of a “Code of Nature,” but did allude to game theory as a description of “order of society” or “standard of behavior” in a social organization. And they emphasized how a “theory of social phenomena” would require a different sort of math from that commonly used in physics—such as the math of game theory. “The mathematical theory of games of strategy,” they wrote, “gains definitely in plausibility by the correspondence which exists between its concepts and those of social organizations.”30

In its original form, though, game theory was rather limited as a tool for coping with real-world strategic problems. You can find examples of two-person zero-sum games in real life, but they are typically either so simple that you don’t need game theory to tell you what to do, or so complicated that game theory can’t incorporate all the considerations.

Of course, expecting the book that introduces a new field to solve all of that field’s problems would be a little unrealistic. So it’s no surprise that in applying game theory to situations more complicated than the two-person zero-sum game, von Neumann and Morgenstern were not entirely successful. But it wasn’t long before game theory’s power was substantially enhanced, thanks to the beautiful math of John Forbes Nash.

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