The Supernatural in the Natural 6 – Conflict Resolution

From the “Expected Yet Exciting” files: Computer programs show God treats our sinful behaviour optimally.
God and Game Theory. Oh yes, it’s time to unleash your inner geek…

Game Theory

beautifulmindThanks to the movie based on his life called “A Beautiful Mind”, American Mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. is perhaps the most famous exponent of Game Theory.

Game theory, it isn’t about how to finish the latest 3D shooter or knock over the most pigs with the least angry birds. It’s actually used by mathematicians to analyse how decisions made in a competition affect the ultimate outcome.

“The Prisoners’ Dilema” is thought experiment classically used to demonstrate the use of Game Theory. This is how it runs

  • Two men are arrested, but the police don’t have enough information for a conviction.
  • The police separate the two men and offer both the same deal:
    • Testify against your partner (defect/betray) and you go free if he remains silent (cooperate/assist). If you remain silent but your partner betrays you, he goes free and you spend 1 year in jail.
    • If you both betray each other, you both spend 3 months in jail.
    • If you both remain silent, you both get jailed for only 1 month on a minor charge.
  • Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet from the other.

What should they do?

Keep playing this game over and over while remembering each prisoner’s past decisions and you have the “Iterated Prisoners’ Dilemma” or IPD game.

Game On

Fundamental to certain theories of human cooperation and trust, the IPD game is also known as the “Peace-War game”. Because its resembles everyday situations we face, the IPD game is quite interesting. It is especially interesting if you can see what the outcomes are when you make the decisions purely on a logical basis and what better way to do this than via emotionless computer programs?

Geeks to the rescue, this is has been done. University academics around the world submitted their computer programs to compete against each other in an international IPD tournament. As you’d expect, the programs entered had different strategies for winning and therefore different levels of hostility, capacity for forgiveness etc.

Here’s the punch-line: Purely from the perspective of self-interest, the longer you play the game, the more obvious it is that greedy strategies are worse compared to altruistic ones. That’s to say, the strategies which cared for others won.

The top scoring strategies had the following features:

  • The most important condition is that the strategy must be “nice”, that is, it will not defect before its opponent does (this is sometimes referred to as an “optimistic” algorithm). Almost all of the top-scoring strategies were nice.
  • However, successful strategies weren’t blind optimists. They must sometimes retaliate. An example of a non-retaliating strategy is one that always cooperates. This is a very bad choice, as “nasty” strategies will ruthlessly exploit such players.
  • Successful strategies must also be forgiving. Though successful players will retaliate, they will fall back to cooperating if the opponent does not continue to defect. This stops long runs of revenge and counter-revenge, maximizing points.
  • The last quality of top scoring strategies is being non-envious, that is not striving to score more than the opponent.

God’s Game

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Again, Jesus is our answer. We just need to know Him and how to apply His principles…

  • God starts with the attitude of giving us a chance (Optimistic)
    “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
    “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” 1 Corinthians 13:4
    “For the LORD thy God is a merciful God; He will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which He sware unto them.” Deuteronomy 4:31
    “The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.” Psalm 116:5
  • However, God will not hold punishment back forever (Retaliating):
    “For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause.” Isaiah 34:8
    “For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come.” Isaiah 63:4
    “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Romans 12:19
    “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” Galatians 6:7-8
  • But God does gives us another chance, He is famous for being Forgiving:
    “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
    “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
    “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13
    “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25
  • God is also famous for being selfless (Non-envious):
    “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16
    “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

Your Game

No one does anything better than God and here’s further proof. As always, He challenges us to up our game.

So when it comes to disagreements, if you want a loving outcome, you need to know how to love. And since God is love, follow His game plan. Conflict resolution does not mean only one wins. In game theory, that’s a zero-sum game where there’s always a winner and always a loser. Let’s follow God’s supernatural example and escape that natural equation.


Other articles in this series.


Images from Internet

Join the conversation