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Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny


The tendencies of basic biological, social and technological evolutions can be explained in scientific, physical terms. Directionality seems to be imputed and the author argues that Non-Zero Sum games has been the driving force for biological life. The core of biological and human history can be traced back to more numerous, larger, more elaborate, more interdependent forms of NZS games being played. “Non-Zero Sumness” can be thought of as the tendency which gives time its directionality, helping explain how NZS was likely to lead to complex life forms and technology which further enriched how these life forms interacted 

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Key Takeaways

  1. Game theory was developed by von Neumann. Zero sum games are games in which one person’s win means another person’s loss (sports) whereas Non-Zero sum games aren’t necessarily negative for one party. The authors argue that NZS games are a driving force for the world has been shaped. NZS games can be win/win, win/lose, lose/win, or lose/lose
  2. Human history has shown that technological advancements allow for richer and more widespread NZS thinking and actions to occur, and social structures evolve from these interactions to more fully capitalize on these positive sum interactions, increasing social complexity and depth. NZS is not always win/win, but it trends in that direction and this causes people to become more embedded in webs of mutual interdependence. 
  3. Hunting large prey requires coordination which spurs altruism, reciprocity, social complexity, and positive sum games. “The best place to store your excess food is somebody else’s stomach.”
  4. The author argues that population density is the overriding factor in predicting technological evolution and social complexity in a group of people
  5. A quick summary of NZS would be the extent to which outcomes are shared, also known as skin in the game
  6. Writing builds trust in a society (lenders don’t have to worry about debtors cheating them and vice versa, etc.) which helps streamline much of life and leads to positive sum outcomes
  7. Increasing NZS leads to a more interconnected and codependent world where you not only care about your local neighbors but also the global community as trade commerce and ideas seamlessly transfer from one area to another
  8. Increasing seamlessness in travel, commerce, communication, mostly driven by improvements in technology lead to new areas and opportunities for NZS, and how open and willing countries are to adopt the new technology and drive it’s future success and ability to capitalize on these positive sum games.
  9. Technology, freedom, and increasing wealth seem to be inherently and intimately intertwined 
  10. NZS is responsible for reciprocal altruism love has evolution selected for those who could cooperate with each other and survive and this helped in hard times when others with chip in to pay back your favor
  11. Time's arrow does not necessarily point towards complexity but competition, survival, and natural selection push species to become more adapted and more complex in their thinking and behavior just in order to survive. If there was no competition and no threat of being eaten, animals don’t naturally just become more complex. Positive feedback at play
  12. Natural selection beautifully fills in open inches
  13. Truly valuable traits evolve independently. For example eyesight and reciprocal altruism evolved in multiple times and species. These are prime behaviors that have helped species survive for eons and are traits that we can bank on

What I got out of it

  1. Really interesting idea that non-zero games, technological advancement, win/win have spurred evolution towards complexity in behavior 

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