The Game of Life was Re: How can this be justified?

Jeff Bone jbone@jump.net
Thu, 04 Oct 2001 12:55:25 -0500


Paul Prescod wrote:

> My impression was that your philosophy is that we should always act
> based on a few legal principles. Any argument that action should be
> moderated by the complex features of the real world is mere
> "sentimentality".

So Paul, it's clear that you either haven't processed or have incorrectly processed something(s)
in the course of our interactions.  Because I feel sorry for ya --- I mean, clearly you're
really taxing your lobes on this stuff ;-) --- here's the walk through:

* I don't have a "philosophy" at all.  What I've got is a mess of opinions and hypotheses.  (As
do most of us, if we're honest with ourselves.)  I'm working to make that mess of opinions and
hypotheses as sensible / rational / internally and instantaneously consistent / general /
minimal as possible, but it's a process.  They're all subject to (and subjected to) constant
revision in the face of new information and argument.  The eventual result at some point might
be termed a philosophy, but let's not jump the gun.

* I don't know what "legal principles" are, they sound rather dangerous to me.  In general, I
think that basing decisions on pragmatic rather than principled considerations results in better
decisions to act.

* I believe the law should be based on a few, internally consistent and consistently applied
axioms.  The set of arbitrary assumptions on which the law is based should be minimal.  This
isn't an idealistic consideration, rather it's a reaction to the observed practical effects of a
system which is otherwise.  See below for more on why I believe this.

* The world *is* a complex place.  I have never and will never argue otherwise.  But Step 1 on
the Twelve Step Program to Rationality (don't ask me what the other 11 are, I'm not sure I know
yet ;-) is recognizing that human beings have a tendency to make things even more complicated
than necessary, with often undesirable results.  There are a number of reasons for this,
including evolutionary psychology, neurophysiology, memetic epidemiology, etc.

* Avoiding complexity in law does not imply ignoring the complexity of life itself and the world
/ context it occurs in.  The law is (or rather, poorly emulates) an axiomatic system.  As with
any axiomatic system, you can have either "completeness" or consistency, but not both.  A
"complete" law --- by which I mean one which models all the possible complexity of life --- is a
practical impossibility.  Given that, I would opt for a consistent law.  And complexity in this
regard, measured by bulk, is the enemy of consistency.  This implies that a simpler law stands a
better chance of consistency than one which is more complex.  Other factors which tip the odds
towards more consistent and more optimal law include maximal generality and minimal
arbitrariness (conservation of assumptions.)

* Sentimentality is only one of many cognitive defects which impair our ability to act
rationally.  By sentimentality, I mean letting emotions such as guilt, belief in obligations
which carry no mutual exchange of value, anger, and so on cloud a decision making process,
resulting in an outcome which is less desirable than some other available alternative.

*  You say that my position is "Any argument that action should be moderated by the complex
features of the real world is mere 'sentimentality'."  This isn't quite right.  That depends on
the argument itself, the context, and which "complex features of the real world" you're trying
to invoke to muddy the picture.  Depending on those things, sentimentality might be involved, or
perhaps some other cognitive defect or impractical consideration is involved.  My hypotheses in
this regard is simply that humans obviously have a tendency to overcomplicate things, and
avoiding this whenever possible results in more optimal outcomes.

*  The game of life is a fabric of pairwise deals between N players.  Each deal is decision
(pair of moves) between two parties which together select some outcome / goal state from among
several alternatives.  Such decisions not only effect the two parties involved but also,
potentially, other individuals, groups, or even the whole instantaneous game state.  The game
can be viewed as a series of subgames, each of which is either a positive-sum game or a
zero/negative sum game;  strategies for the game can focus on achieving Pareto optimality as a
dynamic equilibrium state or total domination as an instantaneous state.  The former is almost
always preferred, because even when you win at the latter the resulting state is transient.
(Look at Microsoft.  Don't get me wrong, I'm hugely pro-capitalist, pro-competition, and
pro-free market, but I think that we often forget that the goal of a corporation isn't maximal
instantaneous value creation for shareholders, it's maximal *continuous* value appreciation.
Given that, it's possible to compete *too effectively.*  Put another way:  if you're the king of
the hill, everybody's out to knock you down.)  Looking at the whole thing through the lenses of
game theory (albeit rather loosely) leads to the conclusion that life and its subgames don't
have to be zero-sum, but if some party chooses zero-sum then the correct response is to maximize
the likelihood of a desirable outcome for yourself.

Hope this helps dispel some of that cognitive fog, ;-)

jb