On 11/25/2003, Wei Dai wrote:
Besides the well-known costs of higher intelligence (e.g., more energy
use, bigger heads causing more difficult births), it seems that being
smart can be a disadvantage when playing some non-zero-sum games. Here is
one example. How often do these games occur in real life, I wonder?
Consider an infinitely repeated game with 2n players, where in each round
all players are randomly matched against each other in n seperate
prisoner's dillema stage games.  ...
some "smart" players who are able to recognize the pattern and predict
whether a given stage game's outcome will be published. And suppose it's
public knowledge who these "smart" players are. ...
... marking all "smart"  players as "bad", ... "smart" players actually
end up worse off than "normal" players. ...

There certainly do seem to be some situations in which it can pay not be seen as "too clever by half". But of course there are many other situations in which being clever pays well. So unless the first set of situations are more important than the second, it seems unlikely that evolution makes us dumb in general on purpose. The question instead is whether evolution was able to identify the particular topic areas where we were better off being dumber, so as to tailor our minds to be dumber mainly in those areas.

Robert Trivers has argued that we evolved to be self-deceived about many
particular things, and to be too dumb to figure out this fact.
(see: http://www.mercatus.org/pdf/materials/465.pdf )  We consistently
think ourselves to be more able and trustworthy than we really are, for
example, but can't seem to realize this.

Let me suggest this as an explanation for why people find it so difficult
to understand economics.  Humanity can't be faulted for not understanding
basic physics until recently, since we didn't have instruments to measure
this stuff until recently.  But we've had the key data on human social
interactions for many millennia.  Yet most educated people actually seem
to understand physics better than economics.  Why?

My explanation is that we evolved to hold tight to certain misconceptions
about our social world, and this makes it difficult to think carefully
about economics.  We have misconceptions about physics too, but are
willing to give up most of them more easily.

Of course since many other topic overlap in complex ways with economics
topics, this raises the questions of what exactly are the cues that
our evolved minds use to figure out which topics they should "act dumb" on.




Robin Hanson [EMAIL PROTECTED] http://hanson.gmu.edu Assistant Professor of Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030-4444 703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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