Theory and Decision

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 53–80

The undecidability of the spatialized prisoner's dilemma

  • Patrick Grim

DOI: 10.1023/A:1004959623042

Cite this article as:
Grim, P. Theory and Decision (1997) 42: 53. doi:10.1023/A:1004959623042


In the spatialized Prisoner's Dilemma, players compete against their immediate neighbors and adopt a neighbor's strategy should it prove locally superior. Fields of strategies evolve in the manner of cellular automata (Nowak and May, 1993; Mar and St. Denis, 1993a,b; Grim 1995, 1996). Often a question arises as to what the eventual outcome of an initial spatial configuration of strategies will be: Will a single strategy prove triumphant in the sense of progressively conquering more and more territory without opposition, or will an equilibrium of some small number of strategies emerge? Here it is shown, for finite configurations of Prisoner's Dilemma strategies embedded in a given infinite background, that such questions are formally undecidable: there is no algorithm or effective procedure which, given a specification of a finite configuration, will in all cases tell us whether that configuration will or will not result in progressive conquest by a single strategy when embedded in the given field. The proof introduces undecidability into decision theory in three steps: by (1) outlining a class of abstract machines with familiar undecidability results, by (2) modelling these machines within a particular family of cellular automata, carrying over undecidability results for these, and finally by (3) showing that spatial configurations of Prisoner's Dilemma strategies will take the form of such cellular automata.

Undecidability Prisoner's Dilemma cellular automata game theory decision theory computability 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Grim
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, SUNY at Stony BrookGroup for Logic & Formal SemanticsStony BrookU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations