Despite our best efforts, it seems math is always there to thwart our brilliant ideas. Whether it be believing in lucky dice rolls or getting on a streak in blackjack, math is there to remind us, it’s all probability. A poor man once said… ” Always bet it all when you are on a winning streak”.
Despite math and logic, we are always looking for the psychological edge and interrogation is a prime example. Consider a scenario where there are two suspects who are believed to have worked together to commit a crime. A clever cop thinks, I know I’ll reward them for telling the truth. The cop individually goes to each suspect with the following…
If one confesses and the other doesn’t, the one who confesses gets off for free, while the other does 10 years. if both confess you each get 6 years, but if neither confess they each get only a year of jail. What would you do?
Believe it or not, you should confess every time. This is because no matter what the other person does, confessing lowers your jail time, and same with the other suspect. This means they will both get 6 years in jail if both individuals act rationally, and self-interested. Whereas cooperation would get them only 1 year!
This is the so-called prisoner’s dilemma and despite the example being quite specific, it actually comes up quite a bit. It occurs whenever two parties acting bad, is better than a party acting good, while the other is bad. (think politics). This is an important concept which I try to consider whenever proposing an system for people to use, you need to make sure there is an incentive for cooperation rather than taking advantage of others.
This is the sort of thinking you need to have whenever you are in charge of competition, and recognizing little kinks in your proposal which allow for such stalemates can often make a seemingly good plan fail miserably, all because neither group wants to help the other. In many ways this is similar to the government shutdown, in that both groups don’t want to concede, and thus they both end up hurting each other rather than allowing productivity to happen. This is why I love math, because it shows up when you want it to and can often make things more robust, but at the cost of clarity and understanding unfortunately. That needs to change.