Game Theory and the Humanities

Article excerpt

GAME THEORY AND THE HUMANITIES by Steven J. Brams MIT Press, 2011, 319 pp. ISBN: 978-0-262-01522-6

Game Theory and the Humanities is an interesting new book on applied mathematics containing two themes. The first describes, through a series of examples, how game theory may be applied to philosophy, political philosophy, religion, theology, law, history, and literature. The second introduces and develops the author's theory of moves (denoted TOM). TOM builds upon classical game theory by describing optimal strategies when players can move and countermove from an initial state in a normal game matrix.

Game Theory and the Humanities consists of eleven chapters and an Appendix, which gives a complete list of 2 ? 2 ordinal games (players have two strategies and the payoffs are preference rankings). Brams begins with a survey of existing game theoretic approaches to literature, much of which he finds lacking the depth of either mathematical analysis or literary criticism; and he calls for more collaboration between game theorists and literary scholars. The book goes on to offer examples of how a serious application of game theory to the humanities can yield insights into both areas.

Brams' examples and analysis are fascinating. For example, he game theoretically tackles the biblical stories of Abraham and Isaac, and Samson and Delilah. His analysis offers up, among other ideas, the view of Jehovah's instructions to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and Abraham's obethence, as a two-person game. Brams also takes a serious look at the well-known Pascal's Wager on whether or not to believe in God. Included in this analysis is a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not a deity should reveal himself (or herself) to mortals.

Chapters in Game Theory and the Humanities discuss philosophy (fair division and conflict resolution), the American judicial system (Supreme Court challenges and jury selection), modeling frustration and anger in plays (Lysistrata and Macbeth), the rationality of magnanimity after wars (Franco-Prussian War), applying the theory of games with incomplete information to literature (Hamlet) and history (the Cuban Missile Crisis), and catch-22s in literature (Catch-22) and history (witch trials). …