Please see my CV for a complete list of papers
On signaling and evolutionary game theory
Natural Conventions and Indirect Speech Acts (with Mandy Simons) Philosophers' Imprint
In this paper, we develop the notion of a natural convention, and illustrate its usefulness in a detailed examination of indirect requests in English. Our treatment of convention is grounded in Lewis’s (1969) seminal account; we do not here redefine convention, but rather explore the space of possibilities within Lewis’s definition, highlighting certain types of variation that Lewis de-emphasized. Applied to the case of indirect requests, which we view through a Searlean lens, the notion of natural convention allows us to give a nuanced answer to the question: Are indirect requests conventional? In conclusion, we reflect on the consequences of our view for the understanding of the semantics/pragmatics divide.
Honesty through repeated interactions (with Patricia Rich) Journal of Theoretical Biology 395: 238-244
In the study of signaling, it is well known that the cost of deception is an essential element for stable honest signaling in nature. In this paper, we show how costs for deception can arise endogenously from repeated interactions between individuals. Utilizing the Sir Philip Sidney game as an illustrative case, we show that repeated interactions can sustain honesty with no observable signal costs, even when deception cannot be directly observed. We provide a number of potential experimental tests for this theory which distinguish it from the available alternatives.
An Evolutionary Comparison of the Handicap Principle and Hybrid Equilibrium Theories of Signaling (with Patrick Kane) PLoS ONE 10(9):e0137271.
The handicap principle has come under significant challenge both from empirical studies and from theoretical work. As a result, a number of alternative explanations for honest signaling have been proposed. This paper compares the evolutionary plausibility of one such alternative, the “hybrid equilibrium,” to the handicap principle. We utilize computer simulations to compare these two theories as they are instantiated in Maynard Smith’s Sir Philip Sidney game. We conclude that, when both types of communication are possible, evolution is unlikely to lead to handicap signaling and is far more likely to result in the partially honest signaling predicted by hybrid equilibrium theory.
The Handicap Principle is an Artifact (with Simon Huttegger and Justin Bruner) Philosophy of Science 82(5): 997-1009. doi: 10.1086/683435
The handicap principle is one of the most influential ideas in evolutionary biology. It asserts that when there is conflict of interest in a signaling interaction signals must be costly in order to be reliable. We show how the handicap principle is a limiting case of honest signaling, which can also be sustained by other mechanisms. This fact has gone unnoticed because in evolutionary biology it is a common practice to distinguish between cues, indexes and fakable signals, where cues provide information but are not signals and indexes are signals that cannot be faked. We find that the dichotomy between indexes and fakable signals is an artifact of the existing signaling models. Our results suggest that one cannot adequately understand signaling behavior by focusing solely on cost. Under our reframing, cost becomes one -- and probably not the most important -- of a collection of factors preventing deception.
Between Cheap and Costly Signaling: The Evolution of Partially Honest Communication (with Simon Huttegger and Carl Bergstrom) Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 208: 20121878.
Costly signaling theory has become a common explanation for honest communication when interests conflict. In this paper, we provide an alternative explanation for partially honest communication that does not require significant signal costs. We show that this alternative is at least as plausible as traditional cost signaling, and we suggest a number of experiments that might be used to distinguish the two theories.
Dynamic stability and basins of attraction in the Sir Philip Sidney game (with Simon Huttegger) Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 277, 1915-1922
We study the handicap principle in terms of the Sir Philip Sidney game. The handicap principle asserts that cost is required to allow for honest signalling in the face of conflicts of interest. We show that the significance of the handicap principle can be challenged from two new directions. Firstly, both the costly signalling equilibrium and certain states of no communication are stable under the replicator dynamics (i.e. standard evolutionary dynamics); however, the latter states are more likely in cases where honest signalling should apply. Secondly, we prove the existence and stability of polymorphisms where players mix between being honest and being deceptive and where signalling costs can be very low. Neither the polymorphisms nor the states of no communication are evolutionarily stable, but they turn out to be more important for standard evolutionary dynamics than the costly signalling equilibrium.
