hard-line evolutionary psychologists have suggested. Game theory guarantees that evolution will produce a diversity of species, a mixture of behaviors, and in the case of the human race, a multiplicity of cultures.

So it seems to me that game theory has itself answered the question about why it doesn’t seem to work, at least as it was originally formulated. Nash’s original game theory math was construed and interpreted a little too narrowly. Applied solely to economics, it predicted behavior that was often at odds with what people really did. But that was because the math originated and operated in an abstract realm of assumptions and calculations. Now, by playing games around the world with real people enmeshed in their own cultural milieus, scientists have shown how that purely mathematical approach to economics and behavior can be modified by real-world considerations.

“My goal is to get the mathematicians to loosen their grip on game theory and get away from thinking about a game … that’s purely of mathematical interest,” Camerer told me. Instead, he said, playing games can be thought of as something “like an X-ray about a thing that’s happening in the world.”21

Viewed in this way, game theory becomes even more powerful. It becomes a tool for grappling with the complexity of human behavior and understanding the innumerable interactions that drive human history. It’s just the sort of thing Hari Seldon was looking for to produce a science of society.

Of course, Asimov’s character had many real-life predecessors who sought a similar science of society. In fact, the statistical physics that Asimov cited as the inspiration for psychohistory owed its own inspiration to the pioneers who applied statistics to people—especially an astronomer turned sociologist named Adolphe Quetelet.

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