Human societies, for all their differences in culture and history, can all be seen as webs of social interactions between individuals who act according to their own motives, whether they are aware of them or not. No society can survive unless it develops patterns of interaction that limit conflict and enable its members to work together to solve common problems. In the twenty-first century, however, the challenge facing all of us is to find a way to achieve cooperation on a global scale, so we can cope with problems like climate change, war, resource depletion and the risks of a fragile, highly interdependent world economy.

This agenda has fueled the emergence of a new science of cooperation that combines mathematical modeling, careful study of real societies and experiments using simplified social situations. This program will introduce students to this science, addressing questions like: How are social decisions different from individual decisions? How can self-interested individuals achieve and maintain cooperation? What facts about human psychology and biology might encourage, or impede cooperation? How do we determine what is fair? How do we cope with risk and the tradeoff between the present and the future? How do people calculate the consequences of their decisions, and how are their choices influenced by unconscious or external factors? And how do the answers to all these questions change as we consider different societies and even different individuals?

We will use multiple modes of investigation, but one thread running through them will be game theory and decision theory, both of which are applications of mathematical methods to the social sciences. Through collaborative workshops we will acquire the skills to build and analyze simple models of individual choice and social interaction. Another connecting thread will be recent research on the development of bonds of empathy and interdependence between people in actual social settings. Working in teams, we will use the insights we obtain to design experiments that test how real people, such as Evergreen students, behave under conditions that embody social dilemmas. We will also read accounts, both in fiction and nonfiction, that suggest what is distinctive and universal in social interaction. These readings will provide the basis for seminars and short writing projects.

While there are no prerequisites for this introductory program, students should be prepared for an engaging and intellectually demanding interdisciplinary study involving mathematical concepts, philosophy and the study of human behavior and development. Much of the work will involve new modes of mathematical reasoning, which will rely on competency with algebra. The program will also incorporate a general introduction to statistical methods and probability, with the opportunity to collect and analyze our own data.