Separating directives and assertions using simple signaling games The Journal of Philosophy 63(3): 158-169
Most contemporary accounts of meaning utilize some notion of the intentions of the speaker and or hearer. In this paper I develop an account of the distinction between directives and assertions which does not require that the speakers have intentions. Instead, this account relies on behavioral differences modeled as different strategies in an appropriately defined game.
The Stability of Strategic Plasticity (with Rory Smead) CMU Philosophy department working paper.
Recent research into the evolution of higher cognition has piqued an interest in the effect of natural selection on the ability of creatures to respond to their environment (behavioral plasticity). It is believed that environmental variation is required for plasticity to evolve in cases where the ability to be plastic is costly. We investigate one form of environmental variation: frequency dependent selection. Using tools in game theory, we investigate a few models of plasticity and outline the cases where selection would be expected to maintain it. Ultimately we conclude that frequency dependent selection is likely insufficient to maintain plasticity given reasonable assumptions about its costs. This result is very similar to one aspect of the well-discussed Baldwin effect, where plasticity is first selected for and then later selected against. We show how in these models one would expect plasticity to grow in the population and then be later reduced. Ultimately we conclude that if one is to account for the evolution of behavioral plasticity in this way, one must appeal to a very particular sort of external environmental variation.
Signaling Games: Dynamics of Evolution and Learning (with Simon Huttegger) in Language, Games, and Evolution (Anton Benz, Christian Ebert, Gerhard Jaeger, and Robert van Rooij eds.) Springer
A survey of recent results pertaining to evolution of signaling in the Lewis signaling game.
The Role of Forgetting in the Evolution and Learning of Language (with Jeffrey Barrett) Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence 21(4): 293-309.
Lewis signaling games illustrate how language might evolve from random behavior. The probability of evolving an optimal signaling language is, in part, a function of what learning strategy the agents use. Here we investigate three learning strategies, each of which allows agents to forget old experience. In each case, we find that forgetting increases the probability of evolving an optimal language. It does this by making it less likely that past partial success will continue to reinforce suboptimal practice. The learning strategies considered here show how forgetting past experience can promote learning in the context of games with suboptimal equilibria.
Invariance and symmetry in evolutionary dynamics (with Hannah Rubin and Simon Huttegger) Forthcoming in American Philosophical Quarterly
The concept of fitness is central to evolutionary biology. Models of evolutionary change typically use some quantity called “fitness” which measures an organism’s reproductive success. But what exactly does it mean that fitness is such a measure? In what follows, we look at the interplay between abstract evolutionary models and quantitative measures of fitness and develop a measurement-theoretic perspective on fitness in order to explore what makes certain measures of fitness significant.
The robustness of hybrid equilibria in
costly signaling games (with Simon Huttegger) Dynamic Games and Applications 6: 347.
Recent work on costly signaling games has identified new Nash equilibria in addition to the standard costly signaling equilibrium as a possible explanation for signaling behavior. These so-called hybrid equilibria are Liapunov stable, but not asymptotically stable for the replicator dynamics. Since some eigenvalues of the hybrid equilibria have zero real part, this result is not structurally stable. The purpose of this paper is to show that under one reasonable perturbation of the replicator dynamics—the selection–mutation dynamics—rest points close to the hybrid equilibrium exist and are asymptotically stable. Moreover, for another plausible version of the replicator dynamics—Maynard Smith’s adjusted replicator dynamics—the same is true. This reinforces the significance of hybrid equilibria for signaling.
Methodology in Biological Game Theory (with Simon Huttegger) British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64: 637-658
Game theory has a prominent role in evolutionary biology, in particular in the ecological study of various phenomena ranging from conflict behavior to altruism to signaling and beyond. The two central methodological tools in biological game theory are the concepts of Nash equilibrium and Evolutionarily Stable Strategy(ESS). While both were inspired by a dynamic conception of evolution, these concepts are essentially static -- they only show that a population is uninvadable, but not that a population is likely to evolve. In this paper we argue that a static methodology can lead to misleading views about a dynamic evolutionary processes. Instead, we advocate a more pluralistic methodology, which includes both static and dynamic game theoretic tools. Such an approach provides a more complete picture of the evolution of strategic behavior.
