Game theory and strategic equilibrium

In Game theory and interpersonal relations, I said:

…The end result of any particular model is called its “equilibrium.” Equilibrium implies no one will change their input if external conditions remain the same.

To refine that statement I should add that equilibrium in game theory really means “equilibrium of strategies” or “strategic equilibrium.” And this means that players, each acting in their own self-interest, have found the best strategy/ies to achieve the outcomes they desire.

When there is a strategic equilibrium, players will continue playing the game using the same strategies. And this will produce an equilibrium outcome.

An economic description of sharing focuses on an equilibrium of economic values. A game theory description of sharing focuses on the strategies that produce that equilibrium (which as a game may grow in many directions).

In the interpersonal game of FIML, the best strategy has already been determined. It can be found at How to do FIML.

FIML practice is based on an agreement between players to be (strategically) scrupulously honest in small matters involving only the contents of their working memories. This strategy includes saying, : “I do not want to answer that question right now.”

A very interesting side of FIML practice is either player could cheat by only pretending to follow the FIML honesty rule. Since the FIML game is designed to provide ongoing insights into your own psychology as well as your partner’s, I believe most sincere players will at some point discover that not cheating is by far the best strategy.

I do think many fundamentally honest people will be tempted to fudge their FIML replies for a period of time because that is how we all have been conditioned by our various societies, none of which has ever practiced FIML.

Rather than practice scrupulous honesty in very small matters with just one person, many of us will tend at first to avoid even that minor discomfort, remain the same, preserve our personas, withhold information, and so on. We do this because that is how all societies have conditioned their members.

There are two possible fudging scenarios in the FIML game:

  1. one player fudges
  2. both players fudge

If the fudging player is fundamentally honest, I believe they will come to see that they are harming themself as well as their partner; and that their best strategy is to fudge no more.

In the worse case scenario where both partners fudge, I am pretty sure that in most cases the fudging will gradually be eliminated because:

  1. partners will fudge at different times, on different occasions often enough to
  2. see that the value of hearing an honest reply or speaking an honest reply is much greater than not doing so
  3. additionally, both players will come to see that FIML outcomes accumulate, grow, feed on themselves (self-catalyze), thus compounding and multiplying benefits for both players over time

All the rules and moves and strategies used in FIML are out in the open and known to both players. The good results of playing honestly and well will become very apparent to players the more they play the game.

FIML as described on this website has very few rules and almost no content. In this respect, the FIML game you play with your partner will quickly become unique to the two of you. Not only are you with someone you love, but also you are now able to play a wonderful game of mutual and shared self-discovery. Where is goes, only you two will decide.

For this reason or these reasons, I think FIML could be called the Most Magnificent Game. It has few rules and almost no prescribed content and as such it will draw the best out of both players concerning the world’s most interesting subject: who am I and what the fuck am I doing here?

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What if your partner is a psychopath?

From the above, it should be clear why it is important to have a FIML partner that you care about and who cares about you. What happens if you have a psychopathic or dark triad person as a partner?

A pure psychopath with little or no malice might benefit from the game and even enjoy it. A dark triad person probably will not agree to do the game. If they do agree to play, they probably will not be able to do it well enough to fool you. I do not know what to say about a dark, hostile player who succeeds in using the game to harm an honest partner. I hope that never happens, but I suppose it will.

Players who know they want to be honest and play well would do well to be on-guard in the beginning. For a time, you could honestly conceal any suspicions about your partner with the reply, “I don’t want to answer.” After a time, though, you probably should begin exposing your suspicions in very small matters. You may (very happily) discover the suspicion was your problem and not your partner’s.

If the problem is your partner’s and your suspicions are correct though not certain in your mind, I am reasonably sure that FIML replies and discussions are such that you will gain a great deal of insight into yourself and your partner and that your judgement in this area will tend to lead toward a good outcome for both of you. Either you will be able to help your partner or you may conclude that your relationship cannot go any further.

Game theory and interpersonal relations

Game theory uses models to understand how people interact under predetermined conditions or rules.

The end result of any particular model is called its “equilibrium.” Equilibrium implies no one will change their input if external conditions remain the same.

One way to make a game theory model is to reason backwards from the equilibrium you want. To keep it simple, there are two players.

Let’s say we want an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life. Here is a hypothesis: an equilibrium like that should also result in psychological optimization, psychological well-being for both players.

To achieve that equilibrium, my game model will be based on the following rules:

  1. communication will be as honest as possible
  2. communication will be as clear as possible
  3. all acts of communication (within reason) will be subject to clarification, revision, correction, and explication to the point (within reason) that there is no misunderstanding and whatever ambiguity remains is reduced to its lowest practical level

To do this, players will:

  1. focus on the smallest practical units of communication because error and ambiguity (which often leads to error) frequently begin at this level; this level includes: words, phrases, gestures, tone of voice, expressions, gasps, laughter, grunts, and so on; anything that communicates; all pertinent semiotics
  2. correcting error at the above level, which we will call the micro-level, ensures that small mistakes do not lead to large mistakes; it also teaches players how to correct errors at meso and macro levels of communication
  3. since human minds are limited in what they know and can communicate, and if players are diligent in following the above rules, players will steadily become more familiar with each other; how they speak, hear, think, what their references are, their values, beliefs, and so on
  4. if they continue to maintain these practices, they will build on their mutual familiarity, eventually achieving an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life

I have played this game with my partner for over ten years and can attest that it has worked even better than we had hoped.

Not only have we achieved an interpersonal equilibrium that is honest, clear, and open to the dynamic reality of life, but also what we hypothesized has come to pass: this equilibrium has also resulted in what feels to us to be psychological optimization and psychological well-being for both of us.

