Robert Wright’s Non-Zero

In the games we know: football, baseball, tennis, etc, one side wins and the other loses. They are zero-sum games. Is life a game? Well, you could argue that we have goals and either we get them or we don’t. But really we sort of have a smorgasbord of goals, many shared, and many people sort of on our team and sort of not on our team. And so cooperation is on the menu for us in a way that it is not for zero-sum games like sports.

Robert Wright shows us how much of the progress of mankind comes from the mathematical fact that competition leads to better gene proliferation than competition. If you’ve ever wondered…ok…you’ve never wondered how game theory can explain our modern life, but really you should have thought about it. Wright sees “progress” as built into the fabric of life simply by the statistical fact that working together yields slightly better results than working against.

Cooperation is an adaptation. The animals that cooperate well had a leg up on those that didn’t, and now we see wolves hunting together, lions hunting together, and the animals they hunt working together to foil their plans by encircling young ones and risking their necks by giving warning calls. In humans this has taken a steeper trajectory. Groups that cooperated well could grow larger and thereby defeat smaller groups. Much of history is about warring and conquering and cooperation was a adaptation to excel at this.

He’ll take you on a fascinating ride through history to show the unstoppable tendency for cooperation. Even the nasty moments of war eventually end up creating larger unified groups – groups that work together on a greater scale to create greater human advancement.

It’s a life-changing new look at the world, one that should give pessimists like a me good reason to have faith in the world.
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny

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