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Defecting by Accident - A Flaw Common to Analytical People

Related to: Rationalists Should Win, Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate, Can Humanism Match Religion's Output?, Humans Are Not Automatically Strategic, Paul Graham's "Why Nerds Are Unpopular"

The "Prisoner's Dilemma" refers to a game theory problem developed in the 1950's. Two prisoners are taken and interrogated separately. If either of them confesses and betrays the other person - "defecting" - they'll receive a reduced sentence, and their partner will get a greater sentence. However, if both defect, then they'll both receive higher sentences than if neither of them confessed.

This brings the prisoner to a strange problem. The best solution individually is to defect. But if both take the individually best solution, then they'll be worst off overall. This has wide ranging implications for international relations, negotiation, politics, and many other fields.

Members of LessWrong are incredibly smart people who tend to like game theory, and debate and explore and try to understand problems like this. But, does knowing game theory actually make you more effective in real life?

I think the answer is yes, with a caveat - you need the basic social skills to implement your game theory solution. The worst-case scenario in an interrogation would be to "defect by accident" - meaning that you'd just blurt out something stupidly because you didn't think it through before speaking. This might result in you and your partner both receiving higher sentences... a very bad situation. Game theory doesn't take over until basic skill conditions are met, so that you could actually execute any plan you come up with.

That thing you need more than food or sex

On Linus Rylander

~ The Big Chill (1983)

Yesterday I was talking on Skype with a client of mine who is a dating coach. He teaches men how to destroy inhibitions and other weird behaviors so they can really express themselves around women.

In any case, we briefly discussed how some students are... how every single group of people will organize themselves into chunks of 5%, 15% and 80%.

In any group of people, there will be a top 5% who are kicking ass and taking names, 15% who are doing pretty good, and the bottom 80% who aren’t doing much of anything.

And... within that top 5%, there will be another top 5%, a 15% and a bottom 80%. Very interesting stuff if you ask me.

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