Some of the reviews of Michael Chwe’s Jane Austen, Game Theorist suggest that it is worth a read (such as Diane Coyle ). One idea in the book that I like the sound of is “cluelessness”.

From Jennifer Schuessler in the NYT:

Most game theory, he noted, treats players as equally “rational” parties sitting across a chessboard. But many situations, Mr. Chwe points out, involve parties with unequal levels of strategic thinking. Sometimes a party may simply lack ability. But sometimes a powerful party faced with a weaker one may not realize it even needs to think strategically.

Applications of game theory to the real world often neglect the limited ability of the players. And this is not simply a case of bounded rationality or biases of the types identified in behavioural economics. It includes straight miscalculation. Some problems are hard and even those that are easy are often messed up. The reviews also hint at another important feature of cluelessness – that not all people are equal and we can expect more clueless behaviour from some people than others.

I am a fan of the analysis of crime, cooperation, war, sports and so on from the perspective of cold rationality (an evolutionary-derived rationality of course). But acknowledging the cluelessness of the players can provide a simple explanation for a lot of apparently mysterious behaviour.

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