Is choice just a mind game?

NYU (US) — By illuminating rational choice, game theory can expound on strategic questions in the humanities made by characters in a range of  texts that include the Bible and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

In Game Theory and the Humanities: Bridging Two Worlds, Steven Brams, professor of politics at New York University, helps the reader relate characters’ goals to their choices and the consequences of those choices.

Game theory models are common in the sciences and social sciences, Brams says, but  have been only sporadically applied to the humanities, with mathematical calculations of strategic choice seen as irrelevant to the worlds of literature, history, law, and philosophy.

Much of his analysis is based on the gradual development and application of the theory of moves, which is grounded in game theory and highlights the dynamics of player choice, including misperceptions, deceptions, and uses of different kinds of power.

Brams examines such topics as the outcome and payoff matrix of Pascal’s wager on the existence of God; the strategic games played by presidents and Supreme Court justices; frustration games, as illustrated by the strategic use of sexual abstinence in Aristophanes’s Lysistrata; and how information is slowly uncovered in the game played by Hamlet and Claudius.

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