The Limits of ESS Methodology (with Simon Huttegger) in (Samir Okasha and Ken Binmore, eds.) Evolution and Rationality: Decisions, Cooperation, and Strategic Behavior
In this paper we show that there are certain limits as to what applications of Maynard Smith's concept of evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) can tell us about evolutionary processes. We shall argue that ESS is very similar in spirit to a particular branch of rational choice game theory, namely, the literature on refinements of Nash equilibrium. In the first place, ESS can also be viewed as a Nash equilibrium refinement. At a deeper level, ESS shares a common structure with other rational choice equilibrium refinements. An equilibrium is evaluated according to whether it persists under specific kinds of perturbations. In the case of ESS, these perturbations are mutations. However, from a dynamical point of view, focusing exclusively on perturbations of equilibria provides only a partial account of the system under consideration. We will show that this has important consequences when it comes to analyzing game-theoretic models of evolutionary processes. In particular, there are non-ESS states which are significant for evolutionary dynamics.
Probe and Adjust in Information Transfer Games
(with Simon Huttegger and Brian Skyrms) Erkenntnis 79: 835-853
We study a low-rationality learning dynamics called probe and adjust. Our emphasis is on its properties in games of information transfer such as the Lewis signaling game or the Bala-Goyal network game. These games fall into the class of weakly better reply games, in which, starting from any action profile, there is a weakly better reply path to a strict Nash equilibrium. We prove that probe and adjust will be close to strict Nash equilibria in this class of games with arbitrarily high probability. In addition, we compare these asymptotic properties to short-run behavior.
Finding alternatives to handicap theory Biological Theory 8: 127-132
The Handicap Principle represents a central theory in the biological understanding of signaling. This paper presents a number of alternative theories to the Handicap Principle and argues that some of these theories may provide a better explanation for the evolution and stability of honest communication.
Plasticity and language: an example of the Baldwin effect? (with Rory Smead) Philosophical Studies 147(1): 7-21.
In recent years, many scholars have suggested that the Baldwin effect may play an important role in the evolution of language. However, the Baldwin effect is a multifaceted and controversial process and the assessment of its connection with language is difficult without a formal model. This paper provides a first step in this direction. We examine a game-theoretic model of the interaction between plasticity (represented by Herrnstein reinforcement learning) and evolution in the context of a simple language game. Additionally, we describe three distinct aspects of the Baldwin effect: the Simpson-Baldwin effect, the Baldwin expediting effect and the Baldwin optimizing effect. We find that a simple model of the evolution of language lends theoretical plausibility to the existence of the Simpson-Baldwin and the Baldwin optimizing effects in this arena, but not the Baldwin expediting effect.
Evolutionary Dynamics of Lewis Signaling Games (with Simon Huttegger, Brian Skyrms, and Rory Smead) Synthese 172(1): 177-191.
Transfer of information between senders and receivers, of one kind or another, is essential to all life. David Lewis introduced a game theoretic model of the simplest case, where one sender and one receiver have pure common interest. How hard or easy is it for evolution to achieve information transfer in Lewis signaling?. The answers involve surprising subtleties. We discuss some if these in terms of evolutionary dynamics in both finite and infinite populations, with and without mutation.
Talking to Neighbors: The Evolution of Regional Meaning Philosophy of Science 74(5): 574-587.
In seeking to explain the evolution of social cooperation, many scholars are using increasingly complex game-theoretic models. These complexities often model readily observable features of human and animal populations. In the case of previous games analyzed in the literature, these modifications have had radical effects on the stability and efficiency properties of the models. We will analyze the effect of adding spatial structure to two communication games: the Lewis Sender-Receiver game and a modified Stag Hunt game. For the Stag Hunt, we find that the results depart strikingly from previous models. In all cases, the departures increase the explanatory value of the models for social phenomenon.
On the social organization of science
The Theory of Games as a Tool for the Social Epistemologist
Traditionally, epistemologists have distinguished between epistemic and pragmatic goals. In so doing, they presume that much of game theory is irrelevant to epistemic enterprises. I will show that this is a mistake. Even if we restrict attention to purely epistemic motivations, members of epistemic groups will face a multitude of strategic choices. I illustrate several contexts where individuals who are concerned solely with the discovery of truth will nonetheless face difficult game theoretic problems. Examples of purely epistemic coordination problems and social dilemmas will be presented. These show that there is a far deeper connection between economics and epistemology than previous appreciated.
