Everyone is saying that Metta World Peace (the basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest) is crazy for elbowing James Harden in the face. I can’t say that I disagree, but I think there is more to the story.
Did no one else notice that James Harden walked right into World Peace while he was celebrating? Watch the video. Harden walks directly into MWP. He doesn’t do anything that would cause a foul, but if he were going to actually try to receive an inbound pass, he would have walked away from opposing players, not at them.
Instead he gets real close to an ecstatic opponent known for outbursts. I’m sure he didn’t want to get elbowed in the head, but he did put himself in a position to get fouled, to take the charge as it were. If he had only been fouled, not elbowed, by a jumping MWP then people might be talking about how Harden had cleverly gotten another foul on one of the Laker’s best players through strategic gamesmanship alone.
When asked if he would shake Harden’s hand, Metta World Peace said he wouldn’t. Everyone condemned him for this too, but I’m with MWP this time. If MWP sees Harden as having taken advantage of his celebration as a cheap way to get him in trouble, then it is understandable that he wouldn’t want to shake the man’s hand. This doesn’t excuse the elbow, but it does explain the attitude.
Given an intelligent rational opponent, one who has complete information of the decision tree in a game, it may be very difficult to implement an optimal strategy. All possible moves may be accounted for and hence a stalemate may exist from the outset.
One way to proceed is to act as if your opponent may make a mistake — her hand may tremble — allowing your optimal strategy to obtain. Previously I argued that there is more too the story than merely hoping that your opponent will err at some probabilistic rate. I gave examples where errors were induced, such that they were more likely at certain times or under certain conditions.
The cannonical example given was that of furbizia (gamesmanship or guile), which causes a football opponent to make a mistake. By acting in certain ways — eg “time-wasting, physical or verbal provocation and all related psychological games, arguably even diving” — it can cause an opponent to wear out and crack. Since furbizia, by definition, occurs outside the rules and regular strategies of the game of football (and without breaking any rules), how are we to account for it?
Just Walk Away
First let’s define the Walk Away principle. The Walk Away principle states that any subgame can be walked away from, just dropped, at any point in a game. For example, during football match a player may just walk off the field and go home. Not only are all the payoffs of the game lost when a person walks away, even further payoffs, such as loss of fans and teammate’s respect, can be lost. Still, this is an option for any player at any point of a match. Imagine that news of a family member being gravely injured reached the player mid-game. Then it might make sense to just walk off the field. Another example is that of a stock portfolio. Given a certain stock portfolio, grave penalties may be incurred if money is taken out of it too soon. However, if a disaster strikes, large sums of money are needed quickly and it makes sense to liquidate the stock portfolio during those times. In this case, the economic subgame represented by the portfolio is being walked away from.
The Walk Away principle highlights that no sub-game is played in a vacuum, that there are always global variables — emergency or other unusual situations — that could radically change a person’s decision making.
Consider this scene from the movie Out of Sight: George Clooney is a fugitive and Jennifer Lopez is a marshal pursuing him. The FBI has George Clooney trapped in a hotel and Jennifer Lopez is watching one of the exits. As George Clooney goes by Jennifer Lopez, he waves at her in a friendly way – they had already been aquainted. Instead of reporting seeing him to the other officers, she freezes and does nothing, allowing Clooney to escape. Instead of playing the subgame that would have gotten her a reward by bringing in a fugitive, she, in essence, (mentally) walked away from it. From the perspective of her job and other officers, she acted irrationally. However, she decided to play a different game. That game included extending the relationship with Clooney, which would have ended had he been arrested. From that perspective, she acted rationally.
I mention this example because it shows two games that had mutually exclusive payoffs, arresting the fugitive vs. continuing the relationship, and that even though she was playing the former game, Clooney’s action — waving at her — induced her to play the latter game. Also important is that if she had not already had some relationship with Clooney, his actions would not have had such an effect on her.
