Have you ever looked into Game Theory? If not, you should. It’s pretty interesting.
Game Theory: The branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants. Game theory has been applied to contexts in war, business, and biology.
So basically the math behind making the smartest possible decisions in any game, or decision process. You might be thinking, “well, after all those horrible SAT word problems I’m never going to be able to use any of this math mumbo-jumbo.” You’d be surprised what kinds of implications game theory can have on how we can make decisions. It’s all about keeping track of all of the possibilities.
Imagine the following scenario, you and your best friend have committed some heinous crime; just off the top of my head let’s go with the theft of a banana.
The utility of betraying them is in fact higher, despite collaboration being the better option for the two of you.
Here’s why, Let’s imagine this from the standpoint of A, yourself. Regardless of what your friend B decides right now, we know that they’re going to choose. Just like you, B can choose to stay silent, or betray you.
If B cooperates, you should defect, because going free is better than serving 1 year in prison with banana haters.
If B betrays you, you should also defect, because serving 2 years is better than serving 3.
So either way, A should defect. Parallel reasoning will show that B should also defect based on what you might do.
“The utility of betrayal is de facto higher, when it is considered from the standpoint of the individual”
if we’re being pedantic, we’ve used a little bit of a narrow definition for rationality here because we’ve assumed that you and your friend have no loyalty to each other whatsoever, and also that you don’t consider any negative outcomes from betraying each other afterwards. But I think I’ve gotten my point across.
There are a lot of other interesting consequences that come from critically analyzing possible decisions in games, and this is a rather contrived and dare I say, fruity example. It’s really interesting to critically examine games and other decisions we make in life if we assume that the other players are playing optimally, and how we should decide based on that.
So no matter what you’re going to jail it seems… I guess stealing that banana had pretty… low utility.