Tag Archives: Competition

The Prisoner’s Dilemma


This is story about Al and Bob and their reasons to confess or not to confess on a crime they may or may not have committed.  For whatever reasons, Al and Bob were brought in on charges, and taken to different cells/interrogation rooms; while being questioned and treated roughly the same.

With Al in one room, and Bob being in another, the police tell them they have evidence of crime X being committed by them, and that the other is already squealing and giving out the other.

This would be an intense situation for anyone, since the police are allowed to legally lie to you to get a confession, and even mores, they are telling you your friend/lover/whoever-is-close is siding with the police for said crime.  This is where the dilemma lies, Confitemini Domino et non est differentia in, “Confess or not, the difference is within.”

If you analyze the picture and the data on the Prisoner’s Dilemma, neither Al or Bob know what the other is doing because the police have them separated, interrogating them in separate rooms multiple times with multiple people al with different control questions.  All of which is created, rehearsed, and performed by the detectives to find “the holes” in your story.

Taking this mental, if not in some cases physical, torture into account, the next question that is raised is: What would a rational “thing” do under ignorance, for the “me” and the “we”.  If you analyze the picture, the argument claims that Al and Bob, by each confessing against the other, each get only 5 years, and that is the most rational thing for the “me”.

The trick for the authorities is the unknown factor of what the other associate has told the detective, and the fear of serving 20 years and the other associate being set free and clear of all charges.

This means that the most rational answer or the “We” is that neither confess, and at maximum you get an undisclosed set of time in jail; which is used to persuade people to give up their information, for example: journalists.  So, in other words, by NOT COOPERATING with the authorities and spending a short, undisclosed amount of time in the system is ultimately the best option to take if you are the accused.  The accused would be giving up something, the X, some time for example, but it is not only more beneficial, but more rational, to the group to cooperate (~C) than compete (C).

Now, there is AN IMPORTANT concept that needs to be discussed within the Prisoner’s Dilemma, in relation to confessing.  The story/picture says Al or Bob will get 20 years, while the other gets nothing, but where you have to notice is that this 20 years is really an interpretation for the breaking point of a human being.  The large number, the poor conditions, the FEAR, is meant to entice a confession.  How far will someone go to get information, history has demonstrated there to be no limit; that cannot be said about the human body, psyche, or spirit.  The problem with this extreme is that extreme individuals will go to extreme lengths to alive their goals, using the most heinous methods to extract information.

This is a brief summary of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and some things to be wary of when analyzing this material: go here for an in-depth analysis, or here or for broad analysis.

I hope a major point that is taken away from this post is that, whether we are talking about  the environment, animals, psychology, economics, social dilemmas, or even the arms race and military escalation, the Prisoner’s Dilemma is about showing people what can be accomplished through cooperation rather than competition.  In other words, the Prisoner’s Dilemma is a sound argument that it can be RATIONAL to COOPERATE, contrary to capitalism, which claims competition is favored.

Now, this also makes me wonder about the difference of authority when analyzed from a competition versus a cooperation platform?