Wolpert’s insight suggests that game theory itself can be elevated to a new level by exploiting its link to statistical mechanics. His work shows that the math of game theory can be recast in equations that mimic those used by statistical physicists to describe all sorts of physical systems. In other words, at some deep level statistical mechanics and game theory are, in a sense, two versions of the same underlying idea. And that may end up making game theory an especially sensitive social thermometer.
This new realization—that game theory and statistical mechanics share a deep mathematical unity—enhances game theory’s status as the preferred tool for merging the life sciences and physical sciences into a unified description of nature. After all, there’s a reason why game theory has been embraced by so many disciplines. Game theory could someday become the glue that holds all of science’s puzzle pieces together.
Some people (particularly many physicists) will scoff at this contention. But pause to consider how much sense it makes. Nature encompasses so many complex networks for a reason: complexity evolves. “Intelligent” design produces simple, predictable systems that are easy to understand. The complex systems that baffle science—like bodies, brains, and societies—arise not from any plan, but from interactions among agents like cells or people, all (more or less) out for themselves. And such competitive interaction is precisely what game theory is all about.
So it should not be surprising that game theory has been so useful in evolutionary biology. Game theory is about competition, and evolution is the ultimate never-ending Olympic event. And if evolution followed game theory’s rules in generating complicated life, it no doubt also observed the same rules in developing the human brain. So it’s perfectly natural that game theory has become popular today in efforts to understand how the brain works, as brain scientists explore the neural physiology behind economic choices.
In turn, the brain underlies all the rest of human behavior—personal and interpersonal, social and political, as well as economic. All that behavior directs the evolution of all those networks of