10 February 2010

Game theory shows GROUPS follows most successful member

Brian of Scrapyard Armory tipped me to this short article on game theory, which is quite interesting, but the author summarizing the article for Ars Technica really botched one thing. Here is the first paragraph with my insertions/corrections in red.

Game theory has become a useful way to evaluate strategies for survival in cultural evolution scenarios. In a new study, scientists set up a model where human players engage with each other and compete for resources, and can change their strategies for doing so in various ways. They found that as more rounds of the game were played, the human players developed a tendency to imitate the best player, causing the players as a group to tend to play the game the same way. This implies that in cultural evolution, as one member of a species group enjoys more and more success, its methods become hard to ignore for the others, which will eventually follow its lead.

The error was confusing biological evolution with cultural evolution. So if Brian and I are playing a game, and Brian consistently wins, I am likely to start playing the game the same way Brian does. That's how groups change their social behavior, and it is a form of cultural evolution. For it to be biological evolution, *I* would have to change my biology to be more like Brian, or at least so that my offspring are more like Brian (and if that happens, I'm going to be VERY suspicious about what Brian has been up to with my wife! ;-) ). People do not change their biology when they adapt new behaviors, but groups can change their culture to adopt new ways of doing things. (See Lamarkian Evolution)

Other than that, I'm OK with the article, and I've even looked up the original publication. Maybe I'll have more to say after I give that a read.

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