Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nobody Gets the Girls

My first post ironically has very little reference to the fairer sex and by that logic its title could well be pronounced as a misnomer. However, for all you Russell Crowe fans, allow me to transport you to his movingly delightful portrayal of John Nash in the film 'A Beautiful Mind'. Like Archimedes, who gained enlightenment in a bath tub, bless him, the relatively contemporary Nash was illuminated in a bar with his friends vying for the attention of some fairly attractive 'long legged things', with each one figuring out the best route to outdo the other. That's where the first draft of "Game theory" emerged (at least as per the film) as Nash carefully outlined the consequences of a combative approach, explaining to his less imaginative comrades that for their own sake, if they co-operate, they were most likely to end up with a partner each in their arms, albeit for the evening or else nobody would get the girls.

Nash revolutionized a whole generation and his theories found its applications not only along the entire yen of science but also in our daily lives. V. Raghunathan, in his book "Games Indians Play : Why we are the way we are" has outlined the curious psyche of the Indians with Nash's Game theory framework. It was an interesting read, more so, as I saw it unfold before my eyes one fine day in Bangalore. The essential premise of the book states that we might as well co-operate with the people around us, not for some greater good, or moral righteousness, but simply to ensure that we are benefited to the maximum. The book draws our attention to a rather amusing fallibility of Indians of falling prey to the lure of a short term gain and ultimately losing out in the overall diaspora. The traffic in Bangalore epitomizes this in probably as brazen a fashion as can be imagined.

It would take an individual of exceptional calibre to overlook the malaise afflicting Bangalore's physical infrastructure and unsurprisingly, we seem to be having just those geniuses planning the city's roadways. The influx of private vehicles into the heart of Bangalore's roads implores the town planners to broaden the roads or introduce flyovers, both of which are conspicuous by their absence. But what is a bit ludicrous to observe is that people themselves contribute generously to their potpourri of misery. At a circle where we were held up, the width of the road didn't allow any room for outmaneuvering anybody. The quickest way out was to ensure that we all fell in a single file and waited for our turn, but lo, no sooner that the signal turned green that all hell broke loose with vehicles exhibiting the Bangalore Drift (sadly, it was neither fast nor furious) and turning their machines at impossible angles, they ensured that in a few seconds the road displayed the worst of the traffic jams. I sat there amazed, for I knew that this wasn't a case of bad traffic sense. It was simply the urge of "overtaking the next guy" and forgetting that in the process not only would they block their own exit but that of the hundred vehicles behind them.

We are so busy "overtaking the next guy" that we completely forget that he/she would also be thinking about the same thing and in the process, nobody wins (in Game theory terms, the payoff matrix has lose/lose for both individuals and extrapolated it applies for all the people in the ecosystem). Are we that insecure to see someone "go ahead of us" (even in a traffic), or are we that fiercely competitive that we feel let down if someone else even remotely comes close to being benefited? I do not have an answer, for, by experience, I know that we are an intelligent race, but perhaps we tend to put on our "horse's blinkers" a little too soon and that shrouds the overall gains in an impenetrable veil. I suppose, that is why there is such a lot of emphasis on "team spirit" for we unsurprisingly parade our individual brilliance in a group effort, notwithstanding that brilliance posing as a hindrance to the overall progress of the team. In fact, at times, I feel we are a little too brilliant for our own good. Maybe, a fallibility in our skills and talents would have made us hostages of our peer's support and maybe, we would have then been a cohesive unit, albeit not a flamboyant one.

You were right Dr. Nash. In India, Nobody gets the girls!!


sandy said...

A great portrayal of the elasticity of the venerable Game Theory. Wait, I must be more reverent. It's GAME THEORY and not Game Theory. It's the universal skeleton giving a frame to every "why". It was a wonderful read.