The film, A Beautiful Mind, tells the real-life story of John Forbes Nash (played by Russell Crowe), a mathematician who was one of the founders of Game Theory and a Nobel Laureate in Economics.  A Beautiful Mind won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2002.

In this film, Nash has a flash of insight about game theory while he is at a tavern near the university along with four of his friends. All five of them are fairly attractive young men. Then, five young women enter the tavern.  Four of the women are fairly attractive, and one woman is super-attractive (we’ll call her “Jenn Ten.”)

Dr. Nash watches as the men begin to converse with and pursue the women. While he expects to see all of his pals chat up Jenn Ten, he is surprised to see that none of his friends elect to talk to her!  Why is this?

Nash has the following insight:  He reasons that if all four of his pals compete for Jenn Ten, only one will win her phone number, while the other three will go home with nothing. In fact, Miss Ten might reject all four of his friends. Therefore, without any communication between the four men, they all independently reason that their best chance of getting any girl’s phone number is to pursue only the fairly-attractive girls, and not “spin their wheels” in chasing “Peerless Jenn.” They each reason that “Something is better than nothing.”  Thus, the individual men trade away “a high satisfaction that is highly uncertain” in exchange for “a lower satisfaction that is more certain.”

Dr. Nash also realizes that if 2, 3, or all 4 of the men go home with phone numbers, the combined satisfaction of the group will be greater than the satisfaction of the group if just one man gets the number of Jenn Ten while every other man strikes out. This is a key principle in Game Theory. By showing that rational (moderately risk-averse) thinking coupled with uncommunicated cooperation can maximize the satisfaction of the group, game theory explains one of the foundations of human cooperation.

(Note that while the cooperation does not involve conscious communication between the men, appearances and body language (including those of the women) are being communicated all the time.)

Our online book, The Growing> Organizing> Direction> says:-

As we have discussed in other Essays, both competition and cooperation are main processes of evolution.   How can game theory cooperation promote human reproduction?  Well, when we take our movie example of game-theory dating to its ultimate result, the production of children, we see that two, three, or four mating couples usually produce more offspring for the human species than just one mating couple. Thus, cooperation in a society can often aid evolution more than winner-take-all competition can. 

For more discussion, See our Essay, Mathematics and Continuing Creation.
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