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The World the Game theorists Made$
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Paul Erickson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226097039

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226097206.001.0001

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Game Theory without Rationality

Game Theory without Rationality

(p.204) Chapter Six Game Theory without Rationality
The World the Game theorists Made

Paul Erickson

University of Chicago Press

In the 1970s game theory made several appearances in evolutionary biology that led to enduring theoretical traditions within the field – most notably, the concept of an “evolutionarily stable strategy” to explain the evolution of restrained aggression in animal fights, and the use of repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma games to explore phenomena of “reciprocal altruism.” This chapter argues that these appropriations of game theory were facilitated by shifts in ideas and working practices inside biology, and by changes in the received impression of game theory as a result of the arms control debates. Earlier explanations of “social” adaptations in terms of collective benefit were displaced by explanations invoking benefits to individuals or genes. This intellectual change was paralleled by methodological shifts from descriptive field biology toward mathematical modeling and computer simulations of evolutionary processes. Game theory, recast by its sojourn in conflict resolution as a notational system for exploring the logic of conflict and cooperation and the relationship between individuals and groups, proved irresistible to biologists seeking explanations of social phenomena in terms of its benefit to individuals. Yet ironically, they were attracted to game theory for what they saw as its denial of “rationality” or “choice” to the “game-players” in question.

Keywords:   evolutionary game theory, evolutionarily stable strategy, reciprocal altruism, group selection, selfish gene

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