How can co-operation emerge in a world of self-seeking egoists - whether superpowers, businesses, or individuals - when there is no central authority to police their actions?
The author explores this central question, and its implications in this age of nuclear weapons and arms talks.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 256 pages, illustrations
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 26/04/1990
- Category: Society & culture: general
- ISBN: 9780140124958
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Review by GreyHead
Robert Axelrod is a political scientist who became intrigued with an old problem known as The Prisoner’s Dilemma. (In one example two prisoners are each told that they will get a reward if they tell on the other. If neither confesses, there’s no change; if both tell, then both get another month in jail, if one tells and the other doesn’t then the sentences are lengthened and shortened by three months each.)The prisoner’s dilemma becomes especially interesting when it is repeated so there is a pattern of interaction between the two prisoners. Have a look at the pattern of rewards and work out what you might do?Axelrod had the idea of inviting a range of people from different disciplines to submit their suggestions for ‘winning strategies’. He then set them off to play against each other to see which ones came off best in a long series of repetitions.Surprisingly, the ‘best’ strategy was a very simple one known as ‘tit for tat’, which cooperated until the other side defected when it immediately defected once then continued to cooperate.I won’t spoil the story of why it was so successful or of the translation of this simple idea into the real-world political arena. That is Robert Axelrod’s story and he tells it well.Have a look at this and you may choose to add some of the ideas to your negotiations too.