Lessons from the Leading Game Theorist: An interview with Robert Axelrod

Eric Michael Johnson in Evonomics:

ScreenHunter_1859 Apr. 15 20.33Why do we choose to cooperate and how can we promote greater cooperation in world affairs? These are the questions that Robert Axelrod has pursued for more than 40 years. His career has been an interdisciplinary exploration that has encompassed mathematics, political science, and evolutionary biology. Now, his signature achievements in the areas of economic game theory and complex systems have earned him the highest scientific honor that the United States can bestow: the National Medal of Science.

I first encountered Axelrod’s work during my graduate studies working with great apes. His suggestion that cooperation could evolve as an adaptive strategy was an inspiration for me in a field still dominated by the view that selfish interests were the primary driver of evolution. After several years of watching bonobos – one of our closest evolutionary relatives – as they peacefully shared their resources with groupmates and avoided violence at all costs, I was eager for an alternative explanation. Axelrod’s publications with the celebrated evolutionary biologist William Hamilton had put the study of cooperation on a new foundation. What’s more, his application of this work to economics and political science offered the potential for an evolutionary framework that could help reduce violence and encourage mutual aid between nations and peoples.

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