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Author Topic: The logic of cooperation
caladbolg1125
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I've just finished reading Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter. Its a collection articles from his column of the same name in Scientific American in the early eighties. Towards the end he discusses game theory, the "prisoner's dilemma" and logical solutions to it.

It saddens me that for the most part people choose the same self defeating options. Out of betray or cooperate, when confronted by this dilemma most people choose betray. That is, in a simplified "game version" people often choose betray. Just as often when people encounter similar if more complex versions of the same dilemma in "real life" situations they often choose cooperate.

Why?

In terms of evolutionary theory, cooperation has survival value. Large groups of similar entities have a better chance of passing on their genes if they work towards common goals.

In a computer simulation of various strategies for dealing with the prisoner's dilemma that Hofstadter discusses in one of his articles, various programmers were asked to submit programs that deal with the prisoner's dilemma. The various programs were then placed in an simulated environment in which they were to interact with every other program including copies of itself. In most cases the most successful program was a simple one called TIT FOR TAT that was programed to cooperate with every program unless it was betrayed by that program. In that case it responded with one and only one betrayal on its next encounter of that particular program.

I found this to be delightful occurance, and one that had has potential parallels in the real world. Historically, the US has often (but not always) behaved this way. We were often perfectly willing to trade with just about anyone. The example that came to mind when I read about those programs was the US's entry to WW 2 in that we didn't enter it until after we were attacked. Then, when the war was over (to grossly oversimplify history) we then resumed trade with our many economic partners.

This gives me hope that such behavior can indeed be achieved at the national level.

This is all very simplified so I'm not sure how clear I make it. So, I'm gonna go to class and wait for questions and hopefully some additions that can make my point clearer.

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JoshuaD
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Tit for Tat was improved when it occasionally would forgive a betrayal. Say, 1 out of 15 times.
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caladbolg1125
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There's evolution for you.
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NSCutler
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Charles Darwin himself postulated that this must be true, though he didn't understand the mechanisms. He was quick to point out that, while the care and support of the 'less fit' might appear to be contrary to the interests of the species, the fact that we had universally developed the behavior indicated that it must be beneficial some how. The eugenicists of the early 20th century chose to ignore this, but that shouldn't be lain at Darwin's feet.
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Michelle
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My understanding is my brain transmits trace amounts of dopamine when it recognizes stimulus that is perceived to be like me. It rewards me for finding similarities in my environment.

On simple observation, the brain categorizes everything it encounters as: like me, or not like me.

That's part of the biological, survival package.

"In terms of evolutionary theory, cooperation has survival value."

True. Forming groups increases survival chances, but we still form groups that are essentially *like us*.

We struggle with cooperating with unknowns for the very same reason. Survival.

[ November 06, 2008, 04:18 PM: Message edited by: Michelle ]

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TommySama
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"It saddens me that for the most part people choose the same self defeating options. Out of betray or cooperate, when confronted by this dilemma most people choose betray. That is, in a simplified "game version" people often choose betray. Just as often when people encounter similar if more complex versions of the same dilemma in "real life" situations they often choose cooperate."

But undercutting somebody else can also give you an advantage over them. Both have value, as far as evolution goes

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Rallan
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quote:
Originally posted by NSCutler:
Charles Darwin himself postulated that this must be true, though he didn't understand the mechanisms. He was quick to point out that, while the care and support of the 'less fit' might appear to be contrary to the interests of the species, the fact that we had universally developed the behavior indicated that it must be beneficial some how. The eugenicists of the early 20th century chose to ignore this, but that shouldn't be lain at Darwin's feet.

I don't think eugenecists failed to see the value of cooperation. After all, they were generally motivated by a desire to help mankind, and some of them went as far as proposing the idea of breeding out antisocial behaviors so society would function better (although their understanding of how heredity affects behavior was at best sketchy and at worst junk science).

The big moral failing of the movement wasn't a failure to understand the value of cooperation, it was more that eugenics can only work in a society where the right to marry and have kids with whoever you want has been revoked. Well, that and the distinctly unscientific racist ideologies a lot of eugenicists believed in. Oh yeah, and the practical concerns of delving into the unknown. I don't think any of us would have a problem with a world where, say, juvenile diabetes has been bred out of the gene pool. But we can't accurately predict what society would be like if humans had been selectively bred for generations to enhance or suppress various personality traits.

