Full Site Articles EconLog EconTalk Books Encyclopedia Guides

# The Worlds Oldest Algorithm?

 Mankiw's Pithiest... Post... E... Villains, Victims, and Heroes...

If you believe Matt Ridley, it's Ricardian comparative advantage. His is one of many answers to the Edge question of What's your formula? your equation? your algorithm?. Other interesting answers from Tooby, Kurzweil, Haidt, and many others.

Matt writes:

Is this related to Mankiw's post on the ultimatum game, and under what conditions a non-zero sharing of reward takes place?

The worlds oldest algorithm is the herding uncertainty constant.

The probability of a mammal being X distance from the center of the herd must be less than the uncertainty constant. p(x)

Matt writes:

p(x} is strictly less than K, K fixed for each mamalian species. x is the distance from the herd center, p is probability.

(I fix an html boo boo})

dearieme writes:

I'm an admirer of Ridley's writing. Lets overlook the fact that he's Chirman of Northern Rock, shall we?

Matt writes:

Now I am stuck trying to clarify.

Reptiles have a poor sense of the herd, so they are truly malthusian with exponential decay and expansion of population.

Mammals have the ability to predict the center of the herd by local interactions, it is the emotional learning in the limbic system that evolution invented.

Every mamalian species has a model of the variation and center of the herd which offers the most comfort, the uncertainty constant for a mammal is the herd mean over the herd sigma. When the herd spreads to thin, members break off or engage in herd fights or other means to get back into the comfort zone.

mammals run a predictive filter, measuring their local interactions with herd members to adjust their position and determine the herd center. This brings us back to the uimatum game.

In the ultimatum game, mammals will measure the relative value of a transaction over time and accept unfair exchanges that are within the price*transaction uncertainty band. Essentially the mammal is adjusting his price position-transaction within the local herd. He wants the spread between the next wealthiest and next poorest to be within transaction range, and his relative position within a price range.

General Specific writes:

I'd say the oldest is E=MC**2.

It's all about energy. Or power. Even comparative advantage can't even begin without energy to get the ball rolling. Comparative advantage is about maximizing and conserving energy. But without energy, and its materialization in matter, there's nothing to conserve.

E=MC**2. Definitely the oldest algorithm.

writes:

In the latest science an article shows that when chimps play the ultimatum game, they act more like what economists predicted people would act like. TUrns out we're more fair-minded and less economics-thinking than chimps. At least when it comes to the ultimatum game.

The oldest algorhythm, btw, is the ritualistic dance that allos for someone (typically of the opposite sex) to enter your territory. Gobie sand blennies are good to watch to see this. They are, incidentally, lobe-fined fishes (thus related to those fish who were the ancestors of land animals -- turns out territoriality, meaning property rights protection and recognition, is evolutionarily extremely deep, going all the way back to fish).

writes: