Early Morning Open Thread: A Mind Ahead of Her Time

The immortal Miss Austen can command allegiance from the most unlikely sources, per a NYTimes review:

It’s not every day that someone stumbles upon a major new strategic thinker during family movie night. But that’s what happened to Michael Chwe, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, when he sat down with his children some eight years ago to watch “Clueless,” the 1995 romantic comedy based on Jane Austen’s “Emma.” …

Mr. Chwe set to doing his English homework, and now his assignment is in. “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” just published by Princeton University Press, is more than the larky scholarly equivalent of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” In 230 diagram-heavy pages, Mr. Chwe argues that Austen isn’t merely fodder for game-theoretical analysis, but an unacknowledged founder of the discipline itself: a kind of Empire-waisted version of the mathematician and cold war thinker John von Neumann, ruthlessly breaking down the stratagems of 18th-century social warfare.

Or, as Mr. Chwe puts it in the book, “Anyone interested in human behavior should read Austen because her research program has results.”

Modern game theory is generally dated to 1944, with the publication of von Neumann’s “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior,” which imagined human interactions as a series of moves and countermoves aimed at maximizing “payoff.” Since then the discipline has thrived, often dominating political science, economics and biology departments with densely mathematical analyses of phenomena as diverse as nuclear brinkmanship, the fate of protest movements, stock trading and predator behavior.

But a century and a half earlier, Mr. Chwe argues, Austen was very deliberately trying to lay philosophical groundwork for a new theory of strategic action, sometimes charting territory that today’s theoreticians have themselves failed to reach…


Apart from enjoying the classics, what’s on the agenda today?

49 replies
  1. 1
    MrSnrub says:

    Sick. Sick since the weekend. Tried to tough it out at work yesterday, left an hour early. Trying to decide whether to work from home, or just take a full sick day. I hoard my PTO almost as jealously as Smaug hoards gold.

  2. 2
    Valdivia says:

    Because the NYT didn’t have enough with the Dowd piece they now have two reporters saying the same thing? Obama’s fault. Because all the Republicans who voted against it don’t count, only the dems. Just wow.

    Not a way to start the morning. Grrrr.

    I liked your link though.

  3. 3
    Valdivia says:


    hope you get better soon.

  4. 4
    raven says:

    @Valdivia: I hate to report on Morning Joe but he is going nuts threatening to destroy the people that derailed the gun bill.

  5. 5
    Schlemizel says:


    My first thought was “aw, thats cute. He thinks he has some power.” But then I began to wonder who his ‘targets’ would be. I assume he will name several Dems. ANy excuse in a storm

  6. 6
    Valdivia says:


    I love when you report though, because I can’t watch and you give me a sense of what the Villagy Villagers are saying.

    How is your bride?

  7. 7
    Schlemizel says:



    Thanks for the alt-click tip yesterday. That works great & clears up one daily annoyance with chromebook. I had no idea.

  8. 8
    MrSnrub says:

    @Valdivia: thanks! I hope I feel better soon too. Also.

  9. 9
    WereBear says:

    @Schlemizel: So glad I could help. There’s LOTS of handy in the keyboard:


    Brings up a graphic; hold down Ctrl or Alt or whatever to see what each key does.

    I have a tendency to have multiple tabs going on, and Ctrl 1, 2, 3 goes to the various tabs. Great for when I’m working in Full Screen mode, and can’t see the tabs.

  10. 10
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    Today is my 7th anniversary and Mr. Trowel is on another continent. Neither of us is really into the whole hearts and flowers thing, but I am really really missing the cuddles right now.


  11. 11
    PsiFighter37 says:

    I think someone had too much time on their hands. I’m mildly curious to read this study, but I can’t imagine Jane Austen was intentionally setting out to do anything related to game theory. Then again, maybe I’m prejudiced, because I don’t think her books are that great (and I actively read all of them…so that I could be better prepped for my Quiz Bowl team. Lame? Quite possibly so).

  12. 12
    Baud says:

    I always felt like the best part of Jane Austen novels were the math formulas.


    I assume he will name several Dems. ANy excuse in a storm


  13. 13
    WereBear says:

    All hail women who are intellectual giants. Another was the math genius who was Lord Byron’s daughter.

    It’s astonishing that prejudice keeps us from the fruits of everyone’s mind; sex, color, station.

    On the other hand, Republicans keep wanting to make the pool shallower and shallower; so they look like the giants.

  14. 14
    Valdivia says:


    :( many sighs along with you. hope you get a great big hug (and more) and he returns.

    I see that it is not only the NYT but a deluge of articles now saying its Obama’s fault the senate is an obstructionist institution. This is why Dowd’s column mattered. She set the conversation and now this is the verdict. Gah.