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seekingprometheus
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quote:
But we can't accurately predict what society would be like if humans had been selectively bred for generations to enhance or suppress various personality traits.
It seems to me that breeding based on personality traits is exactly what has been going on for millenia.

People choose mates based on the positive personality traits they possess (or lack of negative traits). In arranged marriages, parents choose based on the same criteria. (I'm ignoring social caste and social power retention for the sake of simplicity, but these complications don't bely the idea). We like to give it cute names like "romantic love," but all mate selection processes and the social structures (such as marriage) that reify these processes are deliberately selecting for and against personality traits.

It's all essentially a eugenecist project.

The problems with eugenics have always been its failure to comprehend exactly how to define positive traits, and its failure to accurately evaluate indicators for such traits as are defined as valuable.

But we've been doing it for years. Every breeder is a eugenecist--even if their personal beliefs about what constitutes "good" genes are frequently indicative of narrow-minded delusions. [Wink]

Personally, I just hope we're getting better at it.

[ November 08, 2008, 09:37 PM: Message edited by: seekingprometheus ]

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scifibum
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quote:
Every breeder is a eugenecist--even if their personal beliefs about what constitutes "good" genes are frequently indicative of narrow-minded delusions.
I don't think this is true when it comes to behavior. People can consciously recognize that drunk deadbeats don't have desirable traits, yet be sexually attracted exclusively to that kind of person.

It's interesting to note, though, that people tend to seek mates who are like their parents, and so in a way, the screwed-up attraction to sub optimal behavior is serving to perpetuate the same thing - not eugenics, just perpetuation of sameness.

Beneath behavior, though, we have the physical attributes which do seem to consistently make a difference in partner choice: I think we're eugenicists for looks, but our evolution hasn't yet tuned human attraction to consistently prefer socially beneficial behavior.

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Pete at Home
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I think for a large part you're right, SciFiBum. I read these stories about women dumping their kids in dumpsters and toilets, and they seem so shocking and rare ... and yet, without evolutionary forces, methinks that such incidents would be more common.

OTOH, I guess that doesn't address your point, since men aren't necessarily fine tuned evolutionarily to say no to the sexual advances of a woman who lacks the capacity of empathy for her offspring. But I think that investment of resources is also a eugenics issue, since resources affect survival. I suspect that most men are less likely to take such nutball women into their homes on a permenant basis, even if they do take them occasionally into their gene pool.

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seekingprometheus
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quote:
I don't think this is true when it comes to behavior. People can consciously recognize that drunk deadbeats don't have desirable traits, yet be sexually attracted exclusively to that kind of person.
Hmm. I intended that more as a lighthearted jab at the tendency for an individual to want to believe that his/her genes are particularly worthy of inclusion in subsequent generations.

As for the selection of mates, I would say that we seek individuals who best represent optimal genes/memes, but within the constraints of what we view ourselves as capable of attaining. A person whose sense of self-worth is such that he/she seeks an abusive mate probably does so because he/she doesn't understand him/herself as worthy of a more respectful mate.

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scifibum
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I did misunderstand you; I thought you were talking about convincing oneself that attainable mates had desirable qualities.

quote:
As for the selection of mates, I would say that we seek individuals who best represent optimal genes/memes, but within the constraints of what we view ourselves as capable of attaining. A person whose sense of self-worth is such that he/she seeks an abusive mate probably does so because he/she doesn't understand him/herself as worthy of a more respectful mate.
But this - I think sexual attraction is affected by one's (mostly subconscious) mental model for sexual relationships, and one can be attracted to an abusive mate without any cognition about the kind of mate one deserves. In other words, Sally doesn't just think she can only get men who like to beat her up, although she very well might think so, but she also is uninterested in men who don't fit the mold. They are not attractive (they do not create the accustomed form of arousal).
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JoshuaD
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Re Original Post: Here's thing about the prisoners dilemna. It's easy to say "be cooperative" when you're looking at the entire situation from above, but you are going to be very tempted to defect if you actually put yourself in the shoes of one of the prisoners.
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caladbolg1125
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Josh,

Except that in any iterative process it relatively quickly becomes apparent that cooperation is the optimum choice. Yes, when faced with a one shot prisoner's dilemma its quite easy to just betray someone, but for the purpose of modeling real human behavior there has to be iteration and learning.

And I am of the opinion that even in a one shot prisoner's dilemma it would still be better to cooperate. I don't know how to support this claim but I believe it none the less.

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