequently and we can "ignore" it (so we're really doing the limit $N\to \infty$ computation, for convenience).

Let $\delta=1-|x-y|$ and $\delta'=1-\min(|x-y|,|z-y|)$. Then the events to consider, and their probabilities and values, are

  • $0 < t < \frac{3}{4}$: $(0,0,1)$ - relative prob. $\frac{3}{7}$, $\delta=\delta'=1$
  • $\frac{3}{4} < t < 1$: $(0,0,1)$ - relative prob. $\frac{1}{7}$, $\delta=\delta'=1$
  • $\frac{3}{4} < t < 1$: $(0,\frac{3}{4},1)$ - relative prob. $\frac{1}{7}$, $\delta=\frac{1}{4}$, $\delta'=\frac{3}{4}$
  • $\frac{3}{4} < t < 1$: $(\frac{3}{4},0,1)$ - relative prob. $\frac{1}{7}$, $\delta=\delta'=\frac{1}{4}$
  • $\frac{3}{4} < t < 1$: $(\frac{3}{4},\frac{3}{4},1)$ - relative prob. $\frac{1}{7}$, $\delta=\delta'=1$

So we can compute $$\Delta=\frac{3}{7}+\frac{1}{7}+\frac{1}{7}(\frac{1}{4})+\frac{1}{7}(\frac{1}{4})+\frac{1}{7}=\frac{11}{14}$$ $$\Delta'=\frac{3}{7}+\frac{1}{7}+\frac{1}{7}(\frac{3}{4})+\frac{1}{7}(\frac{1}{4})+\frac{1}{7}=\frac{12}{14}$$ $$\rho=\frac{\Delta}{\Delta'}=\frac{11}{12}< \frac{16}{17}$$

As mentioned, really we took the limit $N\to \infty$; but since we got $\rho< \frac{16}{17}$, that means there should be some finite $N$ we can take with $\rho< \frac{16}{17}$, just the computation will be more annoying.

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    $\begingroup$ Suppose $m=3/4$ is allowed to vary as well. Then my calculations suggest that $\rho=1-3/35 < 11/12 = 1-3/36$ when $m=4/5$, and that the minimum over all $m$ is $\sqrt{2}-1/2$ at $m=3/2-1/\sqrt{3}$. I think one can get below $8/9$ if you also vary the relative probability of $0$ and $m$. $\endgroup$ – aorq Sep 23 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ @aorq: indeed, I did not try to optimize here. $\endgroup$ – Sam Hopkins Sep 23 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you very much @SamHopkins and aorq ! This problem originated from its "symmetric" version that I just posted here: mathoverflow.net/q/372688/115803. Initially, I posted this problem thinking I could easily extend any answer to its "symmetric" (original) version. However, it seems that it is not possible, and I think that the minimum $\frac{16}{17}$ is attained by the uniform distribution $\mathcal{D}$ in the symmetric version. Do you have any idea about whether it is possible to extend this result to the symmetric (original) problem? Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Penelope Benenati Sep 26 at 18:56

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