  15. 15
    Dan says:

    All the people on Facebook that said we shouldn’t use the Sandy Hook victims as props are posting photos of Martin Richard and Krystle Cambell (of course NOT the Chinese girl).

  16. 16
    WereBear says:

    @Valdivia: I see that it is not only the NYT but a deluge of articles now saying its Obama’s fault the senate is an obstructionist institution. This is why Dowd’s column mattered. She set the conversation and now this is the verdict. Gah.

    Old Media cannot die soon enough.

    While it’s too bad newspapers are Teh Sukk and TV “news” is populated by puppet heads, it’s also not working. By offering no substance, no teaching, no explanation, it’s become a wall of noise that fewer and fewer pay attention to.

    That’s kind of heartening, actually.

  17. 17
    Schlemizel says:


    Heard a blip on NPR yesterday about a Yale Prof who went to Yale ER with a badly cut hand. She explained she was a quilter & needed the hand Dr. went to work as normal. Then one of her students saw her & refered to her as “Professor”. When the Dr. found out she was a Yale prof he brought in the top hand guy & they saved everything.

    The point of this womans books was that prejudice is not always hurting the unfavored group but is more often favoring the preferred group. That seems so obvious in retrospect but it is something worth examining.

    otOH – is there a place that gives hints about these keyboard short cuts? Thanks again

  18. 18
    WereBear says:

    @Schlemizel: Here’s a handy list of Chromebook keyboard shortcuts:


  19. 19
    Baud says:


    Agree. The pushback has been nice to see.

  20. 20
    WereBear says:

    @Schlemizel: When the Dr. found out she was a Yale prof he brought in the top hand guy & they saved everything.

    That is absolutely shocking. Reminds me of the guy in Sicko who got asked which finger they could put back on; he couldn’t afford both!

  21. 21
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    @Valdivia: Thanks :) Only 9 days left.

  22. 22
    NotMax says:

    @The Mighty Trowel

    So he’s out-continent.

    And you’re in-


    Never mind.

  23. 23
    Joey Maloney says:

    Working extended hours because the rest of the department is at a trade show this week. But working at home so I can do it in my PJs, plus have the time to cook some glass. I have a couple of impressionistic outer-spacey suncatcher designs cooling in the kiln right now.

    Oh, and I put the cat on Prozac this week.

  24. 24
    Valdivia says:


    I know it’s just noise (as we saw in the last election) yet this is how ‘narratives’ get set. I really just get exasperated by it. Incredible how these people can write whole articles without mentioning the 60 vote senate we now have!

  25. 25
    raven says:

    @Valdivia: She’s struggling with not being able to be the dynamo she usually is!

  26. 26
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Mr. Chwe reminds me of someone I knew, a college music student taking Theory who got stoned at a party and wouldn’t let anyone change the CD player from the Bee Gees. Any decent story that accurately portrays human beings will be able to be described by game theory, and the better the story, the more insightful the analysis. I’m not surprised Jane Austen could show game theorists a thing or two.

  27. 27
    dmsilev says:

    This morning, I’ll get to finish the bodged-together contraption that a coworker and I mostly built at the end of the day yesterday. Step 1: Find old VGA cable, cut in half, and strip two of the exposed leads. Step 2: Graft one end of “adapter cable” to several thousand dollars worth of electronic instrumentation. Step 3: Graft other end to laser.

    Step 4, of course, is Profit.


  28. 28
    Punchy says:

    Something about Jane Austen just doesnt add up. She seemed more of a divider than a unifier, and the sum total of her worth subtracts from authors of her period. Maybe we should integrate her stories into modern movies to fully multiply the effect of her influence.

  29. 29
    Valdivia says:


    oh I know that’s frustrating for you and her. When my mom was limited in her mobility because of stress fractures in her spine it was so hard on her, but a little patience went a long way because now she is running around like a spin top :)

  30. 30
    aimai says:

    @Joseph Nobles:

    As I read that amazing line about how “sometimes, you know, people have different understandings of the situation or an illusory power in the situation”–Lady Catherine deBurgh I just cracked up. The guy has discovered feminism, queer theory, and anthropology–in fact he quotes James Scott’s “Weapons of the Week.” He could have read some Hobsbawm, too. Or anything on race relations and slavery. Really? Dyou think? Could it be that slaves interests and understanding were not identical to that of their masters? What happens when he reads Bre’r Rabbit?

    I read the article to Mr. Aiamai and he said Professor Chwe reminded him of Mr. Collins–only now his new patroness is Jane Austen.

  31. 31
    aimai says:

    Also I meant to say that any Cop show demonstrates to you that Prisoner’s Dilemma is not, in fact, a game that is played within two rooms between two evenly matched partners. Definitionally there are the groups that imprisoned the notional prisoners, and an imbalance of power and knowledge right there in the experimental situation. There’s a good Leverage Episode where they explore the Prisoner’s Dilemma through that lense.

