Friday, 14 February 2020

Cooperate, cooperate / Defect, defect

I have written about the Prisoner's Dilemma several times on this blog over the years. The famous thought-experiment holds a useful life lesson for us all. I came across this excellent version (link below), using a coin game in place of the harder-to-understand dilemma put to the prisoners, but essentially working the same way.

It's you vs. another person. Do you cooperate for mutual interest, or do you try to cheat the other player? More importantly, in the long term - which strategy works best?

[Click through to the game, and have a go for yourself. See what works and what doesn't. It's worth spending a bit of time to understand it.]

Once you've done that, time for reflection. The strategy that is clearly victorious is the one whereby you start off trusting the other person, and continue cooperating with them until the very moment in which they do the dirty on you. Then you break off. Then you carry on retaliating - until the very moment in which they relent and go back to cooperation. In this version of the game, this is called the 'copycat' strategy. It depends on your copying of what the other player does, in the very next round. No need to initiate or think. Nothing smart about this strategy - there are others which depend on you trying to work out the other player's strategy (assuming they have one).

The results are clear - if you carry on cooperating even when the other player is abusing you, you're a sucker and deserve to lose. And if you are abusive you will not get far either; people will work out that you play dirty and will start to hit back.

The 'copycat' strategy is essentially the one deployed by the US in the Pacific War. The Japanese bomb your fleet? You take the war to them. You hammer them at sea and from the air. Eventually, they surrender. Then you help them rebuild, grow their economy. But watch that they don't defect on you again.

The 'sucker' strategy? Appeasing aggression. Hoping the defector will come to their senses and change behaviour, unbidden. To quote Lenin again; if you plunge in the bayonet and feel nothing but mush, keep pushing. But if you push in the bayonet and come across steel - stop.

So cooperate, cooperate / defect, defect is the way to go.

Would that it were so simple.

Define 'defect' and define 'punish'? Here is the problem. Is the fact that a friend of yours voted for Brexit or Trump or PiS a 'defection'? Is it reason to 'punish'? And what form should that 'punishment' take? If someone parks their car across the pavement so you can't push through with a wheelchair - is that reason to scratch the car - or is leaving a polite note under the windscreen enough? A house in your neighbourhood continues to burn crap, harming air quality for everyone. Call Straż miejska? Or heave a brick through their window and continue to do so until they switch to a cleaner fuel?

A thought-experiment that is binary in its policy-response choice (cooperate or defect) comes face-to-face with the messiness of reality, composed of an infinite number of shades and nuances. Here, that crucial word 'judgment' (a word so lacking in Polish!) comes into play. Response needs to be proportionate, balanced and fair; one needs to be alert to infractions and instances of the other player defecting - even when no binary border has been crossed.

This is Putin's strategy - avoid crossing the red lines (such as invading a NATO member), but pushing all the time through social-media trolls, agents of influence and useful idiots for a similar outcome - splitting Western societies. The West needs to take tougher action to send the message to Putin that this behaviour is utterly unacceptable. The balanced response would be to step up sanctions against Russian oligarchs who are in Putin's pockets and their assets, while at the same time launching an unattributable cyber-war against Russian IT systems. Cooperate. cooperate / Defect, defect. And keep on hitting back until the very second Russia relents. And should it then renege, return to hitting back. And so on until the end of time - the copycat strategy is the one that works best - something proven by millions of rounds of simulation.

This time two years ago:
The Becoming and the Magic that'll Re-enchant Us

This time three years ago
Short-haul musings 

This time four years ago:
Mind, matter and life

This time five years ago:
Compositions in blue and white

This time eight years ago:
Waiting for the change to come

This time nine years ago
A wetter Poland?

This time 11 years ago:
Heavy overnight snow

This time ten years ago:
Changing Jeziorki skyline


Adelaide Dupont said...

To think that it is 25 years since I first decided I was going to learn Polish. (It wasn't a new year resolution but it did come up in the academic year and it was firm by Lent/Mother Tongue Day).

For reasons related to my personal life and my environment - the judgement thing/concept came up in September 1995.

And here I am in 2020 and just learning the Poles seem to have no word for the type of judgement that would help with the Prisoner's Dilemma.

I imagine it is a related lexicon and closely related things like betrayal and cheating.

Me I try to trust first. And trust. And trust.

Adelaide Dupont (somehow I can't fix the semicolon in the name section).

Michael Dembinski said...


This from Google Translate:


judgment, sentence, verdict, decree, conviction, pronouncement
judgment, decision, statement, predicate, opinion, verdict
court, judgment, tribunal, court of law, law court, court of justice
opinion, reputation, view, expertise, judgment, sentiment
reason, understanding, judgment, mind, wits, intellect
sense, reason, judgment, senses, rationality, intellect
sentence, opinion, mind, clause, thought, judgment

None of these would fit in the sentence "He habitually shows poor judgment in such cases".

Other English words that don't have natural Polish translations:


Vulnerable / fragile

Adelaide Dupont said...


Thank you for all the great Polish words which cover judgement.

[And then there's the whole adjudge thing - thinking of all those useful prefixes]

I use places like which has some really good advice and words for expats and repats - and has got me through lots of emotional words over the past three months and so. And there was one more good Polish-English dictionary.

Rozum I know well enough - mostly from making it into a verb. Like "I understand; you understand; she understands; we understand; they understand".

And finding the words for each sentence.

And I remember last week/the week before last where sworn translators provided a lot of ...

Thank you for those two "words that don't seem to do natural Polish translations" - bully and vulnerable/fragile. ;-0.

If I were in the wrong mood I would think - ah, what a jab! Or it may hit a nerve somewhere in someone else.

Now I will turn and think about why that is.

Today on the TV there was a lady who had a brain injury 12 years ago and she was no longer able to pick up on the signals. Over the last few years that woman learnt to re-trust and build things up algorithytically so to speak.

This was a programme called Q and A and it was all about trust.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation.