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Paul Erickson to present the 2010 Gehrenbeck Lecture, Nov. 10

Paul Erickson
Paul Erickson, assistant professor of history, science in society, and environmental studies at Wesleyan University, will deliver the 15th Annual Richard K. Gehrenbeck Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m. in the Clarke Science Building (room 128). Brochure

The lecture is titled, “Prisoner’s Dilemma: The Life and Times of a Paradox in Cold War America.”

Erickson states that the “so-called ‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’ (PD) is a paradox of game theory that has become inextricably intertwined with our thinking on many of the dilemmas of modern life. These include the ‘tragedy of the commons’ in which individual interests undermine the common good, and the counterintuitive logic of mutual assured destruction, in which mutual vulnerability is the best defense against nuclear war.”

His talk explores several chapters in the history of PD in an attempt to answer the question, “How was PD successfully transformed from an obscure mathematical counterexample in the 1940s to a fundamental focus of analysis in economics, political science, and even evolutionary biology by the 1980s?”

The answer, he suggests, has much to do with the social and disciplinary context in which issues of rationality and choice were debated in the Cold War world.

Erickson earned a BA from Harvard University and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is currently completing a book on the history of mathematical theories of rational choice after the Second World War.

He received the 2009 Prize for Young Scholars from the International Union for the History and Philosophy of Science. Story

Richard Gehrenbeck taught physics and astronomy at the RIC for 22 years until his death in 1993. His doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota was in the history of science, and his course “The Rise of Modern Science” was an innovative lab-based introduction to that field. The Gehrenbeck lecture, presented each year in his memory, brings an active scholar to the College each year to present a public lecture on a topic related to the history of science.

For more information, contact James G. Magyar, RIC Physical Sciences Department, at (401) 456-8049 or