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Michael Chwe, Author, Sees Jane Austen as Game Theorist

Stashed in: Economics!, Influence!, Strategery, Awesome, Books!, Math!, Psychology!, Mind Blown!

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“This movie was all about manipulation,” Mr. Chwe, a practitioner of the hard-nosed science of game theory, said recently by telephone. “I had always been taught that game theory was a mathematical thing. But when you think about it, people have been thinking about strategic action for a long time.”

Mr. Chwe set to doing his English homework, and now his assignment is in. “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” just published by Princeton University Press, is more than the larky scholarly equivalent of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” In 230 diagram-heavy pages, Mr. Chwe argues that Austen isn’t merely fodder for game-theoretical analysis, but an unacknowledged founder of the discipline itself: a kind of Empire-waisted version of the mathematician and cold war thinker John von Neumann, ruthlessly breaking down the stratagems of 18th-century social warfare.

Or, as Mr. Chwe puts it in the book, “Anyone interested in human behavior should read Austen because her research program has results.”

Modern game theory is generally dated to 1944, with the publication of von Neumann’s “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior,” which imagined human interactions as a series of moves and countermoves aimed at maximizing “payoff.” Since then the discipline has thrived, often dominating political science, economics and biology departments with densely mathematical analyses of phenomena as diverse as nuclear brinkmanship, the fate of protest movements, stock trading and predator behavior.

But a century and a half earlier, Mr. Chwe argues, Austen was very deliberately trying to lay philosophical groundwork for a new theory of strategic action, sometimes charting territory that today’s theoreticians have themselves failed to reach.

Psychology and Economics are way more related than I realized. Wow. Mind blown.

von Neumann was the father of Game Theory AND the father of Computer Architecture.

Mind blown again.

Looks like a good book, yes?

Looks like a great book, yes!

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