environment than to the actual demands of the current environment,” Pinker wrote.5

In other words, people today are just hunter-gatherers wearing suits.

On the surface, it might seem that it would be a good thing for game theory—and the rest of the human sciences—if this idea is right. If the Code of Nature is inscribed into the human genetic endowment, that should improve the prospects for deciphering the rules governing human nature and then predicting human behavior. After all, the concept that a Code of Nature exists might be interpreted to mean that there is some universal behavioral program to which all members of the human species conform.

Yet with all due respect to much of the intelligent research that has been done in the field of evolutionary psychology, some of the conclusions that have been drawn from it rest on rather shaky ground. And it turns out that rather than bolstering evolutionary psychology, game theory helps to show why it breaks down. Furthermore, the way game theory does it has much in common with the way that Asimov’s fictional hero Hari Seldon found the solution to formulating his physics of society, or psychohistory.


In Prelude to Foundation, the first prequel to Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, a young Hari Seldon delivers a talk at a mathematics conference on the planet Trantor, capital world of the Galactic Empire. Seldon’s talk describes his idea of predicting the future via the math of psychohistory, a science that he had just begun to develop. Naturally the emperor receives word of this talk (in the galactic future, politicians pay more attention to science than they do today) and invited Seldon to an audience.

“What I have done,” Seldon told the emperor, “is to show that, in studying human society, it is possible … to predict the future, not in full detail, of course, but in broad sweeps; not with certainty, but with calculable probabilities.”6

But the emperor was dismayed to learn that Seldon couldn’t

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement