13 March 2007

The quality of academic thought

On the subject of Adam Curtis's The Trap, this is what Professor Philip Mirowski says in the programme about the Nash Equilibrium. Mirowski is Professor of Economics at the University of Notre Dame.

What the Nash Equilibrium suggests is that rational pursuit of self-interest, even in the face of implacable hostile enemies, will lead to a kind of an order in which all players agree upon the strategies that they're playing, and that those strategies make sense to them.

But at the same time it's also paranoid because it’s the idea of a human being sitting alone in a room being able to totally reconstruct their opponent — their opponent is totally implacable, totally hostile, and bent on their destruction..
This totally misrepresents the concept of Nash Equilibrium. It's the sort of comment one might expect from a left-wing popular website. Not from an academic being consulted as an expert on game theory.

It isn't assumed in game theory that an opponent is "bent on the other player's destruction". Mirowski's conflation of selfishness with destructiveness is a common prejudice among the Left, but hardly a useful analytical contribution.