Saturday, May 7, 2016

Game theory and rationality -- the road less traveled

In "Game Theory and Cold War Rationality: A Review Essay," Roy Weintraub reviews two recent books, The World the Game Theorists Made (2015) by Paul Erickson and How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind by Paul Erickson, Judy Klein, Lorraine Daston, Rebecca Lemov, Thomas Sturm, and Michael Gordin (2013),both of which are published by University of Chicago Press.

Two of the "minor characters" in both of those books, Kenneth Boulding and Anatol Rapoport, merit particular attention for their role in mapping a "road less traveled" -- a road with ethical rather than strategic directions. Boulding is credited as a founder of ecological economics, along with Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Karl William Kapp. Boulding and Rapoport were plotting behavioral economics at Stanford two decades before Kahneman and Tversky arrived there. Boulding and Rapoport, again, cultivated the early work of Thomas Schelling that led to his Strategy of Conflict. Rapoport's Strategy and Conscience was an explicit reply to Schelling's book. Rapoport's experimental work with prisoner's dilemma anticipated Elinor Ostrom's.

The road taken by the mainstream was more constrained by Cold War ideology than was the approach pursued by Boulding and Rapoport. It was also elevated to orthodoxy by its ideological perspective. This is not to say that it was wholly unscientific. It was scientific to the extent that it could produce results useful to the prevailing purposes. This provisional scientificity is the essence of the qualifier "almost" in  the phase "almost lost its mind." But what may have been almost madness in 1960 or 1970 is today stark raving lunacy.


media said...

comment---i attribute another major source of 'behavioral economics' Herbert a Simon's 'bounded rationality' (i onc e saw him speak--he was like 90. one of the top 4 lectures i went to--others were John wheeler (physics, 'it for bit'---he was like 90), marc kac (statistical mechanics and number theory), snd michael freedman (math, poincare conjecture).
Simon had a paper on altruism in groups in either AER or PNA---it seemed to me basically very similar to Boyd and Richerson's stuff. (herbert gintis has alot of references like this in his papers; he is also is or was a proflific and opinionated writer of amazon book reviews---some of which i disagree with but usually interesting.
I wonder if one can get a PhD by doing research by reading amazon book reviews, rather than the books themselves. I could put together a whole rigorous curriculum in which people will become experts on amazon reviews, letters to the editor, and talk radio.

i liked what i read of anatol rapaport---one of the 'old heads' in math bio. kenneth boulding was fine, tho i didnt find what i read exactly 'rigorous'. There were two other people in Colorado---probably in 80's and 90's--i preferred (where i got family, and caughts one time like 30 trouts up in san juan mountains above treeline in 1 afternoon--let em all go---in my area u are lucky if u can catch even one, and i have found for me its easier if i just bag the line and hook and catch them by hand) ---one wrote math models for social behavior, using a sort of (likely non-rigorous from a math view) variant of stochastic processes combined with rene thom's catastrophe theory , and the other wrote books on social evolution.
one may be cobb, the other can't remember---may begin with an s.
much of this stuff is pretty redundant, but i guess according to claude shannon noise is essential for transmitting signals.

media said...

ps. the people i was thinking of are loren cobb of u colo denver and peter corning of 'institute for complex systems' in washington state.
he has a 2005 book 'holistic darwinism' on u chicago press. (both m y parents went there sortuh interesingly). interestingly perhaps, my family has connections to that university where the 'batman shooter' went (one indirect relative was or is on the same 'free ride scholarship' in the medical school); and the son of one of those relatives---who moved 'south' from north dakota--moved to connecticut, and his wife taught at that 'sandy hook elementary school' when that similar scene was happening. he's a musician, which is not a well paid living. . said...

Mark Kac and his family were close family friends of my family, with them buying the house I first lived in after birth from my parents in Ithaca, New York. He was not only brilliant and insightful, but extremely witty. He barely got out of Europe in time before Hitler took his hometown of Lemburg/Lvov/Lviv. All his family died in the Holocaust.

His book, Enigmas of Chance, is excellent and is biographsical as well as intellectual. I note that his ideas lie at the heart of McFadden style discrete choice theory in economics.

Sandwichman said...

"I wonder if one can get a PhD by doing research by reading amazon book reviews, rather than the books themselves."

I'm sure it happens. I have read journal articles that were researched that way. Correction: I looked at them; didn't bother to read.