virus: The Prisoner's Dilemma

Deron Stewart (
Wed, 17 Feb 1999 12:33:17 -0800

Deron Stewart wrote:
> We are surprised that more christians don't change their
> creed to accept
> Darwin, but how many "rational" people changed their tune when the
> Prisoner's Dilemma was discovered? (And this is a much
> greater challenge to
> the Church of Reason than Darwin ever was to christianity).

A couple people have called me on this so I guess I better take a crack at explaining what I meant, though I don't think I can do full justice to it right now...

Nothing about the P.D. (and related games) invalidates reason or logic per se. As TheHermit pointed out it was reason and logic that allowed the problem to be delineated in the first place. Reason is just a tool after all, it takes you where it takes you. Logic is the art of non-contradiction so we shouldn't be surprised that we don't find contradictions within it...

But, like Godel's theorem, the P.D. forces us to question other implicitly held beliefs that weren't part of logic itself. In the case of Godel, the implicit belief was "mathematics is consistent and complete" which was shown to be false. Logic remained intact, but the view of mathematics was forever altered.

In the case of the P.D. one of the implicitly held beliefs is "acting rationally is always best". This has been seriously called into question by game theory (I won't attempt to justify that statement right now so it's an "out" for anyone who wants to take it). Logic remains intact. Reason is undisturbed.

But what about the rational worldview? If acting rationally isn't always best (though it may often be best!) then we are presented with a different dilemma: we can continue to act rationally in all cases and accept a lower "payout" in some aspects of our lives, or act non-rationally (or meta-rationally or whatever) and reap the benefits...



btw, the reason Darwin isn't a big threat to christianity is because it's never really been about a believing a specific version of creation. Sure some people get upset about it but it will get assimilated in due course...just like Copernicus, Kepler, Newton et al, but the core message will remain the same.