The Loh Down On Science

Altruists vs. Louts

Is dining with mathematicians an incalculable experience???

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet mathematicians Lionel Levine, Scott Sheffield, and Kate Stange.  A shared meal led them to wonder how people can divide things up fairly.??

Say you’re eating sushi with a group and want to alott the pieces, each person picking one piece per turn.  Is there a way for everyone to get their favorites???

To find out, the trio modeled two types of diners.  Altruists care only that everyone else gets their favorites.  Selfish louts only care that they themselves do.??  Turns out it's mathematically easier to find a solution for louts than altruists.  Why?  Because louts just dumbly gobble up their immediate favorite each round.  But altruists are strategic.  On their turn, they’re calculating all possible outcomes for all diners at every turn.??

But, oddly, the outcomes for both types are the same!?? Stange says, for all their selflessness, altruists work at cross purposes, so they do no better than louts.??

Don’t even get me started on how the trio split the bill!

<em>The Loh Down on Science</em> is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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