Though unquestionably brilliant, Camerer communicates as conversationally as a cab driver. Even in his prodigy days, he was a wrestler and a golfer, so he has a broader view of the world than some of the intellectually exalted scholars who live their lives on such a higher mental level. And he has a broader view of economics than you’ll find in the old-school textbooks. But in a sense, Camerer’s views on economic behavior are not so revolutionary. In fact, in some ways they were anticipated by the father of traditional economics, Adam Smith.
Smith’s “invisible hand” is probably the most famous metaphor in all of economics, and his equally famous book, Wealth of Nations, remains revered by today’s advocates of free-market economies more than two centuries after its publication. But Smith was not a one-dimensional thinker, and he understood a lot more about human behavior than many of his present-day disciples do. His insights foreshadowed much in current attempts to decipher the code of human conduct, in economics and other social arenas. He was not a game theorist, but his theories illuminate the links between games, economics, biology, physics, and society—which is what the book you’re reading now is all about. The way I see it, Adam Smith was the premier player in the origins of this story, as he inspired belief in the merit of melding the Newtonian physics of the material world with the science of human behavior.
Adam Smith had a lot in common with Isaac Newton. Both were lifelong bachelors. Both became professors at the university they had attended (and both had reputations for being absentminded professors as well). Both were born after their fathers had died. And both became fathers themselves of a new scientific discipline. Newton built the foundation of physics; Smith authored the bible of economics.
Both men literally rewrote the book of their science, transforming the somewhat inchoate insights of their predecessors into treatises that guided modern thought. Just as modern physics de-