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Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life Paperback – November 4, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Physicist and Ig Nobel Prize–winner Fisher (How to Dunk a Doughnut) explores how game theory illuminates social behavior in this lively study. Developed in the 1940s, game theory is concerned with the decisions people make when confronted with competitive situations, especially when they have limited information about the other players' choices. Every competitive situation has a point called a Nash Equilibrium, in which parties cannot change their course of action without sabotaging themselves, and Fisher demonstrates that situations can be arranged so that the Nash Equilibrium is the best possible outcome for everyone. To this end, he examines how social norms and our sense of fair play can produce cooperative solutions rather than competitive ones. Fisher comes up short of solving the problem of human competitiveness, but perhaps that is too tall an order. Game theory works better as a toolkit for understanding behavior than as a rule book for directing it. Fisher does succeed in making the complex nature of game theory accessible and relevant, showing how mathematics applies to the dilemmas we face on a daily basis. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Fisher, author of the entertaining and educational How to Dunk a Doughnut (2003), explores how the seemingly amorphous notion of cooperation can be explored, quantified, and even modified through the new science of game theory, which isn’t about games in the usual sense of the word. Rather, game theory concerns the strategies we use when we interact with other people. It’s about the way we manipulate situations to our own advantage; the way we negotiate and weigh our options before making decisions; the way we instinctively make split-second decisions based on myriad potential outcomes. Through a combination of real-world examples (like a traffic jam that took three days to unclog) and philosophical problems, Fisher shows us that we’re way more cooperative than we sometimes think we are, while at the same time startlingly more selfish than we ought to be. As with Doughnut, the writing is lively, the scientific discourse clear and accessible, and the ideas challenging and exciting. --David Pitt
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Top Customer Reviews
I suspect that many of those introduced to game theory by this book will have a false sense of knowledge about game theory and its application in everyday life. Like Fisher, these individuals will speciously argue for solutions to everyday problems (social dilemmas Fisher prefers to call them). Part of the problem is that he is, initially, quite convincing in his simple presentation of game theory. Only after the reader comes in contact with those with even a rudimentary understanding of game theory does the reader realize that he has been fooled by the simple and seemingly intuitive presentation.
Fisher has other books out in multiple disciplines (he has a Ph.D. in chemistry I think). I cannot comment on these, but I suspect that he is a sort of jack of all trades, master of none (except perhaps informal, inaccurate, ultimately entertaining representations of scientific disciplines). For this book, he frequently injects his own categorization, terminology, and opinions into the text in place of thought out explanations for game theoretic concepts. For example:
He refers to Nash's equilibrium as Nash's trap. "Professional game theorists may not much like my describing the Nash equilibrium in this way, because it implies that the equilibrium always leads to a bad outcome. I am sticking with it, though, because this book is about bad outcomes and how to get out of them." Let's begin this endeavor by not purchasing this book.
For a great introduction to game theory try "Games, Strategies, and Decision Making" by Harrington. It is the standard for learning game theory and great for applying it to everyday life (the right way). Ken Binmore is another game theorist/author that I highly recommend, even for beginners.
Avoid "Rock, Paper, Scissors". Fisher is loose with his definitions, uses idiosyncratic terminology, and presents a facile, unsatisfactory explanation of game theory.
There's no doubt Fisher is a skilled writer. He interweaves humorous stories of his own game theory experiments with explanations and detailed illustrations of the theories he's working with. In that respect, it's fun and pretty easy to read. The drawback of the book lies with the weakness of game theory itself, at least as far as he's explained it. More than anything else, it seems to be just a mathematical model of psychological phenomena, and it doesn't appear to really offer much that's new in the way of explaining how human beings interact with each other. Fisher, though, thinks otherwise. His claims about the revolutionary insights of game theory (particularly in the introduction) are pretty extreme: "This trap [people cheating for their own benefit in a situation in which cooperation with others would benefit everyone] has been with us for time immemorial. Examples can be found in the Bible, the Koran, and many ancient texts ... Its true nature was not understood ... [until] the advent of game theory ... reveal[ed] its inner workings." Yeah. Good thing. Recommended, but not earth-shattering.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Fisher does an excellent job of explaining Game Theory in a non-mathematical way.Read more