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THE CYBERNETICS OF COMPETITION: A BIOLOGISTS VIEW OF SOCIETY GARRETT HARDIN, Ph.D.* Science fiction depends heavily on the postulation ofMartians, who are invariably assumed to be more advanced intellectually than we. The psychological reason for this assumption seems clear: the whole apocalyptic myth ofthe men from Mars fulfils needs that were earlier satisfied by the idea of an imminent Kingdom of Heaven. To the objective eye of an anthropologist, our fictional Martians are manifestly gods, and science fiction is a kind oftheology. The odd thing is that before another human lifetime has passed, we may have a chance to see what Martians are really like (ifthey exist). And ifwe do, will it be gods that we are finding, or something less than human ? I predict the latter, on the grounds that we have not yet heard from them, as we should have iftheir technology were really more advanced than ours. Ifthey exist and ifthey trail us in knowledge, we will then be faced with an interesting complex ofproblems. Should we educate them? Can we educate them? How? In the past, in dealing with the backward peoples ofthe earth (a similar problem), we have taken the easy path and have given them the answers ready-made. But suppose for once we decide to give our backward brethren, not the answers, but the questions—and let them work out their own answers? Suppose we expose the men from Mars to all the complexities ofour technological situation and let them figure out the explanations? Watching them, we should learn a great deal about epistemology! * Professor ofBiology, University ofCalifornia, Santa Barbara. Based on a paper presented to the Symposium on Central Planning and National Goals, directed by James W. Wiggins and Helmut Schoeck at Sea Island, Georgia, in September, 1962. An earlier version of this article is part of a volumein the William Volker Fundseriesin the Humane Studies to be published by D. VanNostrand Company in 1964. The present draft has benefited by the criticisms ofMortimer Andron, William Kennedy, and Carl Stover, in addition to the symposiasts in Georgia. 58 Garrett Hardin · The Cybernetics ofCompetition Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Autumn 1963 This Gedankenexperiment is introduced for nontrivial reasons. The point I wish to make is this: Martians faced with the riddle of our technology would have a far harder time than we did in creating the underpinning of physical theory, even ifthey are as intelligent as we. Faced with airplanes, how could they arrive at a theory of gravitation? Listening to the radio, would it occur to them that the intensity of electromagnetic radiation obeyed an inverse-square law? In the presence of an atomic explosion, how could they conceive ofa conservation law? They might, ofcourse. After all, we found the laws ofnature. But in our search we were fortunate in this respect: most ofthe time invention was only a very little bit ahead oftheory; often it was even behind. We were able to discover theory because the world was simple. A theory-poor Martian confronted with our invention-rich world would have a much harder time discovering theory than we did. He might fail utterly. Picture if you will a convention of Martians, reading scientific papers to each other, papers concerned with the theory ofthe Earth. One ofthem proposes a universal law of gravitation. Pandemonium breaks loose. In the absence ofall knowledge about combustion, Newton's three laws of motion, electricity, magnetism, superconductivity, radioactivity, and all the rest, it would be all too easy for the Martian auditors to cite evidence upon evidence to refute the idea ofuniversal gravitation. Only a total complex of theory ("model") can be tested against a factual complex. If the elements ofa theoretical construct are tested one by one against the complex world, they will, one by one, be "disproved." Probably our visitors from Mars could arrive at a workable theory only ifwe earthlings agreed to play "Twenty Questions" with them—to give them a nod ofapproval whenever they stumbled across a fruitfulelement oftheory. (They would, ofcourse, have to have faith in us; for how could they know that we were not merely playing tricks on them?) The relation ofourhypothetical Martians vis-à-vis the physicalworld is...


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