Trembling hands, in these cases, may then be seen not so much as an opponent acting irrationally, but as having been induced to play a subgame with mutually exclusive payoffs from the current game (like boxing during football). However, as mentioned, it is a necessary condition that there is something prior which allows a person to be induced to play a different game. How to know who is susceptible to being so induced, and what will induce them?
Counter Intelligence and Psychological Hacking
Knowing who is susceptible and how to induce irrationality them is a counterintelligence problem. If you knew ahead of time that a company had backdated stock options, you might suspect that they would be very worried about anyone looking into their procedures. If you were then able to find a way to publicize these nefarious dealings, you could blackmail them into acting in what would otherwise be considered irrational. But the opportunity only comes with the right intelligence.
In general, unless we are personally very wealthy or in charge of a wealthy organization, we will not have an intelligence service. But this doesn’t mean we can’t gather intelligence, even over the course of a sports game. Trash talking can be seen as a psychological search strategy: by liberally insulting every competitor and saying how great you are, anyone who rises, who argues –who doesn’t walk away– may be potentially unfocussed on the game at hand. Trash talking costs very little, just some breath, but getting angry and distracted can be very costly. The more clever the trash talk, the strategic fouls, and gamesmanship in general, the wider and more sophisticated the search, the psychological hacking, becomes.
Given the results of the search, eg player 15 is most affected by being called $%!#, the gamesmanship can then be focused on the candidates most likely to react badly and at the worst possible times. This is an exploitation of the Walk Away principle. Instead of walking away from the insults, the opponent walks away from the game, if only for a few seconds: the candidate is induced into playing a subgame with mutually exclusive payoffs.
Often stakes are very high in competition and hence gathering intelligence is important. Yes the intelligence gathering and implementation/ furbizia requires effort, but as Sun Tzu notes, “Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.” (The Art of War XIII.2) What is some trash talk in the face of winning a championship, or paying off a spy when thousands of lives are on the line? Intelligence gathering and strategic implementation generally dominates simply playing by the rules.
This interpretation of furbizia/ gamesmanship as an intelligence search explains its utility and provides a way to understand furbizia in a wider setting. The high return and low relative cost explains its prevalence.
Different situations and search procedures need to be combined with traditional trembling hands dynamics to better evaluate decision strategies. For example, if an intelligence search yields results according to some function of time and factors x, then the chances of an opponent making a mistake will vary according to (f(x, t), σ), where σ is the chance of a non-induced trembling hands error. If f(x, t) finds results quickly compared to the game length, then the chance of the opponent making a mistake becomes high, and a radically different strategy should be employed to maximize upon these errors. If f(x, t) predicts when a mistakes will occur, then too a strategy tailored to these circumstances will be needed.
How are we to understand the function f(x, t)? Since it represents a kind of search, we can expect that at least some instances will fall under existing research: search theory, human & machine learning, and associated disciplines have been the subject of much interest and study. However, though we do not know which search will be used to gather the intelligence, the idea that we are doing a search lets us assume that it will return a result at some varying probability.
Combining this probability with a game theory strategy yields a both decision-like and statistical (or wave) -like property for every move in a game. Considering a game tree, each node has value for irrational behavior given by the search function, and a rational decision determined by a Nash (or other) equilibrium solution.
Backwards Induction Paradox
Equilibrium solutions to a game can be calculated with equal justification starting from the top of the game tree and working towards the payoffs or from the bottom of the game tree and working backwards from the payoffs to the initial choices. This leads to the paradox of backwards induction, which occurs when the strategy that is suggested by backwards induction is based upon parts of the game that could never be reached by using that strategy, making that strategy based upon irrational results. The traditional trembling hands solution to this paradox states that one simply assumes the rational opponent could make a mistake, have their hand tremble, justifying the reliance on the otherwise unreachable parts of the decision tree.
Now, given an associated search function in the game tree, hoping for irrationality is replaced by a search that induces it. Since this search induces irrationality, it makes sense to allow for, if not expect, irrationality. This justifies using backwards induction as a strategy even if it relies upon parts of the game that should not ever be rationally reached, especially for iterated games.
