Prisoner’s Dilemma

Master had just finished his afternoon meal when he noticed a monk being chided by another for a minor error. The monk who had been ‘talked to’ did not take it kindly. He spoke back harshly as well and a senior monk had to intervene to restore order.

It was no surprise then that the topic of the evening talk was dealing with others.

‘Last time’ master said ‘ if you remember, I had explained that you should seek people who are on higher spiritual plane than you for company. A person who is on the egoic plane will pull you down to their level. That discourse was about beneficial companionship.

Today however let me talk about options on dealing with the world at large. This covers your routine dealings with others or interactions with people which are on an on-off basis.’

The assembly drew in a little tighter with anticipation. Handling people problems of this world was not what master normally spoke about.

“There are two ways of dealing with the small world out there”. Master expounded. “My Way or the High way.

My way is the quid pro quo method of dealing wherein you treat them as they are. So your behavior is a reflection of how they treat you.

High way on the other hand is dealing with the world not as they are; but as how you are. So the treatment is based on how you want to treat them irrespective of what they reciprocate with’

“Master what is the essential difference between my way and high way. Do they bring different outcomes”. A disciple in far right corner wanted to know.

“Well” master elaborated “in the my way where you are mirroring the world, the outcomes are overall sub-optimal but at least you will not lose. High Way is high risk strategy where sometimes you can win big and at other times you might be laughed at.”

“Master I do not understand”. The disciple who had raised his hand asked. “What do you mean sub-optimal and high risk strategy”?

“Let me explain this with an example” master echoed “Game theory has a two player game called Prisoners dilemma. In it, two players are separately given an option to either betray or stay silent about their involvement in a crime committed together. If both betray each other they are both punished for 2 years, if both stay silent, punishment is 1 year however if one betrays and other stays silent, betrayer is set free and silent one gets 3 years.

So in a situation, where payoff are structured like that how should you behave? Should one betray or stay silent because outcome will also depend on what the other person will do. Researchers found that upon multiple iterations, your best strategy is to mimic the other persons last choice. If he stays silent you should be as well and if he betrays you should as well.

Overall the result which was most frequent in the game was 2 year sentence ( both betrayed) though no one got the lengthy sentence (3 years). This means, the result was not the best for any one (both get 1 year by staying silent) but also not worst for any one. So players essentially played to avoid worst outcomes for themselves ( 3 years) and thus settled for an equal 2 years for both parties.

My way outcomes, when you mimic others are like that. They are not the best solutions for both of you but also are not the worst for you.

High way solutions in the above context can either get you 1 year or 3 years.”

‘So master which strategy should we play in the small world as you mentioned.’ The first questioner queried back.

‘That will depend on what you want’, master replied. ‘If you want to avoid painful social outcomes for yourself choose my way by mirroring behavior of others back to them ( betray a betrayer, push back a bully, be aggressive with an aggressor) and if you can risk to get best outcomes for everyone, then choose the high way by being your best self to everyone ( turn the other cheek, be kind to unkind, be generous to stingy..).

So my way or high way is essentially a choice and a dilemma in which you have to decide what payoffs you will settle for.”

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