of four Orma some money from which they could contribute to a community pot and keep the rest. Ensminger would then double the pot and divide it equally among the four players. When she described the game to her Kenyan assistants, they quickly replied that it was just like harambee—a practice of soliciting contributions for community projects.

“That really changed our thinking a lot about what was going on when people are in an experiment,” Camerer told me in one of our conversations at Caltech. “In game theory, the bias we inherited was the mathematician’s bias.” In other words, the initial belief was that “when you present the game, it’s like a smart kid sitting down to play Monopoly or poker…. They read the rules, figure out what to do—they treat it as like a logic problem. But these subjects treat it as like analogical reasoning—what is this like in my life?”13

So what the game theory experiments have shown is that life differs in different cultures, and economic behavior reflects those differences in cultural life. Game theory has consequently illuminated the interplay of culture and economic behavior, showing that humankind does not subscribe to a one-size-fits-all mentality. Human culture is not monolithic—it’s like a mixed strategy in game theory.

In an intriguing way, this diversity in cultural behavior around the world parallels the multiplicity of versions of “human nature” found within various academic disciplines. When I visited Boyd in his office—on the third floor of Haines Hall on the UCLA campus—our discussion turned to that problem in pursuing the general notion of human nature and the basic principles of human behavior. Boyd lamented the academic world’s fragmented and inconsistent view of how people tick.

“We have this weird, I think untenable, situation in the social sciences,” he said. “You go over to Bunch Hall and the economists tell the students one thing. And the students come over here to sociology, one floor down, and they get told no, that’s all wrong, this is right. And they come up here, and we anthropologists tell them all kinds of different things…. And then they go to the

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