Since the search finds information about the opponent to be used during the game — but doesn’t have to be found during the game — braggadocio and cultivating a personality off the field is a can reveal information about an opponent prior to the game, saving valuable time. Having a reputation may help prime opponents* to being induced before ever personally interacting with them. Though it may also warn opponents to be prepared, everyone should already know to be prepared due to furbizia’s high prevalence anyway, and hence little is lost by practicing gamesmanship. If anything, not playing with some degree of gamesmanship is the exception to the rule, witnessed by the comment that someone ‘plays the game the right way’ is said as a compliment: that person is so good that it is completely unnecessary to use gamesmanship.
You may not want to have a reputation for playing dirty in general, but this is outside the scope of the competitive struggle, especially if you are successful. And some people like anti-heroes and ‘bad-boys,’ so a less than straight-edge reputation is not strictly detrimental. Perhaps this interpretation of furbizia also helps explain the appeal of such types. Since furbizia is an effective strategy, there is value in being ‘bad.’ An ‘all options on the table’ strategy and reputation may also be worthwhile, too. Theoretically, then, although certain reputations can have ill effects, these consequences are not significant enough to rule out using effective strategies that lead to such reputations.
Moreover, having personality and reputation is not limited to the actual players, but may include the fans. Fans insulting or harassing opponent players, and cheering/ chanting loudly at key moments may help break an opponent’s concentration. All of these practices can help lead to a critical mistake by an opponent.
Defense and Counterintelligence
Is there a way to defend against furbizia? Though there are many types of games that allow for gamesmanship, I’ll make a few suggestions on defending against it.
One of the major differences between football/soccer and other sport is that the clock never stops in soccer. One half-time break and that is all. This is very different from, say, basketball, where time outs may be called. The time out allows players to take a break, catch their breath and reorganize.
Reorganization can break up a counter intelligence search: when the situation changes, prior searches may no longer be applicable, forcing the search to begin anew. For instance, a basketball the coach may recognize the symptoms of psychological stress and call a time out before any mistakes are made. Coaches and teammates who are able to diagnose warning signs, who understand furbizia themselves, will be able to take action such as calling time outs or separating teammates from dangerous situations before a problem occurs. Without any (or much fewer) breaks, such as in soccer, a chance to take a break and reorganize is harder to come by. Perhaps this is why furbizia in soccer is so well developed: it has the greatest opportunity to work in a game with fewer breaks.
Any and all other methods for disrupting the search, if only cracking a joke that makes the opponent laugh, calling the referee’s attention to the gamesmanship or being so friendly that your opponent feels bad insulting you, should be employed as applicable.
Alternatively, one can run counter-intelligence. If an opponent is committed to using furbizia, then the trick is to get them to over-commit to it. Either push them too far, so their gamesmanship does break an official rule of the game, or make them waste time and effort on it to the detriment of the rest of their play. In the end, make furbizia work for you.
“You’re being unreasonable!”
One or more of you may have had this directed at you. But what does the speaker mean by it?
Presumably the speaker believes that the listener is not acting according to some given standard. However, if the speaker had an argument to that effect, the speaker should’ve presented it. Hence, all the above statement means is that the speaker has run out of arguments and has resorted to name-calling: being unreasonable is another way of saying crazy.
Now, though, the situation has reversed itself. It is not the listener that has acted unreasonably, but the speaker. Without an argument that concludes that the listener is being unreasonable, then it is not the listener that is being unreasonable, but the speaker. The speaker is name-calling, when, by the speaker’s own standards, an argument is required. For what else is reasonable but to present an argument? So, by saying that the listener is being unreasonable, in essence the speaker is declaring themself unreasonable.
But, yet again, the situation reverses itself. If a person has run out of arguments, and makes a statement to that effect, then he or she is being perfectly reasonable. This returns us to the beginning! Therefore, by making a claim about someone else being unreasonable, you paradoxically show that you yourself are and are not reasonable, such that if you are, then you are not, and if you are not, then you are.
Welcome to the one hundred forty first philosophy carnival. In my internet travels I found some really cool philosophy inspired posters by Genis Carreras, which I have paired with the links to pretty up the carnival.
Zombies, because philosophers like zombies.
This is my favorite post of the carnival: U-Phil: Deconstructing Dynamic Dutch-Books? by Deborah G. Mayo. It is about dogmatism in Bayesian epistemology when considering Dutch Book arguments, as viewed by a frequentist. This is great stuff.
Is There a Difference Between Memory and Imagination? Ok, this has little to do with dogma, but I had nowhere else to put it. Greg argues that remembering is closer to imagination since it is a reconstruction.
What happens when people are placed under linguistic constraints and need to communicate? Experimental semiotics provides some insight with combinatoriality (recurrence of basic forms), but Gualtiero Piccinini argues that natural language is more complex. He says it requires potential infinite complexity, which may not occur with only combinatoriality. Still, ES leads him to hypothesize the “Gavagai Game” of language generation, which could provide insight into language.
Two different ethical views are propounded this carnival:
Richard Chappell, however, outlines a position where acts are evaluated on utility, not the character of the person doing them. By evaluating acts and not the person’s character, individual accidents of psychology which may make one person much more (in)sensitive to certain issues than others may be separated from their moral will. He argues that this position is highly practical.
The Business of Philosophy
Secondly the smokers have posted and been discussing some cool research done in the area of tenure-track philosophy hiring by Carolyn Dicey Jennings. So you want a philosophy job? Take a gander and these numbers! [Go BU!]
Two takes on Rule Following
Murali at the Leage of Ordinary Gentlemen argues for a basis of law on a two tier system, the distinction between habit and rule following, and an internal point of view.
Dave Maier discusses semantic rule following in Wittgenstein. This is actually a really good discussion of how we get caught in a bind of wanting both definitions and revisability when it comes to identifying fundamental measures, but I’m actually posting this because I want to point out that my duckrabbit is better (and more stylish) than his duckrabbit. My duckrabbit should be the standard duckrabbit. And what if my duckrabbit were to significantly change? Would we have to revise all other duckrabbits to account for the change? Of course not. Since it is so inconceivable that my duckrabbit should become fundamentally different, if it were to change, it would signify that we had lost our minds. So there is no problem here at all.
But What is Philosophy
Another article by Dave Maier, What is philosophy, again?, but this one over at 3 Quarks Daily.
My contribution to the carnival is that I am starting a new blog, The Road to Sippy Cups. My inaugural post is I Sneeze, Therefore I Am. I say on the about page, “Philosophy’s goal is to wean us off ideas — even if they had sustained us — because those ideas no longer provide us with what we need, and, hopefully, onto better ones.” And I will be writing, “metaphysics with an eye towards values, humans and society.” So I encourage you to go check it out.
If you have made it this far…
… you might be an internet philosopher!
So go over to the philosophy carnival page and sign up to host or submit your work!
I’ll be hosting the next philosophy carnival, so please submit some fun links over at http://philosophycarnival.blogspot.com/.
At least since Selten (1975) game theorists have considered that given a series of decisions there is some small probability that the person making the decisions will make a mistake and do something irrational, even if she knows the right thing to do. This is called the trembling hand approach: although a person rationally knows the right (rational) thing to do, sometimes her hand trembles and she chooses incorrectly.
Therefore, given a game defined by a finite set of iterated decisions and payoffs in which all the rational moves are known by both players (think Tic Tac Toe), there is a ‘perturbed’ game in which the rational choices are not made. So consider playing a game of Tic Tac Toe: Either player can always force a draw in Tic Tac Toe and hence prevent loss. However, it is easy enough to make a mistake (through inattentiveness, eg) and allow your opponent to win.
I believe this approach is a good start but does not go nearly far enough to incorporate probability into game theory. The issue stems from the trembling hand approach assuming that irrational behavior occurs because of ‘some unspecified psychological mechanism.’ This is fine, but then every trembling hand probability, every chance of making an irrational decision, is defined as a separate, independent probability. This means that making an irrational decision is based on chance, as if we roll a die every decision we make.
