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HALL OF FAMEon 28 October 2004
The roots of game theory in biology go back several decades. Roger Fisher's studies in the 1930s are generally credited with initiating the concept. Later, Robert Axelrod and others expanded the idea with structured game applications. The most famous of these is the Prisoner's Dilemma, where two charged thieves are offered "deals" by authorities. Prisoner's Dilemma is easily played by any two people with a moderator. The point of the game is to reconcile the issues of "defection" and "cooperation" with various "payoffs". As Barash shows, the game is played often, usually unconsciously, by many people under varying conditions. It is an underlying theme in many international situations. Barash here introduces us to the basics of game theory, with many illustrative examples in human and other animal behaviour.
From simple game propositions, Barash goes on to explain the many variations and how to assess them. Instead of mathematical equations, which he eschews in the opening chapter, Barash provides matrix box sets with players, options and outcome results for each game set. He then explains the logic of strategy variations for a single game encounter. He points out that single encounters may neither validate the game nor the strategy applied. The most famous variation of Prisoner's Dilemma is called Tit-for-Tat. This game's bizarre history is recounted well - it was twice chosen the best option in a contest for "best strategy". In this game, a form of Prisoner's Dilemma is played repeatedly - with the caveat that whatever your opponent does, you must respond in kind. The game's simple rule shattered many myths about the foundations of human behaviour. Genes may be selfish, but humans are not. Cooperation has its own payoffs.
Once applied only to humanity, game theory has found many examples throughout Nature, and not just animals. Since part of game theory deals with resource use, even forest trees can be shown to apply it to growth patterns. Jungle frogs, in their competitive mating strategies make decisions explainable by Barash's matrix diagrams. How far, then, can its usefulness extend. As game theory has been demonstrated to have nearly universal meaning, critics have raised objections. Americans, as Barash carefully notes, find it objectionable on the grounds it shatters their myth of "rugged individualism" - the notion that success comes to whoever goes out and grabs it by the scruff of the neck, ignoring objections of others. Others have decried attempts to apply it to every human circumstance. Barash dismisses this critique as overstated. Game theory isn't a universal "theory of everything" - a quest physicists have vainly sought for years. On the other hand, America, as with every society, must play the Social Dilemma Game - Personal Gain versus the Public Good.
Barash's examples are mixed biology, diplomacy, domestic politics and personal encounters. Although he regrets the little attention paid to game theory by the general public, he ably demonstrates why this book should redress that situation. Game theory is not a game - it's real life. This author's perceptive observations and excellent presentation make this work a compelling read. It's a fine item to have at hand when watching debates, hearing of a new cockpit of potential international conflict or even negotiations between businesses or employment contracts. A valuable resource. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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HALL OF FAMEon 25 October 2004
The roots of game theory in biology go back several decades. Roger Fisher's studies in the 1930s are generally credited with initiating the concept. Later, Robert Axelrod and others expanded the idea with structured game applications. The most famous of these is the Prisoner's Dilemma, where two charged thieves are offered "deals" by authorities. Prisoner's Dilemma is easily played by any two people with a moderator. The point of the game is to reconcile the issues of "defection" and "cooperation" with various "payoffs". As Barash shows, the game is played often, usually unconsciously, by many people under varying conditions. It is an underlying theme in many international situations. Barash here introduces us to the basics of game theory, with many illustrative examples in the behaviour of humans and other animals.
From simple game propositions, Barash goes on to explain the many variations and how to assess them. Instead of mathematical equations, which he eschews in the opening chapter, Barash provides matrix box sets with players, options and outcome results for each game set. He then explains the logic of strategy variations for a single game encounter. He points out that single encounters may neither validate the game nor the strategy applied. The most famous variation of Prisoner's Dilemma is called Tit-for-Tat. This game's bizarre history is recounted well - it was twice chosen the best option in a contest for "best strategy". In this game, a form of Prisoner's Dilemma is played repeatedly - with the caveat that whatever your opponent does, you must respond in kind. The game's simple rule shattered many myths about the foundations of human behaviour. Genes may be selfish, but humans are not. Cooperation has its own payoffs.
Once applied only to humanity, game theory has found many examples throughout Nature, and not just animals. Since part of game theory deals with resource use, even forest trees can be shown to apply it to growth patterns. Jungle frogs, in their competitive mating strategies make decisions explainable by Barash's matrix diagrams. How far, then, can its usefulness extend. As game theory has been demonstrated to have nearly universal meaning, critics have raised objections. Americans, as Barash carefully notes, find it objectionable on the grounds it shatters their myth of "rugged individualism" - the notion that success comes to whoever goes out and grabs it by the scruff of the neck, ignoring objections of others. Others have decried attempts to apply it to every human circumstance. Barash dismisses this critique as overstated. Game theory isn't a universal "theory of everything" - a quest physicists have vainly sought for years. On the other hand, America, as with every society, must play the Social Dilemma Game - Personal Gain versus the Public Good.
Barash's examples are mixed biology, diplomacy, domestic politics and personal encounters. Although he regrets the little attention paid to game theory by the general public, he ably demonstrates why this book should redress that situation. Game theory is not a game - it's real life. This author's perceptive observations and excellent presentation make this work a compelling read. It's a fine item to have at hand when watching debates, hearing of a new cockpit of potential international conflict or even negotiations between businesses or employment contracts. A valuable resource. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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