Marcel Duchamp, Portrait of Chess Players

Playing to Win: an Introduction to Game Theory

Instructor: Raphaële Chappe
The Workmen’s Circle
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018

From zero-sum games and the “prisoner’s dilemma” to rational actors and the Nash equilibrium, game theory has grown from a bold conjecture into a deeply influential mode of analysis in political science, economics, psychology, business, mathematics, and even military strategy. Based on a theory of simple card games developed by John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, game theory seeks to use these game situations to model human, computer, and even animal behavior and has been employed everywhere from WWII-era anti-aircraft weapons to contemporary algorithmic design for smart phones and internet platforms. Grounded in the premise that we can know, discover, or model rational decision making processes in situations of interdependent strategic interaction, game theory has often been proposed as a kind of “unified field theory” for the social sciences. Yet empirical studies often complicate this towering ambition. What are the uses and abuses of game theory especially when we confront its possible computational, social, and psychological limits?

In this class, we will study the basic concepts of game theory (cooperative and non-cooperative games, zero or non-zero sum, dominant strategies, best responses, Nash equilibria) and examine a selection of classic games while surveying a wide range of applications to understand how game theory models social behavior. Students will also examine more recent, cutting-edge work–for instance, attempts to explain the emergence of cooperative behavior and social norms, and to adopt greater realism in the description of human agency. Readings will include extracts from Schelling’s classic The Strategy of Conflict (1960) and Micromotives and Macrobehavior (1978), as well as Dixit and Nalebuff’s The Art of Strategy (2008). What are the assumptions about rationality and calculation that underlie game theoretical thinking? To what extent does game theory inform social inquiry? Finally, how does the application of game theory transform not just ideas about human subjects but human subjectivity itself?

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm
January 25 — February 15, 2018
4 weeks


Registration Open

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