J. Nash: Love, Self-Deception and Game Theory

I have always wondered why I am not that great at playing chess. I almost always seem to find myself playing on the defensive, trying to shield and protect but never cast any aggressive maneuvers to capture an offensive. The reason is because I never approach the game with a defined strategy anyone could follow from a ‘how to play chess‘ book that explains the best openings or combinations of common moves. Knowing how to play the game is one thing, but a dominant strategy breeds a type of weakness to a large part of the game since and any intuitive fluidity largely depends on your opponent’ knowledge of common game plans. I find myself rolling my eyes knowing that they have executed a known opening or a genial move and the cold and calculative process ignites my boredom that I simply juice things up by adding an element of surprise, a sacrifice or some positional compensation to entertain a zwischenzug for instance.

In similar vein, Chess can be like going out on a blind date with a man who strategically follows dating conventions that is socially predictable and regulated in order to attempt to win his desired outcome. Hume would probably agree that it is to feign common interest by playing his part in courtship methods to shape some mutual understanding and the behaviour and responses are so predictable for me that my only interest is to uncover this conventional order and expose the camouflage or the formalised script he is following. We are expected to emotionally identify with these customary social constructs – that somehow ‘romance’ equates to roses and chocolates for instance – and that reality itself or our very individuality becomes just some mechanism based on status and how well we present these feigned conventions. We give gifts with the expectation that it will be reciprocated. We come to believe that what is socially conditioned, that pre-established patterns of behaviour that we blindly follow and our emotional reactions is ‘who we are’ when we are merely demonstrating this social deference. Thus, I purposefully throw him off by asking meaningful questions or otherwise acting in a manner that deviates from this compressed method of social interaction just to find out if he actually exists and try to uncover the real person that I am having dinner with.


Any first-person phenomonology that articulates the actual or underlying motivation that prompts romantic activity – loneliness, a need to be socially accepted, biological or sexual etc – is hidden under this social guise that relationships are no longer about any genuine connectedness or any authentic bond between two individuals. It prompts people to suffer and tolerate a subscription to activities that they are culturally told to perform and by conforming to these variables of ‘love’ that merely explains predictable and dominant romantic scripts to idealise sexual relationships, they are applauded or rejected by the general audience depending on how well they perform and read this pre-written script. The delusional aspect to this ‘game’ is that it actually generates emotional responses to socially conditioned stereotypes as though the game itself were real.

It is also probably the reason why I often win when I sit to a game of backgammon, since the probability distribution through the randomisation of a rolled dice makes the heat of each move more intuitive and one needs to think quick within the confines of luck to be able to capture the strategy. The strategy finds you and you need to architect the weight to anchor the win. It is like meeting a man randomly at a conference where you both are mutually attracted to one another, however you survey the authenticity of this interaction without strict convention and therefore quickly proceed to formalise the initial assumption. It requires a complex analytical system motivated intuitively by the consistency of a common prior. Chess is a game to win and any enduring excitement is dependent on the equilibrium between you and your opponent and how well you both mutually employ regulated moves and execute strategy until reaching a point where manipulation and deception is activated for the final kill. There is certainly more ‘romance’ in backgammon because it is a game to play, to enjoy given that one can regulate the activity with a structured strategy but relies on chance, trust and intuition.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a hypothetical example of how game theory explains the failure of people to act or be motivated to act in a manner that is not in our best interest to do so. We can be prompted with incentives or rewards that advance our decisions over reason, that we are vulnerable to non-cooperative feelings of power and hierarchy over stable strategies intended to improve our situation. We could easily find ourselves suffering an unhappy relationship, for instance, if the incentive or reward outweighs our personal experience as though the payoff strengthens a continuity of engagement. The network is productive as the Nash Equilibrium points out, as it resolves and simplifies relationship dynamics and affords stability through predictable outcomes. The power it is given is only possible when people believe in this designed reality.

So two people have been apprehended by the police for a crime that the latter has no evidence of either doing. Since the police do not have enough evidence, they need to resort to threatening tactics and do so by explaining to both criminals have options. The two criminals confirmed that they would never betray one another, so the police separated the two into separate rooms and said that if they do not comply and thus say nothing, then both will be imprisoned for twelve months. They were additionally told that if they both confess, then they will be imprisoned for a five year term each, which is also incentive for the final possibility; if one confesses over the other, the person who confesses will be released while his partner in crime will be imprisoned for ten years.


A & B are arrested

Option 1: Both say nothing neither do they admit to committing any crime and consequence serve twelve months of prison time.

Option 2: Both admit to the crime and are imprisoned for five years.

Option 3: One admits the other had committed the crime – who is allowed to go free – while his partner is imprisoned for a decade.

While it is clearly logical that cooperating rather than defecting would be in the best interest of both criminals, the expected payoff of defecting – Prisoner A or B goes free – becomes the greater incentive and so both prisoners ultimately choose to defect. That is not in their best interest. If we turn this around, the two prisoner’s are actually symbols of the possibility of two people in real love and the police are a symbol of society giving them the incentive. We are compelled toward the incentive of cooperating with the police (society) and defect what is logically and rationally better for us (love) and ultimately cooperate toward something that makes our situation worse-off. We defect our own happiness by cooperating with socially constructed ideals reinforced by society through idealised stereotypes.

Social constructs model and architect ideas that become deeply embedded in how people identify with reality, serving as a paradigm that forms categories and roles that pattern predictable and defined attitudes to responses like ‘love’. Despite it being constructed – therefore artificially created – our emotional responses formed by the conditioning we have absorbed makes us believe that this identification is somehow real when the underlying motivation or incentive is much more problematic than that. Traits like ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, social networking and publicizing affection, giving flowers and chocolates and other contexts that define a broader schema of symbols and definitions exemplify how little we are actually and authentically bonded with others.

There exists no mathematical formula or algorithm that provides an answer to love, sometimes one does not even know how or why they feel the way that they feel because the experience is genuine and stands outside of all the conditioned ideals they have been taught is ‘reality’. The answer to this conundrum is not available in some test, there is no way of slotting people into a matrix cube and correspond probabilities of compatibility to formulate a strategy and achieve a desired outcome. The only answer is to really understand yourself, to interpret the decisions behind our own activities and motives, to explain the dimension of social roles and come to freely adopt a more personally intimate view of reality not subordinated to the collective, to think against the grain of social cliche’s. It is only that and meeting another of individual, equal standing can two people – separate and authentic – can become genuine friends and lovers. The only admiration you should have is for their ability to be true to themselves and not how well they socially perform.