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Bacterial dilemma and game theory

dumuzi (1497471) writes | more than 4 years ago

Science 4

dumuzi (1497471) writes "Scientists studying how bacteria under stress collectively weigh and initiate different survival strategies say they have gained new insights into how humans make strategic decisions that affect their health, wealth and the fate of others in society. The authors of the new study are theoretical physicists and chemists at the University of California, San Diego's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics.
In nature, bacteria live in large colonies whose numbers may reach up to 100 times the number of people on earth. Many bacteria respond to extreme stress — such as starvation, poisoning and irradiation — by creating spores". Alternately the bacteria may "choose" to enter a state called competence where they are able to absorb the nutrients from their newly deceased comrades.
"Each bacterium in the colony communicates via chemical messages and performs a sophisticated decision making process using a specialized network of genes and proteins. Modeling this complex interplay of genes and proteins by the bacteria enabled the scientists to assess the pros and cons of different choices in game theory."
"It pays for the individual cell to take the risk and escape into competence only if it notices that the majority of the cells decide to sporulate," explained Onuchic. "But if this is the case, it should not take this chance because most of the other cells might reach the same conclusion and escape from sporulation."

Link to Original Source

4 comments

As Is True Of Game Theory (1)

mindbrane (1548037) | more than 4 years ago | (#30422342)

I`ve bumped up against Game Theory a few times but lately I`ve begun to wonder if Game Theory or, more to the point, adoption of Game Theory as an overriding theory governing everything from financial investments to social relationships is beginning to reflect something akin to the bacterium`s dilemma of facing a dichotomy of two possible survival strategies, or, in our case going with Game Theory as an overriding theory or going against it because it`s the choice of all others. Game Theory has become a sink hole and aspects of all disciplines seem to sliding into it. I`ve decided to take it out for another spin and try to see whats what and what ain`t. I`m torn between blaming Game Theory and the Auction Model as the culprits for the recent economic melt down but I`m not sure it wasn`t the strategies inherent in MS excels fantasy sports teams spreadsheets.

Re:As Is True Of Game Theory (1)

chico_the_chihuahua (925601) | more than 4 years ago | (#30422768)

oooh - got to be so careful with using Game Theory for modelling real world phenomena...

Try reading Elinor Ostrom's work on Common Pool Resources (i.e., fisheries, forests, etc.) - she won the Nobel prize in Economics for it. She has a nice turn of phrase - 'using models as metaphor'. The constraints imposed to describe scenarios in game theory can be totally irrelevant in empirical settings, such as assumptions about perfect knowledge, zero cost of policing/enforcing game rules, etc. But, policy makers often use game theory models as a basis of deciding what policies to choose - sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Also, for humans, theoretical modellers often take little consideration about norms of behaviour that contribute to decision making, but have no measurable 'value' (such as shame or guilt in taking rationally advantageous positions to the detriment of other members of society), i.e., think of the Prisoners' Dilemma, but add a little social norm I like to call the 'shower payoff' for the defect strategy... :D

I think evolutionary biology is particularly guilty of trying to use game theory to explain everything. I don't have a problem with evolution theory itself, but I do have a problem with trying to draw new conclusions about human behaviour on the basis of your game theory modelling assumptions. I think that's one of the reasons why there is a lot of cynicism about human behaviour.

Re:As Is True Of Game Theory (1)

mindbrane (1548037) | more than 4 years ago | (#30423992)

I agree wholeheartedly. It`s kinda like the chess board strategies and metaphor that politicians and analysts used so widely. ( I wanted to throw in a few links to underscore how pervasive the chess board analogy was but by brand spanking new install of Ubuntu 9.10 seems not to want me to use my bracket keys on my netbook ). The ancient Greeks used ideas like logos, mythos, doxa and paradox. Logos had many meanings but seems to have retained a core idea of reason. Mythos was the ideas held in common by a people, doxa akin to common sense and paradox to something that speaks against commonsense. We seem to have a pressing need to render everything down to stuff amenable to logos and `long chains of close reasoning` (quote from a math paper I can`t presently source). We not only have a wet, irrational core of emotions and hormones, that wet core is vital to our logical ploys. My take on Game Theory would likely be a contraian one of seeing in Game Theory a pervasive and persuasive ideology spawning bias that could be exploited by an opponent.

Re:As Is True Of Game Theory (1)

chico_the_chihuahua (925601) | more than 4 years ago | (#30424890)

ah yes - I agree, the Greeks were used to dealing with a world where much is not understood, so it's necessary to develop a structure of thinking where mystery and a lack of knowledge have a place. As you say, the modern mindset is that everything must be explainable, so it often is.

To recall another Greek idea that's very applicable today - 'hubris'. Is science about 'knowing' or 'seeming'? I think that people have forgotten that science is a description of the world that may well get asymptotically close to being the 'truth', but it is ultimately not the thing itself - just a description.
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