The Shadow of the Future

Even computers know that the best strategy for winning is to cooperate.  (1)

Birds, animals, cells in our body – all know to work together. And yet human beings – the owners of much lauded brain power – seem to be still struggling with the concept.

Robert Axlerod, who conducted the studies on cooperation that proved even a computer would cooperate, suggests that one of the key factors influencing the decision to cooperate, is what he calls, ‘the shadow of the future.’

Axlerod discovered that players in the study were careful not to burn their boats if there was a chance that they would meet again.

Most of us would agree that not alienating people with whom we have on-going relationships is simple commonsense. So, perhaps we might be more willing to trade short-term gain for long term results when we are interacting with others, if we teach ourselves to lift up our heads and look past the moment.

If we all did that, just think how much cooperation would be going on – I wonder how that might change the world?


Photograph – Physical Culture Class, April 27,1909 – Poole Collection – National Library, Ireland

(1) Axelrod, Robert (1984), The Evolution of Cooperation, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-02122-2