Anatol Rappaport, 1911-2007

Via Crooked Timber, Anatol Rappaport, best known for the the most successful strategy in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, “Tit-for-Tat” (a very important finding in political science, economics, and biology), is dead.

For Anatol Rapoport, rationality wasn’t all that rational. It was slippery and deceptive and tended to default to the selfish interests of the individual, only to hurt collective interests. Examples abounded: If every farmer kept as many cows as possible, soon there would be no grass to graze on, and all cows would die. If everyone ran for the exit of a burning building at once, no one would get out. If every fisherman took the maximum catch, the fishery would soon be depleted.

He believed war was no different: Belligerent factions actually work toward the same goal — to kill — in what appears (to them) as rational behaviour. The result is that all humanity is needlessly threatened by war and conflict.

Among the most versatile minds of the 20th century, Dr. Rapoport applied his protean talents in mathematics, psychology and game theory to peace and conflict resolution. The first professor of peace and conflict studies at the University of Toronto, he is known as one of the world’s leading lights in the application of mathematical models to the social sciences.

“This is a great loss for the program, the centre, Canada, and, indeed, all of humanity,” said Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the program’s successor, the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at U of T. “He was a man of staggering intellectual scope.”