18.9.07

Genetically-Coded Moral Game Theory

"But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living."

So, there's this fascinating article in the
NYT, "Is 'Do Unto Others' Written Into Our Genes?" about research on the genetic basis of our moral instincts and rules--- It's great. Go read it.--- But that's not really what I want to talk about. I just want to note my tangential "primitive gut reaction" to one of the first sentences of the article (above).

Mind wandering... Society and social relationships are just iterated games in the game theory model; right? So negotiating the terms of the relationship or social structure is like deciding the rules and the duration of the game. And, in light of the article, it seems we might have an instinctual drive to determine and shape those rules in order to prohibit or deter certain selfish behaviors.

It seems forming a relationship structure is essentially cementing of the game structure and length (singular, iterated? frequency?). There's a (conscious or unconscious) impetus to get that in place, because it effects the partner's (conscious or unconscious) strategy in the game.
How should I approach this situation if we share an established relationship or not? Should I tip the waiter when I'm out of town? Should I compromise because this my friend or is that person not part of one of my significant relationships?

The tip the waiter example is a classic of game theory textbooks, I think. It's interesting to think about this in terms of negotiating the relationship itself, though, and specifically in terms of it being biologically hard-wired over millions (thousands, according to the article) of years.

As with Netflicks, someone has probably thought about all this and done of a ton of research already. But I'm not on top of my academic reading in psychology, sociology, anthropology, cognitive science, biology, gender studies, stop me when I've lost you...

Which brings me to a final concluding note that is actually related to the article in question. Centuries or millennia from now, people are going to look back on all our social and pseudo-science disciplines of study (which I totally respect, by the way--mostly anyway) and think:

'Wow, so their brains were like 90% instinct and they were just growing rational parts, and they spent incredible amounts time, energy and resources towards figuring themselves out and trying to cope with their befuddled half-animal, half-modern brains. What a fascinating pack of hairless monkeys we come from!"

1 Comment:

Nate Watson said...

Interesting. In regard to last paragraph (90%--instinct vs. 10% rational) I was under the impression that over time learned/rational behavior evolves into instinct, i.e. the domestication of canines; that is, little be little the 10 becomes the 90, serving as the building block for cognitive growth.
Just a thought out...