Monday, March 19, 2007

Tit for Tat

Continuing on my Richard Dawkins theme, I came across this period piece, in which Dawkins responds to some early misunderstandings about his pathbreaking work in The Selfish Gene, the treatise of which was that it made more sense to think about natural selection as operating on the level of the gene rather than the organism. He was particularly concerned that people understand that if genes are "selfish," then the behavior of the organism would display a high degree of cooperative behavior.

As an example of this, he discusses Robert Axelrod's seminal work in the repeated Prisoner's Dilemma, in which a simple tit for tat strategy turns out to be extremely effective. The reasons for its success, as Dawkins summarizes them, are that:

  1. It is nice. It seeks to cooperate initially.
  2. It forgives quickly after retaliating.
  3. It is not envious. It does not measure its status in relative terms. It cannot win in an individual game against a single opponent, and it cannot do well unless other parties also cooperate.
  4. It is simple--easy to read and uncomplicated.
Some days, I wish those characteristics were more pervasive in the population.

4 comments:

Fritz said...

It is abundant in a democracy. especially our US republican form of democracy. Electoral College, the Senate act as buffers to move us towards a cooperative pluralism over time.

Jon Fernquest said...

Thank you for that Axelrod link.
The papers and book chapters are very useful.

edd said...

Prof. Samwick,
Interesting notions about the "tit for tat" strategy. However, the link you provided for Richard Dawkins "period piece" does not seem to be working. Do you have another link?
Thanks

Edd Conboy

Andrew Samwick said...

Edd,

There is also a link at YouTube, with the title, "Nice Guys Finish First." This material is also Chapter 12 in the 30th Anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene.

Andrew