In this great documentary from 1984 Richard Dawkins explores game theory in relation to evolution and discovers, perhaps surprisingly, that the best strategy for long term survival is being ‘nice’.
It is sometimes easy to forget that Richard Dawkins was, and is, a brilliant biologist. His excellent books have expanded debate and influenced many for many decades and he has been an eloquent and enlightening communicator of science, history, evolution and biology. But since he has entrenched himself in the god debate we have had to make do with less breadth in his brilliant thinking, at least in public discourse.
Here, in this 1984 BBC Horizon documentary, he fights back against the misinterpretations of his famous book The Selfish Gene which had been used to cast him as a social Darwinist. This was never the case, and seems to have come about mainly from others reading the title of the book rather than the book itself. He discusses some of the many interesting, seemingly counter-Darwinian, behaviours which are evident in nature, not least in our own species. He explains how selfish genes can in fact give rise to altruistic cooperative behaviour. Reciprocal altruism, mutually rewarding behaviour, is common throughout nature in many species of animals, fish, birds, insects and even the players of Coventry and Bristol City on the last day of the 1977 season.
Then the documentary gets really interesting as Dawkins delves into game theory with a detailed examination of the prisoner’s dilemma, where we discover that being the ‘nice’ guy might actually be the correct strategy for succeeding in life.
Nice Guys Finish First