A Message From Animals To Washington

Not that I can really contribute much to the BBC’s publicity, but one piece worth highlighting is on a new study revealing some of the evolutionary benefits to sharing and cooperation:

A team from Michigan State University, US, used a model of the prisoner’s dilemma game, where two suspects who are interrogated in separate prison cells must decide whether or not to inform on each other.

In the model, each person is offered a deal for freedom if they inform on the other, putting their opponent in jail for six months. However, this scenario will only be played out if the opponent chooses not to inform.

If both “prisoners” choose to inform (defection) they will both get three months in prison, but if they both stay silent (co-operation) they will both only get a jail term of one month.

The eminent mathematician John Nash showed that the optimum strategy was not to co-operate in the prisoner’s dilemma game.

This study would be worth celebrating in its own right – but it helps to contextualise some of the arguments made by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene. If the study’s conclusions are correct – and I stress the weight of the if – then it acts as a practical, rather than visceral, refutation to those who believe in the beneficial qualities of war as a driver for progress.

One will inevitably consider the solipsistic racists expressing contempt for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in Washington as they naively grapple to appease two parties of God at once. Eretz Yisrael Zionists – paranoid about the implications of a Palestinian state – and anti-Semitic Islamists – to whom a state for Jews is in itself a cause for war – pollute the two camps.

Human actions are only coherent in Darwinian terms. Thus a child-like plea from secular science: the conflict hasn’t worked out for anyone and never will. Stop it. Not that such an argument should be necessary, and not that it would work on zealots. But oh well.

Enjoy the picture.

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