Friday, January 21, 2011

Contrast: Game Theory

I found an illustrated example of a simple 2x2 Prisoner's dilemma:

Game theory, developed by John Von Neumann and others is our contrast in our CATTt. The difficulty with the contrast, and really any of the slots of the CATTt is that we need to decide which parts to keep and which parts to throw away. In other words, what does it mean to do the "opposite" in terms of instructions for our own heuretic endeavors. I think that the key to finding this is to find the main assumptions of game theory

The most important assumption of game theory is that Von Neumann developed it on the model of the game where each opponents (for in this first stage there is only two opponents) interests are completely opposed: Von Neumann makes the claim that there is always a rational way for a two player game to be played if this is so (Poundstone 7). This kind of thinking worked well for Cold War ideology where, as Poundstone writes, "by 1950, many in the United States and in the Soviet union saw the other nation as an implacable foe" (131). While we still engage in this kind of Us vs. Them ideology, the more accurate description of this relationship would be something like "Us vs. them, them, them, and them, but not them, but maybe them. . .not sure about them or him or her." In the world of terrorism, it is difficult to pin point exactly what we are up against. Hopefully Baudrillard in our 'theory' section will be able to help us out with defining our situation a bit more.

A corollary to this first assumption is that game theory is predicated on individual interests. Poundstone writes that "the game demonstrates just what it was intended to; namely, that individual interests can overturn the common good" (Poundstone 277). Now, how do we contrast this assumption? Do we want to say that a fatal strategy will demonstrate that the common good can outweigh individual interests? But is this not another form of terrorism (totalitarianism)? Thus, we are going to have to rather say that a fatal strategy may allow individual interests to contribute to the common good.

 As we have already pointed out in class and others have pointed out in their blogs, we also must consider that game theory assumes that human beings are rational. However, as Todd also pointed out, Poundstone takes the view that this is obviously not how human beings behave. In a prisoner's dilemma, for instance, the purely rational thing to do would be to defect every time given the conditions of the game. However, people did cooperate sometimes. Another assumption with the prisoner's dilemma at least is that it is a one-shot game. As Poundstone points out, most situations are iterated: that is, that they are repeated more than once.

I'm not sure exactly what to do for this contrast instruction. I'm not sure that we need to just flip the rational assumption and argue that we must be 'irrational'. Indeed, it is hard to decide sometimes if an act is rational or irrational in real human actions. To a certain extent, we need to do some things against what we think of as "common sense." In this sense (pun intended) we are actually like the RAND corporation, who, according to Poundstone "studied disturbing or bizarre ideas that occurred to military leaders or to RAND's own thinkers" (91). Furthermore, RAND "structures itself more like a university than a military body or a corporation" (88). The EmerAgency could be considered a kind of 'answer' to the RAND corporation. We are the new intelligentsia--the humanistic intelligentsia rather than the mathematic. However, like Von Neumann we are interested in "pure research" that, rather than having a clear application to the world is the application itself (more on this in a forethcoming post. I think we might understand our own research (to use a Baudrillardian construction) as a "more pure than pure research." This, according to Von Neumann, leads to the degeneracy of research.

Finally, we need to consider that game theory is ridiculously disembodied, completely removed from what Merleau-Ponty calls "the flesh of the world." The system is a pure abstract system with no room for fleshly beings, a system composed of pure mind and unrestrained desire, like Von Neumann himself who had the "best brain in the world," but who also only desired immediate sexual pleasures rather than emotional connection (Poundstone 26). Although one could argue that this makes him in touch with this body, it was clear that it was not a connection of the flesh in all its implications. Indeed, Poundstone notes that he was frequently away from Klara and would write love letters, but Klara was a cold woman. This coldness and distance is something I think we want to avoid. Furthermore, we should note that game theory helps Von Neumann develop computers and some of the later experiments using game theory were set up using computers as models. However, computers/robots have no emotional attachment to life or to anyone else--a key different from ourselves.

This difference between computers and humanity also crops up when discussing the specific definition of strategy:

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