Perhaps some people have this problem, that they act irrationally at probabilistic rates, but this doesn’t seem either realistic, or fit with the idea that a psychological mechanism was at work. If some psychological mechanism was at work, then we would expect
- The probabilities of making mistakes would not be independent of each other, since they have a common source.
- There would be a much higher chance of irrationality at times when the psychological issue manifests itself.
One example of what I have in mind is the effectiveness of gamesmanship in sport. Gamesmanship is the art of getting into your opponents head and causing them to make mistakes. Consider this description of “furbizia” in Italian soccer by Andrea Tallarita:
Perhaps nothing has been more influential in determining the popular perception of the Italian game than furbizia, the art of guile… The word ‘furbizia’ itself means guile, cunning or astuteness. It refers to a method which is often (and admittedly) rather sly, a not particularly by-the-book approach to the performative, tactical and psychological part of the game. Core to furbizia is that it is executed by means of stratagems which are available to all players on the pitch, not only to one team. What are these stratagems? Here are a few: tactical fouls, taking free kicks before the goalkeeper has finished positioning himself, time-wasting, physical or verbal provocation and all related psychological games, arguably even diving… Anyone can provoke an adversary, but it takes real guile (real furbizia) to find the weakest links in the other team’s psychology, then wear them out and bite them until something or someone gives in – all without ever breaking a single rule in the book of football. (via)
If we try to explain the an instance of someone making an irrational play in a game due to gamesmanship/furbizia according to the trembling hand model, we run into difficulty. The decision tree according to the ‘trembling hand’ theory would have a series of decisions each with a low probability of making an irrational mistake:
Hence it cannot explain why someone would crack later in the game as opposed to earlier, since all the probabilities are equal. Nor can it explain why people make irrational decisions at higher rates when playing against a crafty opponent than they would make otherwise. Therefore the trembling hand model cannot explain the effectiveness of gamesmanship.
But the decision tree given linked, non-independent probabilities might have the chance of an irrational decision given by:
This model has an increasing chance of irrational action. As time progresses, it becomes increasingly likely that an irrational choice will occur due to the gamesmanship of the opponent.
I’ll refer to this model generally as induced irrationality. Induced irrationality occurs when the chance of making a rational decision decreases due to some factor, or when the chances of making irrational decisions over time change in concert, or both.
Other phenomena follow this pattern. Bullying comes to mind: it is similar to gamesmanship in its breaking or bending of ‘rules’ over time to get in someone’s head and thence get them to do things they would rather not do. The bullied will act irrationally in the presence of the bully and potentially more so as the bullying continues, perhaps even leading to “snapping”— doing something seriously irrational.
Phobias are also similar: for whatever reason a person has a phobia, and given the presence of that object or situation, the otherwise rational person will make different decisions.
Moreover this may have something to do with the Gambler’s Fallacy: By making a gambler associate a pattern to some random act, such as by showing the gambler all the recent values of a roulette wheel in order to convince the gambler to believe that the wheel likely will land on red (or losing a few bets to a shill in 3 card monte, or seeing a pattern in the stock market, etc.), the casino has planted a belief in the gambler. Hence, as time goes on and red is not landed upon, the gambler increasingly thinks it is ever more likely that red will hit (even though it has the same low chance as it always did). Hence the gambler will likely bet more later — more irrationally — as he expects red to be increasingly likely to hit.
Hence, though trembling hands may be a factor in irrational decision making, it does not seem like it is the only possibility or even the most significant in a number of interesting cases.
My brother beat the Tic Tac Toe playing chicken when the Chinatown Fair Arcade (NYC) still operated. I assume that there was a computer choosing the game moves and it happened to glitch when my brother was playing: though the machine claimed it won, if you looked at the Xs and Os, my brother had won. We asked the manager for our promised bag of fortune cookies. He said he didn’t actually have a bag since the chicken wasn’t ever supposed to lose.