GIC Talk Preview: Rohan Lewis on “Cooperation and Competition”

By Rohan Lewis

As an introduction to my talk, this article presents an interactive game. Assume that I have a bowl full of candy (or any item), and you have the option of raising your left or right hand.

  • If you raise your right hand, you may take one item from the bowl.

  • If you raise your left hand, you may grab a handful of items from the bowl.

  • There is a catch. If you raise your right hand, and any other reader raises their left hand, you get nothing!                      

From this scenario, each reader will identify with one of these mindsets:

Prisoners Dilemma
Prisoners Dilemma
  • Person A: I only require one item. I am not greedy. I will raise my right hand.

  • Person B: I only require one item. I am not greedy. But, someone else is bound to be greedy. I have to raise my left hand to acquire an item. I will raise my left hand.

  • Person C: I am trying to do the best for myself. I may or may not care about others. I will raise my left hand.

I have done this experiment with different groups of people of different ages and ethnicities in several countries. I can say without a doubt that at least 20 percent of participants raised one’s left hand. That means at most the other 80 percent will receive nothing. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How many items are in the bowl? 

  • When will it be replenished?

  • How long will an item sustain me?

  • Will we play this game again?

Some readers may have a background in sociology or economics and can see this as a multiplayer version of the Prisoners’ Dilemma. The idea is that two prisoners are believed to be guilty of a crime and are placed in separate rooms. If both prisoners are silent, they both receive the minimum sentence of six months. If one testifies and the other is silent, the silent prisoner receives the maximum penalty of 20 years, while the other goes free. If both testify against each other, they both receive five years. The accompanying chart summarizes the Prisoners’ Dilemma.

Notice that it is in each prisoner’s best interest to testify, regardless of what the other prisoner does. This leads to both players testifying against each other and receiving five years, which is worse off than if both prisoners cooperated and remained silent.

A future without fish

On the GIC Tour to Bogil Island, we were fortunate to visit an abalone aquaculture farm. Tour leader Warren Parsons and I had a conversation about sustainability of fishing in the ocean. He mentioned that this idea of greed in shared, finite resources is exactly what is happening in New England, where Warren is from. Fishermen and fishing companies are only concerned about the competition with others and the volume of their catch, which affects their profit. This mindset is viral among fishermen worldwide, thus depleting our oceans. From the numerous articles I have read and documentaries I have seen, the current predicted date for the end of commercially available fish and other seafood is 2050.

My talk in October will discuss these ideas and draw parallels to a wide range of topics, from cows in a pasture, a species of ants in Africa, elevators as transportation, drug abuse among professional athletes and the number of Facebook friends you (think you) have.

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