Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Game Theory & Decision-making

Over the course of the last week, during meals when I’m alone or when I’m waiting for the subway, I’ve been rereading a book on game theory I purchased when I was an undergraduate. It’s been bringing up some questions that I’m not assured the book I read can answer.

What do you do when you have to play a game that only has one round (non-repetitive play), or that has only one round per each set of conditions?

What do you do when the decision of what strategy to choose is broken up into pieces or broken up in time?

I’m unsure if classical game theory addresses this or not. I seem to remember when I first got the book, that there was another dealing with game theory and psychology, but I didn’t have the funds to purchase it because it was more expensive. Maybe I should get that now.

This is concerning me lately, because I’m beginning to think that the modern era has led to more of the decisions critical to life being distributed decisions and less isolated, solitary decisions. I will probably have a later posting explaining the concept of distributed decision-making, but to explain it in short I give this example. The decision to become a smoker, or to be overly sexually prolific is not actually made in any one action. Rather it is made in little pieces over time, and the accumulation of little actions. I named the examples I did for the simple fact that I’ve had acquaintances in the last year deny being a smoker, and another deny being slutty. If you spent some effort, you could probably name multiple acquaintances of similar ilk.

As I said, distributed decision-making is an interesting process that I believe may be occurring more and more in modern society. What I’m hoping some of you can help me with is this, does game theory address it?

Genes & Behavior: True linkage?

How much of you is your genes? Is all you are the mere expression of your genetic code?

I wonder if people really believe that all their potential thoughts and actions are merely byproducts of a genetic imperative to propagate. Is it just me, or does that seem like a vast oversimplification? Can everything I do be explained away by the simple desire to survive long enough to see my genes spread to the next generation? If so, how can behavior be explained for those who do not propagate? Do we really believe that my genes know that my relatives’ genes will propagate in my place? What if they don’t?

Even more troubling, how on earth can intelligent people believe genes know or understand anything? If a particular piece of genetic code does not know if it has been replicated, how on earth could a collection of genes know? Consequently, how could genes have any direct effect on behavior at all?

I don’t have any answers for you. I’m not even really making an argument. I’m just dissatisfied with hearing that it is my genes that make me who I am, when no one has explained to me yet how that is even feasible.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Updates & Additional Links

Check out the updated Agora II page.

I've added several offsite links for related subject material.

As comments on the page come in, I'll add them to the pages as well. Hopefully they'll drum up some traffic to the website.

I've also added 10 new images to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Gallery, and should have a similar number up in the Washington Square Park Gallery by tomorrow. Hopefully in the next few weeks, I'll have additions to all the galleries.

I'm working on a comments/guestbook page, and hopefully that will be up within the next week.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Actions & Consequences

This past week I’ve been mulling over two different aphorisms. They are:
“If you are unwilling to accept the consequences of doing a particular action, you shouldn’t do that action.”
And the corollary statement.
“If you are unwilling to accept the results of inaction, then any action—even a bad one—that you can accept the consequences of is a valid choice.”

As I am attempting to find new employment, I have been pondering how individuals find themselves in the places they end up in life. Some are unhappy with their jobs, families, or other circumstances. Others find themselves faced with making logically or ethically untenable decisions. I keep asking myself: “Is living by an ethical and moral standard really that hard to accomplish in this century?” “Is it possible to live simply in a complex society?”

I can’t number the times I’ve seen acquaintances enact behaviors that contradict with their own stated moral and ethical standards; I can’t list the plethora of simple logical errors people I know have made because of an unwillingness to face themselves fully and decide what they really want or need.

Every action has consequences. What I find surprising is how many adults I know are unwilling to accept the consequences of the actions they do. Granted, no human is omniscient, but a person of average intelligence and awareness should realize that sometimes a particular act can have both intended and unintended consequences (and sometimes neither can be foreseen).

To clarify, whether one believes a particular law is correct or incorrect, one should not violate that law if one is unwilling to accept the potential punishment if caught. A common example is speeding while driving. If I cannot accept that I may get ticket, have the potential of losing my vehicle and license, then I should not speed. A more controversial example. If you smoke marijuana, then you should be prepared to pay the consequences of getting arrested and prosecuted. If you are unwilling, then don’t smoke marijuana! Complaining and protesting after you get arrested is foolish. It is the infantile way of trying to escape the consequences.

But of more potential disagreement is the corollary statement. Particularly in today’s climate of political correctness and appeasement of any individual who might take offense (to almost anything), inaction is seen more favorably. However the corollary disagrees with that viewpoint, and I’d like to make a case for why the corollary is the better stance.

A current example of inaction is the United States response to the genocide occurring in Dafur. I won’t pretend to know all the reasonings of the Congressional and Administration leadership, but I think there is a strong hesistance to pick military solutions because of fear of potential bad consequences. The American military is already engaged in 2 full-scale conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, adding another to an already strained military seems unwise.

It ultimately appears that both the White House and Congress are more willing to accept the consequences of inaction, then take the potentially riskier decision to do something to change the situation on the ground. This is in clear contrast to both their stances on the Iraq conflict. Members from both congressions parties are proffering various strategies and plans for change, because of their unwillingness to accept the consequences of inaction and proceeding with the status quo. Even the President has offered an alternative to the current malaise. The one thing both the politicians and the pundits can agree on, is that there is no magic bullet, no simple solution to solve the Iraq issue.

So whether you or I personally agree with the President’s decision to order more troops into the Iraq conflict, he did make a valid choice. Notice, I did not said ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ or even ‘correct.’ That ultimate analysis can only be made post action, when the consequences are known. What most people find frustrating about the corollary statement is that in the case of the Iraq conflict, there isn’t just one valid choice. This is where I believe the difficulty of living simply in a complex society arises from. The various plans proposed by members of congress, political pundits, newscasters, and even the general public, also present potentially valid choices.

Now each individual is confronted with whether their valid choice agrees with their own moral and ethical standard. Assuming for the moment that the choice does, that individual must then accept the consequences of that choice. If Congress truly believe that the President’s decision is a disastrous error, then they should make full effort to block the enaction of that decision, and be willing to accept whatever consequences that effort results in. If the President truly believes that his decision is the best among his valid choices, then he should be willing to accept whatever consequences Congress and the public give at him. On the basis of the newscasts I have observed, it appears the President is willing and Congress is not.

In game theory, once your opponent has a fixed and unvarying strategy, the possible beneficial choices you can make is reduced. Often the available loss-reducing strategies are restricted to a single option. In the case of Congress, they only have control over funding, not the disposition and direction of the military. If inaction (tantamount to tacit approval) on the President’s decision is untenable for them, they must enact the only loss-reducing strategy they have left: don’t fund the troop increase. Since we have a volunteer military, it is unlikely all 20K+ troops will volunteer to go fight in Iraq for free. If the troops don’t go, they can’t be lost. If the money isn’t spent, it can’t be wasted. If the congressmen and women are unwilling to accept the political and social fallout from that decision, then they will be faced with the dilemma of either betraying their own moral and ethical stance or forced to finagle/persuade the President to change strategies.