Prisoner's Dilemma

John K Clark (
Sun, 29 Jun 1997 20:14:24 -0700 (PDT)


Long ago on Sun, 01 Jun 1997 Joao Pedro <> Wrote:

>I'm new to this list so I hope I'm doing this well.

You're doing fine.

>The best way for mankind to evolve is with unselfish actions. I share
>Richard Dawkins' opinion that the individual is the most important
>but for each individual to better prosper and achieve pleasure,
>cooperation is the best path and selfishness is the worst. It's like
>a Prisoner's Dilemma, the best choice is cooperation and defection
>will bring ruin to us all. This is not altruism, it is logical
>reasoning with the objective of determining what is better for my
>personal existance.

That's a very noble idea but it's not quite that simple in a typical
Prisoner's Dilemma situation. Suppose that if you and your partner you can't
communicate with both cooperate then you both get 10 days in jail, if you
both defect then you both get 10 years in jail, if your partner cooperates
and you defect then you go home today with no jail time at all, and if your
partner defects and you cooperates then you get 50 years in jail.

Obviously to minimize the total amount of time anybody spends in jail the
best strategy would be for everybody to cooperate, and if there was some way
to form a binding agreement with my fellow prisoner I most certainly would,
BUT there is no way to communicate or influence what the other prisoner will
choose to do, and regardless of what he does I'm always better off if I

When I say "better off" I assume I don't love your fellow prisoner, if I did
my strategy would change dramatically, but you must take that love as an
axiom, you can't derive it from the prisoners dilemma. At least you can't
derive it at a level as high as the individual, at the gene level perhaps.

John K Clark

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