Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's a Game!

When I was young, I used to play soccer with my brothers and friends. Every time we won a game I felt victorious! But games are not only in sports. You will find a game in every action a human can take. A man who dates a woman is taking a risk and so is she. Both ask the question: Is the other person fit for me?  The same kind of probabilities is encountered by a student when he participates in exams to graduate. In spite of all the advances made by medical sciences, we do not guarantee our lives to last in this world. Can you?

Most of us spend their lives in playing a game or more. However, since we, like animals, are aggressive, we will not let go...I want this money and you too want it. Let's play!
The ancients figured out the destruction that results from excessive gaming, when the selfish gets out of control, and developed laws to protect their societies.

Game Theory is a title of many studies undertaken by strategists in economics, business, military and space agencies whose objective is to find the optimum action for the party of interest. These complex plans are mathematically-based, but since they involve decisions by minds against opponents or at least to survive an adverse condition, they are probabilistic in their nature and outcome and involve a degree of risk.

A typical game is the so-called "Prisoner's Dilemma". The story is told in "Schelling's Game Theory - How to Make Decisions" by Robert Dodge published by Oxford University Press in 2012.

"Two men are arrested and put in prison because the police are sure they have committed a crime together, which they have, in fact, done. The two are placed in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with each other. The police are aware they do not have enough evidence to convict the two of the crime for which they were arrested. They can, however, successfully prosecute both on some lesser charge, such as illegal possession of firearms, which carries a one year sentence. The only way to convict them of the more serious crime is for the men to testify against each other, so each prisoner is individually offered a deal: If he cooperates with the police and his partner fails to cooperate (defects), he will go free and his partner will get three years in prison. Each is told that the same deal is being offered to both, and if they both testify against each other, they both will be sentenced to two-year terms. Each prisoner is concerned only with his own welfare, which is minimizing his time in jail." 
But if each prisoner acts only out of self-interest, he risks vengeance by the other prisoner in the longer-term.

A simplified explanation of Game Theory can be found here and a more in-depth study can be viewed in lectures by Professor Ben Polak at Yale University here.

The psychology of Game Theory is evident in the decision made by Nelson Mandela. During his imprisonment over 27 years, Mandela faced the reality of human misery. The more pressure exercised from international political forces against apartheid, the more it was likely against all odds that he will be granted his freedom. But freedom for him meant more than only his own freedom.  He thought of his options if released. One option was to call on Black South Africans to retaliate against White minority with boycotting of their institutions and violence against them and their properties. His other option, the hard one, was to forgive those who imprisoned him and call on his Black people to collaborate with him and the government for a peaceful transition to a state that recognizes the equal status of all races. He could no longer think of Black Africans alone. Nelson Mandela became free when he chose to forgive all who persecuted him and his collaborators. Mandela chose to take the risk of collaboration with his enemies because he knew that a better independent South Africa depended on a collective conscience that allows for both Black people and White people to live and grow old together in the same land and that also, out of self-interest, the long-term prospects for South Africans lie in their cooperation with all. His love of his people, practiced in the worst nights in prison - probably similar to the dark night of the soul as expressed by St. John of the Cross in the struggle of the soul that seeks union with God - opened the road to take the risk of love towards others. It is in this darkness that God was sought. Nothing was/is certain. Only hope endures...Or let's look at the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15, 11-32). The younger son knows that he is hungry and has very little chance to survive. Yet out of his self-interest or his love of himself he decides to take the route back to his father's house. He is not certain but he takes a calculated risk as he intends to work as a servant in his father's house in return for getting food and shelter. The good surprise in the Parable - probably uncommon - is that his father not only accepts him but celebrates his return.  An important aspect of the psychology of Game Theory is to put yourself in other people's shoes. Only when you are in other people's shoes will you appreciate their dilemma and collaborate to solve them.

In a talk last Friday with Dr. Brian Baker, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, he indicated the recent findings in neuroscience that point to the importance of collaboration. We are related even if we are not consciously aware of this. See also Quantum Synthesis.

The solution to many problems is a matter of relating to others, collaborating with them where possible, forgiving the past and building lives together. But the greatest solution is the hardest since it has to do with experience of solidarity in both suffering and joy. In love, I always start with myself and move out to the other(s) i.e. to God implicitly if I am not a believer and explicitly if I am a believer. This is the beautiful insight of St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the Four Loves (Read it here).

If our lives here are full of calculated risks and games and if we suffer greatly without justice, what is it that we need to be assured of joy? Probably the answer is not in a game of risk but in trust that Christ in his eternal love generously outpoured and continues to outpour on every one if we can only see! This God is able because his life is love. It is his birth which Christians now await!!!

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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