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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.

Please Please Me - The Beatles

On More from a 3 Minute Record

This is it. I’m selling out. It's going to get all cliché up in here, so prepare yourselves. This is the obligatory Beatles post. In any discussion of music over the past few centuries, it’s inevitable that you will mention the Beatles. The Beatles are extraordinary for many reasons, of course, but what stands out most to me is their prolificacy. Not only were they churning out some of the most influential music of their time, they were doing so at a breakneck pace. The Fab Four released 13 albums in a span of just 7 years—a rate completely incomprehensible by the iTunes generation’s standards.

I have a theory that if you were to ask any selection of 5 people familiar with the Beatles’ work, “What is your favorite Beatles album?” you are likely to hear 5 different responses. I think this speaks not only to the top-to-bottom quality of their entire discography, but also to what I’ll call (for want of a better term) various points of entry. As ubiquitous as the Beatles are in popular culture, it is very difficult to avoid them.Aside from being an important part of culture as it’s taught in history, I remember singing “Yellow Submarine” in fifth grade music class to learn about melody. Hell, they even invaded one of the most famous scenes in the history of cinema.

One of the really important things to consider when discussing these points of entry is time. The generation of which my parents are a part (at the younger end of that spectrum, admittedly) is responsible for Beatlemania. That generation grew up with the Beatles and witnessed their evolution (Listen to this album and then listen to 1970’s Let it Be, and you will hear a definite difference). My generation grew up with the Beatles as a constant. My generation didn’t experience the Beatles as a phenomenon, as a movement, or as a social wave. My generation never met John Lennon (weird, I just got the sudden urge to write about the Who).

Depending on your perspective, my generation was able to (or forced to) choose to tackle the Beatles monster in our own time, on our own terms, and in any order we wanted, chronology be damned. My childhood, aside from the previously mentioned examples, wasn't overrun by the Beatles’ music. I was exposed, but I don’t recall listening to full albums as a kid. As such, when I was in high school I made the conscious decision to become better acclimated with this band that is almost universally revered as the greatest band to ever pick up instruments.

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