Friday, August 2, 2013

Prisoner's Dilemma

In the model, each person is offered a deal for freedom if they inform on the other, putting their opponent in jail for six months. However, this scenario will only be played out if the opponent chooses not to inform.

If both "prisoners" choose to inform (defection) they will both get three months in prison, but if they both stay silent (co-operation) they will both only get a jail term of one month.

Thank you, Prof. Andrew Coleman (Leicester U.). Coleman ran a study on the prisoner’s dilemma, the classic case of cooperation or “defection,” as the author calls it. Most research has concluded that the optimal behavior for the individual is to act selfishly and defect rather than cooperate. Coleman discovered that, in the long run, selfish behavior would lead to extinction, which is why cooperation is the norm in the animal world, a reality I’ve been arguing on behalf of for many, many years based solely on observation and logical thinking. Regular readers (hi, Dave) know my mantra: the chicken is the egg’s way of reproducing itself. That was one of the great intellectual epiphanies of my life. It is entirely contrary to the American gestalt which elevates individualism and competition.

Prof. Coleman stated it somewhat lengthier: "It's not individuals that have to survive, it’s genes, and genes just use individual organisms - animals or humans - as vehicles to propagate themselves"; but the message is the same. One has to understand that to understand evolution. Coleman came to that conclusion using powerful computer modeling, which is nice, but it doesn’t take precedence over simply thinking things through. Whoever came up with the line about the chicken and the egg undoubtedly did it by thinking about the necessity of how genes have to work. Once we knew about genes, the era of individualism was dead.

Except in America.

Couple this find with the finding that our brain makes it’s decisions on a course of action (move that muscle, think that thought) before we are aware of what those decisions are—i.e. eliminating the possibility of free will—and one starts to understand how our existence as individuals is illusory: we are merely expressions of the species. We are how the species lives and propagates. We do nothing; the species does it all, up to and including our thinking. One can understand that but one cannot affect it.

Which is why giving people credit or castigating them for their behavior is absurd. No one is responsible for what they do; not you, not me, not your mother. One has to question the entire system of rewards and punishment: who is one rewarding or punishing? Why? What does one expect to gain by rewarding or punishing? How do we reward and punish?

The current system is to accumulate all you can and defend it with arms. That’s the selfish scenario; that’s the American gestalt. It’s based on the theory that the individual is the most important; and if only one can survive, the species or the individual, it’s more important that the individual survive, even if it means extinction of the species. It doesn’t take a whole lot of thinking to see that such a scenario would be disastrous for the species: extinction’s about as bad as it gets. It’s called capitalism.

Okay, we’ve seen what “defection” will do.  Anyone care for cooperation? Or is that un-American?

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