The Scientific Ponzi Scheme
Fraud and misleading research represent serious impediments to scientific progress. We must uncover the causes of fraud in order to understand how science functions and in order to develop strategies for combating epistemically detrimental behavior. This paper investigates how the incentive to commit fraud is enhanced by the structure of the scientific reward system. Science is an "accumulation process:" success begets resources which begets more success. Through a simplified mathematical model, I argue that this cyclic relationship enhances the appeal of fraud and makes combating it extremely difficult.
The Credit Economy and the Economic Rationality of Science forthcoming in Journal of Philosophy
Supplementary Mathematica Notebook
Theories of scientific rationality typically pertain to belief. This paper argues that we should expand our focus to include motivations as well as belief. An economic model is used to evaluate whether science is best served by scientists motivated only by truth, only by credit, or by both truth and credit. In many, but not all, situations scientists motivated by both truth and credit should be judged as the most rational scientists.
Modeling the social consequences of testimonial norms
Philosophical Studies 172(9): 2371-2383
Simulation code (written in NetLogo), Simulation data file 1, Simulation data file 2 (simulation data in QtiPlot format)
This paper approaches the problem of testimony from a new direction. Rather than focusing on the epistemic grounds for testimony, it considers the problem from the perspective of an individual who must choose whom to trust from a population of many would-be testifiers. A computer simulation is presented which illustrates that in many plausible situations, those who trust without attempting to judge the reliability of testifiers outperform those who attempt to seek out the more reliable members of the community. In so doing, it presents a novel defense for the credulist position that argues one should trust testimony without considering the underlying reliability of the testifier.
The Independence Thesis: When Individual and Social Epistemology Diverge (with Conor Mayo-Wilson and David Danks) Philosophy of Science 78(4): 657-677.
Several philosophers of science have argued that epistemically rational individuals might form epistemically irrational groups and that, conversely, rational groups might be composed of irrational individuals. We call the conjunction of these two claims the Independence Thesis, as they entail that methodological prescriptions for scientific communities and those for individual scientists are logically independent. We defend the inconsistency thesis by characterizing four criteria for epistemic rationality and then proving that, under said criteria, individuals will be judged rational when groups are not and vice versa. We then explain the implications of our results for descriptive history of science and normative epistemology.
Wisdom of the Crowds vs. Groupthink: Learning in Groups and in Isolation (with Conor Mayo-Wilson and David Danks) International Journal of Game Theory 42: 695-723
We evaluate the asymptotic performance of boundedly-rational strategies in multi-armed bandit problems, where performance is measured in terms of the tendency (in the limit) to play optimal actions in either (i) isolation or (ii) networks of other learners. We show that, for many strategies commonly employed in economics, psychology, and machine learning, performance in isolation and performance in networks are essentially unrelated. Our results suggest that the performance of various, common boundedly-rational strategies depends crucially upon the social context (if any) in which such strategies are to be employed.
Optimal Publishing Strategies Episteme 6(2): 185-199.
Simulation code (written in NetLogo)
Journals regulate a significant portion of the communication between scientists. This paper devises an agent-based model of scientific practice and uses it to compare various strategies for selecting publications by journals. Surprisingly, it appears that the best selection method for journals is to publish relatively few papers and to select those papers it publishes at random from the available ``above threshold'' papers it receives. This strategy is most effective at maintaining an appropriate type of diversity which is needed to solve a particular type of scientific problem. This problem and the limitation of the model is discussed in detail.
Social Structure and the Effects of Conformity Synthese 172(3):317-340
Conformity is an often criticized feature of human belief formation. Although generally regarded as a negative influence on reliability, it has not been widely studied. This paper attempts to determine the epistemic effects of conformity by analyzing a mathematical model of this behavior. In addition to investigating the effect of conformity on the reliability of individuals and groups, this paper attempts to determine the optimal structure for conformity. That is, supposing that conformity is inevitable, what is the best way for conformity effects to occur? The paper finds that in some contexts conformity effects are reliability inducing and, more surprisingly even when it is counterproductive, not all methods for reducing its effect are helpful. These conclusions contribute to a larger discussion in social epistemology regarding the effect of social behavior on individual reliability.
Learning to Collaborate forthcoming in Boyer-Kasem, Mayo-Wilson, Weisberg (eds.) Scientific Collaboration and Collective Knowledge (Cambridge University Press).
Simulation code (written in NetLogo), Simulation data file (simulation data in QtiPlot format)
This paper presents a rudimentary model of collaboration with the aim to understand the conditions under which groups of scientists will endogenously form optimal collaborative groups. By analyzing the model with computer simulations, I uncover three lessons for collaborative groups. First, in reducing the cost borne by scientists from collaborating, one benefits the members of the group. Second, increasing the number of potential collaborative partners benefits all those involved in a collaborative group. Finally and counter-intuitively, this model suggests that groups do better when scientists avoid experimenting with new collaborative interactions.
Conservativism and the scientific state of nature (with Erich Kummerfeld) British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67(4): 1057-1076
Simulation code (written in NetLogo), Simulation data file (simulation data in QtiPlot format)
Those who comment on modern scientific institutions are often quick to praise institutional structures that leave scientists to their own devices. These comments reveal an underlying presumption that scientists do best when left alone -- when they operate in what we call the scientific state of nature. Through computer simulation, we challenge this presumption by illustrating an inefficiency that arises in the scientific state of nature. This inefficiency suggests that one cannot simply presume that science is most efficient when institutional control is absent. In some situations actively encouraging unpopular, risky science would improve scientific outcomes.
Network Epistemology: Communication in Epistemic Communities Philosophy Compass 8: 15-27
Much of contemporary knowledge is generated by groups not single individuals. A natural question to ask is, what features make groups better or worse at generating knowledge? This paper surveys research that spans several disciplines which focuses on one aspect of epistemic communities: the way they communicate internally. This research has revealed that a wide number of different communication structures are best, but what is best in a given situation depends on particular details of the problem being confronted by the group.
Computer Simulation and Emergent Reliability in Science Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 14 (4): 15
While the popular image of scientists portrays them as objective, dispassionate observers of nature, actual scientists rarely are. It is not really known to what extent these individual departures from the scientific ideal effects the reliability of the scientific community. This paper suggests a number of concrete projects which help to determine this relationship.
Social Network Structure and the Achievement of Consensus Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 11: 26-44
Simulation code (written in NetLogo)
It is widely believed that bringing parties with differing opinions together to discuss their differences will help both in securing consensus and also in ensuring that this consensus closely approximates the truth. This paper investigates this presumption using two mathematical and computer simulation models. Ultimately, these models show that increased contact can be useful in securing both consensus and truth, but it is not always beneficial in this way. This suggests one should not, without qualification, support policies which increase interpersonal contact if one seeks to improve the epistemic performance of groups.
The Epistemic Benefit of Transient Diversity Erkenntnis 72(1):17-35
There is growing interest in understanding and eliciting division of labor within groups of scientists. This paper illustrates the need for this division of labor through a historical example, and a formal model is presented to better analyze situations of this type. Analysis of this model reveals that a division of labor can be maintained in two different ways: by limiting information or by endowing the scientists with extreme beliefs. If both features are present however, cognitive diversity is maintained indefinitely, and as a result agents fail to converge to the truth. Beyond the mechanisms for creating diversity suggested here, this shows that the real epistemic goal is not diversity but transient diversity.
The Communication Structure of Epistemic Communities Philosophy of Science 74(5): 574-587
A revised version has been reprinted in (Dennis Whitcomb and Alvin Goldman, eds.) Social Epistemology Essential Readings Oxford University
PressIncreasingly, epistemologists are becoming interested in social structures and their effect on epistemic enterprises, but little attention has been paid to the proper distribution of experimental results among scientists. This paper will analyze a model first suggested by two economists, which nicely captures one type of learning situation faced by scientists. The results of a computer simulation study of this model provide two interesting conclusions. First, in some contexts, a community of scientists is, as a whole, more reliable when its members are less aware of their colleagues' experimental results. Second, there is a robust trade-off between the reliability of a community and the speed with which it reaches a correct conclusion.
