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How Reason Almost Lost Its MindThe Strange Career of Cold War Rationality$
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Paul Erickson, Judy L. Klein, Lorraine Daston, Rebecca Lemov, Thomas Sturm, and Michael D. Gordin

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226046631

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226046778.001.0001

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World in a Matrix

World in a Matrix

(p.133) Five World in a Matrix
How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind

Paul Erickson

Judy L. Klein

Lorraine Daston

Paul Rebecca

Thomas Sturm

Michael D. Gordin

University of Chicago Press

During the postwar era, discussions of conflict and cooperation, altruism and self-interest, war and peace returned consistently to the mathematical idiom of game theory. The famed “prisoner's dilemma” (PD) game, in particular, would prove a constant point of reference in discussions of arms races and international conflict. Yet this fact presents a puzzle given how quickly critiques of game theory's brand of rationality emerged during the 1950s and 1960s. By examining the use of the PD game in three distinct contexts, this chapter sheds light on the remarkable persistence of game theory, even as the theory's empirical adequacy and normative desirability attracted criticism. Whether it was invoked in studies of teamwork and cooperation, the nuclear arms race, or the evolution of reciprocal altruism, PD's characteristic game matrix provided social, behavioral, and biological scientists with a structured language for debating some of the central problems of the day.

Keywords:   Prisoner’s Dilemma, Game theory, RAND Corporation, John Nash, Anatol Rapoport, Conflict resolution, Reciprocal altruism, Robert Axelrod, Tit-for-tat

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