think: prisoners dilemma, psych-art, puzzles, riddles
related: games
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A Preliminary Taxonomy

  • Prisoner's Dilemma
  • Social Dilemmas
  • Martin Shubik's Dollar Auctions
  • 'Take it or Leave it' (or the Ultimatum Game)

  • references

    Axelrod, Robert

    The Evolution of Cooperation. 1984.

    Bascom, William

    African Dilemma Tales: An Introduction. 1972.
    African Dilemma Tales. Mouton de Gruyter. 1975.

    'An Introduction' article included in 'African Folklore' edited by Richard M. Dorson. 1972. Sample dilemma tale from the Popo of Dahomey:

    "A man was crossing a river with his wife and mother. A giraffe appeared on the opposite bank. The man drew his gun on the beast, and the giraffe said, "If you shoot, your mother will die. If you don't shoot, your wife will die." What should the man do?"

    Hofstader, Douglas R.

    Dilemmas for Superrational Thinkers, Leading Up to a Luring Lottery. 1983.

    Essay originally published in Scientific American. Later included in Hofstader's book 'Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern'. 1985.

    Murnighan, J. Keith

    The Dynamics of Bargaining Games. 1991.
    Bargaining Games: A New Approach to Strategic Thinking in Negotiations. 1992.

    Chapter 9 of 'Bargaining Games' (out of print) is archived on Leon Felkin's site. Murnighan's own page

    Poundstone, William

    Prisoner's Dilemma: John von Neumann, Game Theory, and the Puzzle of the Bomb. 1992.

    Stock, Gregory

    The Book of Questions. 1987.
    The Kids Book of Questions. 1988.
    The Book of Questions: Love and Sex. 1989.
    The Book of Questions: Business, Politics and Ethics. 1991.


    The Doctor's Dilemma

    John McCarthy (of LISP fame) has a page on his 'Progress and Sustainability' site addressing the following dilemma:

    "Suspend your disbelief and imagine the following miracle to have occurred: A young doctor working in a hospital discovers that he has the power to cure anyone under the age of seventy of any sickness or injury simply by touching the patient. Any contact, however brief, between any part of his skin and the skin of the patient will cure the disease.

    "He has always been devoted to his work, and he wants to use his gift to benefit humanity as much as possible. However, he knows that the gift is absolutely non-transferable (This was explained by the angel or flying saucerite who gave it to him.), will last for his lifetime only, and will not persist in tissue separated from his body.

    "What will happen if he uses his gift?
    "What should he try to do and how should he go about it?
    "What is the most favorable result that can be expected?"

    McCarthy provides a scientific solution to the dilemma but first offers 16 'Literary Exercises in Pessimism and Paranoia'.

    Doing Our Level Best

    Fascinating article by the sociologist Jon Elster on Rational Choice Theory (originally published in the Times Literary Supplement). Discusses 'time discounting', ie. choosing present gratification over future gratification and the 'Ultimatum Game':

    Two subjects in an experiment are asked to divide ten dollars between themselves, according to the following principles. First, one proposes a division. If the second accepts, they get what the first proposed. If the second subject refuses the proposal, neither gets anything.

    Ethical Dilemmas: Brief Scenarios

    'What would you do in these situations?' 20 short dilemmas developed for a bioethics course given by Jeff McLaughlin at the University College of the Cariboo (Kamloops, B.C. Canada).

    The Social Dilemmas

    Large site by Leon Felkins.

    The Tragedy of the Commons

    An online copy of Garrett Hardin's classic essay which first appeared in Science, 162:1243-1248, 1968.

    Questions, Answers and Dilemmas: Tales with a Twist

    According to story-teller Robert Rodriguez the stories in the ancient 'Baital Pachchisi' are perfect examples of dilemma tales:

    "In a story in the ancient Indian collection known as the Baital Pachisi, the twenty-five tales of the vampire, King Vikram is asked by the vampire tale teller to determine which of three queens is the most delicate: one whose foot has been broken by a falling lotus blossom, another whose skin has raised blisters from being exposed to mere moonlight, and a third who faints after suffering a headache caused by the sound of a pestle. Because Vikram is required, under penalty of immediate termination, to respond to the baital's question with a solution to the tale, he decides that the third queen is perhaps the most delicate of the three. Having given the tale's solution, Vikram must retrieve the vampire-animated corpse from a tree and once more carry him upon his back while he is told another tale whose solution he must determine."

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