Biblical game theory

I have been having lots of interesting conversations on this trip. Probably once or twice a day I find myself in some new area of discussion and it can be a bit overwhelming. But I have to share one particular chat that has really stayed with me:

While in Boston, one of my host-cooperative’s members started telling me about his work as a biology grad student. He described himself as secular and agnostic.He’s part of a team that studies cooperative game theory and Nash Equilibria (both of which were popularized, somewhat, in the movie about Nobel-prize winning mathematician and schizophrenic, John Nash, called “A Beautiful Mind”) 

They are developing computer models for social behavior around a concept called “punishment cost.” This refers to the disadvantages of applying punishment as a response to social deviance. For example, prisons are really expensive and can breed worse criminals by exposing petty criminals to felons.

On a psychological level, a group generally needs to delegate execution to some specific executioner (who are enshrined in our collective consciousness as big lurking hooded figures, only semi-human). This would be a pretty intense job to have, and focuses the emotional punishment cost on one person. The hood was probably to protect him from the added social stigma of bearing that cost.

Anyhow, we got talking about the brilliance of Jewish law with regards to capital punishment. The practice of stoning spreads the punishment cost around and may play a role in maintaining shalom. It shifts execution from an individual act to a collective one, and each individual’s contribution was just to toss a rock or three before getting on with their day. No one person could be blamed for the killing blow.

Of course, someone has to get things started, and that was something that Jesus undermined by raising the bar: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This was the essence of his message of forgiveness, which helps us to escape from punishment costs. And the computer models confirm (somehow) that this is the best way to order society.

Anyhow, my point is that there are a bunch of biology grad students somewhere running computer models that confirm that Jesus was one smart dude.

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