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.