Friday, May 11, 2007

Nice Guy Finishes First?

From this episode of BBC Horizon two decades ago, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins showed us the simple "tit-for-tat" strategy may actually be the best strategy in the real biological and human society when species facing the problem of so called "prisoner's dilemma". It's a strategy of reciprocal altruism, and yet the simplest strategy to benefit both sides of the players - only by replicating the last move of the opponent. Through field experiments, the idea of how selfish gene can give rise to altruistic behavior was explained. Scientists then compared dozens of computer programs based on distinctive algorithms, "tit-for-tat" ranked highest.

In this documentary, Richard Dawkins also clarified the fact that there has been a common misconception of the term selfish gene which was often used to justify some far left political actions. He illustrated how competitiveness still worked in evolutionary biology and the so called selfish gene did not preclude cooperations among species. Examples of sophisticated cooperation in the animal kingdom were given, when hyenas brought down a gnu, or when a group of gnus protected the babies of their flock, even though they were not directly related.

At the end of this show, Dawkins quoted from American biologist Garet Hardin's view of life --"Nice Guy Finishes Last", but he changed this quite memorable phrase into "Nice Guy Finishes First" in order to underline the basic natural intelligence, not the artificial intelligence, of tit-for-tat style altruistic cooperation.

Although this documentary was first broadcasted in the late 1980s, it still serves as a highly valuable video on evolution, a topic which so many people still lack even basic understanding about. It is well worth watching.

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