Avi Roy's Reviews > Nonzero: History, Evolution & Human Cooperation

Nonzero by Robert Wright
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's review
Feb 13, 2011

did not like it
Read in February, 2011

This book exemplifies the unexacting/facile epistemological underpinning of social sciences as compared to the natural/hard sciences. Almost every hypothesis in this book is a "just so" story backed by non-falsifiable/cherry-picked historical data, and masked (ever so slightly) in the technicality of game theory. I do understand that it is hard to run an empirical experiment on history, but neither should we rely on it for high probability future outcome. The author does have some interesting wisps of an idea here and there scattered around the book, but these are generally lost in the tiresome monologue.

I do agree with the authors conclusion regarding the amplification of non-zero sum interactions (co-operation) without the requirement of zero-sum threats (war), but I would have derived this via examples of evolutionary molecular and macro-molecular dynamics. In the last few chapters, the author does indeed invoke natural science and evolution towards elucidating his conjecture, but these chapters overall fall flat due to constantly comparing molecular events (flagella drive) with there "just so" macro counterpart (tribal relocation by chief). In summary, any half-witted university student (in discussions with his/her friends) should be able to reach all the same conclusion as the author, without having to read 450 pages.
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