On normative matters
Kantian Decision Making Under Uncertainty: Dignity, Price, and Consistency (with Alex London and Adam Bjorndahl) forthcoming in Philosopher's Imprint
The idea that there is a fundamental difference in value between persons and things and that respecting this difference is an important moral requirement has strong intuitive appeal. Kantian ethics is unique in placing this requirement at the center of a moral system and for explicating the conditions for complying with it. Unlike challenges to Kantian ethics that focus on tragic cases that pit respect for one person against respect for another, this paper focuses on the question of how we can respect the value distinction between persons and things under conditions of uncertainty. After exploring why decision making under uncertainty is a neglected topic among Kantians and demonstrating how uncertainty challenges our ability to comply with this norm, we propose a notion of morally insignificant risk within a framework that allows agents to navigate real world decisions involving material benefit and some risk to dignity without violating the Kantian’s core commitments. We conclude by exploring some of the challenges facing this approach.
Research Subjects at the Auction Block: Problems for a Procedural Approach to Justice in International Research (with Alex John London) Hastings Center Report 40(4): 34-45.
The "fair benefits" approach to international research is designed to produce results that all can agree are fair without taking a stand on divisive questions of justice. But its appealing veneer of collaboration masks ambiguities at both a conceptual and an operational level. An attempt to put it into practice would look a lot like an auction, leaving little reason to think the outcomes will satisfy even minimal conditions of fairness.
Evolutionary Considerations in the Framing of Social Norms (with Brian Skyrms) Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 9(3): 265-273
In this article, we aim to illustrate evolutionary explanations for the emergence of framing effects, discussed in detail in Cristina Bicchieriâ€™s The Grammar of Society. We show how framing effects might evolve which coalesce two economically distinct interactions into a single one, leading to apparently irrational behavior in each individual interaction. Here we consider the now well-known example of the ultimatum game, and show how this "irrational" behavior might result from a single norm which governs behavior in multiple games. We also show how framing effects might result in radically different play in strategically identical situations. We consider the Hawk-Dove game (the game of chicken) and also the Nash bargaining game. Here arbitrary tags or signals might result in one party doing better than another.
On the normative status of mixed strategies
Flipping a coin to decide what to do is a common feature of everyday life. Mixed strategies, as these are called, have a thorny status in normative decision theories. This paper explores various ways to justify choosing one's actions at random. I conclude that it is hard to make sense of this behavior without dealing with some difficult consequences
Dignity and the value of rejecting profitable but insulting offers(with Timos Anthanasiou and Alex John London) Mind 124(494): 409-448
In this paper we distinguish two competing conceptions of dignity, one recognizably Hobbesian and one recognizably Kantian. We provide a formal model of how decision makers committed to these conceptions of dignity might reason when engaged in an economic transaction that is it not inherently insulting, but in which it is possible for the dignity of the agent to be called into question. This is a modified version of the ultimatum game. We then use this model to illustrate ways in which the Kantian evaluative standpoint enjoys a kind of internal stability that the Hobbesian framework lacks. Our interpersonal argument shows that, under certain conditions, Hobbesians prefer to cultivate Kantian commitments in others and promote the presence of Kantians in the population. Our intrapersonal argument shows that agents who are conflicted between Kantian and Hobbesian commitments have powerful reasons not to resolve this commitment in favour of Hobbesian values. Our emulation argument illustrates that in repeated versions of the ultimatum game, the Hobbesian chooses to behave like a Kantian, including publicly repudiating her Hobbesian commitments. Here again, however, the Hobbesian is able to achieve a desired benefit only on the condition that there are genuine Kantians in the population. Finally, our social planning argument explores the reasons that a community of Hobbesians would opt to enshrine a Kantian conception of dignity into law. The paper concludes with some remarks about the policy implications of this work.
Explaining Fairness in a Complex Environment Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 7(1): 81-97.
This paper presents the evolutionary dynamics of three games: Nash Bargaining game, the Ultimatum Game, and a hybrid of the two. One might expect that the probability that some behavior evolves in an environment with two games would be near the probability that the same behavior evolves in either game alone. This is not the case for the Ultimatum and Nash Bargaining Games. Fair behavior is more likely to evolve in a combined game than in either game taken individually. This result confirms a conjecture that the complexity of our actual environment provides an explanation for the evolution of fair behavior.