The rules to our game can be found here: FIML.

Note that initially FIML will upset your normal interpersonal equilibrium, whatever that may be. It cannot be otherwise. Note also that the rules of FIML will help you find or create a much better equilibrium.

If FIML is undertaken in a spirit of exploration, creativity, and fun, it will tend to self-generate or self-catalyze many new insights into your psychologies and how you interact with each other.

The ultimate FIML equilibrium is a dynamic one that keeps both partners open to the dynamic reality of life. With little or no “content” of its own, FIML rules allow partners to adapt to or create any “reality” they want.

Once understood, FIML is pretty much only difficult in the very beginning because in the beginning it will upset your normal interpersonal equilibrium. By doing FIML, you are choosing to change your normal equilibrium to a more efficient one.

Status as a fetish

Fetish can be defined as “a part standing for the whole” or “one thing being made bigger than it is by having become a psychological fixation.”

A good example of what I mean is pornography. Insofar as a mere image can stand for or replace instinctual sexual objectives, it is a fetish.

A sign (pornographic image) is as strong or stronger than the animal instinct. Or a sign can direct or redirect the animal instinct. That is a fetish.

Secondary sex characteristics do the same thing. You could call them nature’s fetishes but that would be stretching the concept. Human utilizations of makeup, clothing, and grooming could be said to stand “halfway” between the basic sexual instinct and the fetishized porno image.

Let’s apply that reasoning to status.

Two social psychologist I respect—Jordan Peterson and Kevin MacDonald—have both claimed many times that status is a fundamental human instinct and that it drives human behavior in many ways.

In posts on this site, I have disagreed with these ideas several times. I just don’t see it that way. Here are two of those posts: Status and hierarchy are as fundamental to human life as murder and Jordan Peterson on the gender pay gap, campus protests and the patriarchy.

In the second link just above, I said:

…I do not believe that social status is any more fundamental to human nature than murder is. Humans also possess reason and spiritual inclinations both of which can guide us away from status competition if we decide to do that and/or our conditions allow.

I still think that but over the past day or two a new understanding of the importance of status and human hierarchy has dawned on me. In essence, I think I have come to see that status really is a huge deal for many people; a much bigger deal than I had ever realized.

My explanation for that is people like me (and there are many of us) during childhood and adolescence see the “status game” as a choice. And we decide not to play it.

My SO made that choice. When we talked about this subject this morning, she said people like us are more open to art (in a broad sense) and less concerned with social hierarchies. I think that’s true. One good friend years ago used to call me a “now person,” meaning I am always living in the here and now and not doing a lot of planning for the future. I think she also meant or implied that I am not doing any thinking about my social status or the human hierarchies that surround me.

A Buddhist nun who is a close friend has often described mundane human behaviors as being motivated by jealousy. I have often disagreed with her, believing that her emphasis on jealousy was influenced too much by her culture (Chinese) or by the innocence of her monastic lifestyle.

Today, I think she was influenced by the status-conscious world she had grown up in and as a young adult renounced for Buddhism. But I also think she was able to see something I have been almost completely blind to. For me status has always been a very small cloud on the edge of the sky, not a major thunderstorm in human motivation. For her it is, or was, a storm in the human mind.

Status is a fetish. And fetishization does explain a lot about it. But if lots of people have that fetish or have that strong understanding of status, that’s how it is. As a social construct the status fetish can be even bigger and more imposing than the basic instinct it rests upon.

I hope this post helps people who see status as important understand people like me and my SO, and vice versa.

From a Buddhist point of view, I think it is important to fully understand the entire status spectrum—from instinct to fetishized sign—and to understand where you are on that spectrum and where the people you deal with are on that spectrum.

My guess is that most people reading this blog do not think of status as being very important. People like us need to appreciate that status is probably largely what motivates good people like Jordan Peterson as well as bad people like Bernie Madoff.

Might also be good if status-conscious people would understand that people like us are not all slackers or losers, nor are we seething with envy over your status. We simply do not even see the game you are playing. We do other stuff like become monastics or perform ordinary tasks cheerfully and without complaint.

Consciousness as reality itself

In Buddhism the idea that consciousness is reality and reality is conscious is called “mind only” or Yogachara.

David Ray Griffin, a process theologian, has come to similar conclusions—that reality is fundamentally conscious.

As has Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at UC Irvine.

Hoffman came at this subject from a mathematical angle, but arrived at a similar conclusion to Yogachara Buddhism. Hoffman says:

As a conscious realist, I am postulating conscious experiences as ontological primitives, the most basic ingredients of the world. I’m claiming that experiences are the real coin of the realm. (The Case Against Reality)

I tend to reach similar conclusions when I think about everything in terms of signals.

The advantage of thinking in terms of signals is we get a good picture of “reality” without needing to say what is real beyond the signal itself.

This kind of thinking is helpful for metaphysics but it is also extremely practical when it comes to human psychology.

Rather than posit personality types and what goes wrong or right with them, we analyze how people send and receive signals instead.

In thinking along these lines, I have come to the conclusion that most psychology as most people understand it uses “arms-length” language, the language of meso and macro signals rather than the much more precise language of the micro signals that actually comprise our shared “realities.”

The difference can be illustrated in this way: Rather than explain your most recent signal (sent or received) in terms of personality, explain it by accessing the micro-signals of short-term memory to find its true antecedents.

If you do this again and again by using a game such as FIML, you will probably come to conclusions similar to the above—that there is no deeper substance to psychological reality than your consciousness of it.

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first posted 08/05/17