Humans, like bacteria, woodchucks, chimpanzees, and other animals, compete or cooperate to get food, shelter, territory, and other resources. But how do we decide whether to muscle out or team up with the competition?
In The Survival Game, David P. Barash synthesizes the newest ideas from the exciting world of game theory—an amalgam of logic, psychology, economics, and biology—to explore and explain why people make the decisions they do: the give-and-take of spouses in determining an evening's plans, the behavior of investors in a market bubble, the maneuvers of generals on a battlefield, all of which are remarkably similar to the mating and fighting strategies of "less rational" animals. Barash describes the classic Prisoner's Dilemma of game theory, in which a decision can carry a heavy price when there's no way to know if your partner will stick with you or look out for his own interests, and finds that an RNA virus behaves by the same rules. In the Hawk-Dove Game, he looks at how players change their strategies—to be either aggressive or yielding—when a third person enters the picture, and draws analogies to the territorial battles among speckled wood butterflies. And notorious strategies arising from the Game of Chicken, tit-for-tat, and follow the leader turn up in examples as disparate as World War II's submarine war and the mating antics of the yellow dung fly.
In this lively and engrossing study, Barash ultimately sheds light on what makes our decisions human, and what we can glean from game theory and the natural world as we negotiate and compete with others in our daily lives.