  32. 32
    raven says:

    @Valdivia: Thanks, we’re pushin that approach.

  33. 33
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    Many of those who disparage Jane don’t think of the mating game as a war. Which it is – part of Mrs. Bennet’s manner is from sheer panic she and her daughters will be poor and homeless. However, Mr. Chee needs to read more. I suggest he start next with Henry Fielding. Or even Samuel Richardson. He’ll get major props from me if he just finishes Sir Charles Grandison.

  34. 34
    Linda Featheringill says:


    The Yale professor:

    Since daughter’s SO moved us both here to live with him at this relatively spiffy address, I’ve noticed a definite improvement in the service I get everywhere. Delivery people are more eager to please and cops are less authoritarian. Medical personnel are less judgmental. And so on.

    Hmmm. Strange. And my intrinsic worth to the universe is no greater than it was before the move.

  35. 35
    gogol's wife says:

    Jane Austen is da bomb! (I’m dating myself)

    And another great lady turns 85 today. Happy Shirley Temple’s Birthday!


  36. 36
    gogol's wife says:

    And — she’s on TCM right now, all day until 7:15 PM. But unfortunately it’s grown-up Shirley.

    Sing along with Shirley, “Oh, the world owes me a living”:


  37. 37
    Schlemizel says:


    A certain amount of healthcare is a crap shoot. When I fractured my pelvis they tried to patch me together with traction. Fortunately that didn’t work and I was turned over to a guy who happens to be one of the leading ortho surgeons in the country. 11 Screws & 2 plates later I was back together in ways that would not have happened had I been left to the first bunch.

    I was shocked to hear this womans story though

  38. 38
    gene108 says:

    @gogol’s wife:

    Happy Shirley Temple’s Birthday!

    How did someone that cute and adorable turn into a Republican?

    Mysteries of the Universe…

    Anyway Happy Birthday Ambassador Temple-Black.

  39. 39
    Betsy says:

    @Joseph Nobles: that’s right, and he gets to coattail on Austenmania. Big benny for an academic.

    Of course one can find endless new theories in Austen; she’s good, like Shakespeare that way.

  40. 40
    Betsy says:

    @aimai: cool comment. Very cool.

  41. 41
    YellowJournalism says:

    @gogol’s wife: Yay! Must go DVR everything on TCM this morning.

  42. 42
    gogol's wife says:


    She was the kind of Republican who’d be a blue dog Democrat now. She was an environmentalist, for one thing.

  43. 43
    Emily says:

    @Cheryl from Maryland:I suggest he start next with Henry Fielding. Or even Samuel Richardson.

    Shakespeare might be good, too.

  44. 44
    handsmile says:


    “Weapons of the Week.” [sic] Is that a NRA contest or sales pitch? James Scott would be alarmed to know that his book on peasant resistance movements had been so abused.

    Like last week’s “retreading Proust,” your un(?)intentional misspellings are quite amusing. (Please know this is not an exercise in picayune pedantry. If anything, it reveals how closely I read your comments.)

    Your mention of “Prisoner’s Dilemma” prompts me to recommend the fiercely intelligent, albeit formally conventional, novels of the brilliant Richard Powers, probably best known for Galatea 2.2. While his second novel, Prisoner’s Dilemma, in fact has little to do with game theory, it presents a deeply affecting portrait of Midwestern family trauma, the American culture industry, and World War II. Astounding, like all of Powers’ fiction.

  45. 45
    Elizabelle says:


    James Fallows had a terrific blogpost about the filibuster that dare not speak its name. Examples from your MSM, that should know better.

    For the love of God, just call it a filibuster

    (Face it, Fallows has a terrific post about anything he addresses.)

  46. 46
    jayjaybear says:

    @gogol’s wife: “That Hagen Girl”? Only a channel that hates Shirley Temple would play “That Hagen Girl” on her birthday. *shudder*

  47. 47
    gogol's wife says:


    Yes, unfortunately most of her films after puberty are pretty bad. She was still cute, but her prodigy talents had faded.

  48. 48
    Mnemosyne says:

    @gogol’s wife:

    I don’t think it’s that her talents had faded. It’s that behavior and mannerisms that were cute in a 4 or 6-year-old were not cute in an 18-year-old, and Temple had a hard time developing an adult persona. IMO, that was in large part because a big chunk of her appeal as a child actress was that she was the “little mother”/wise old soul who was smarter than all of the adults around her, so it was hard to create an adult persona from that.

  49. 49
    smintheus says:

    I’m trying to figure out how game theory doesn’t apply at least as well to Homer’s Odyssey.

    And what’s with the popularity of the film Clueless? As far as I can see, it treats an incestuous relationship between brother and sister as something to strive for.

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