Thermodynamics of Evolutionary Games

How cooperation can evolve between players is an unsolved problem of biology. Here we use Hamiltonian dynamics of models of the Ising type to describe populations of cooperating and defecting players to show that the equilibrium fraction of cooperators is given by the expectation value of a thermal observable akin to a magnetization. We apply the formalism to the Public Goods game with three players, and show that a phase transition between cooperation and defection occurs that is equivalent to a transition in one-dimensional Ising crystals with long-range interactions. We also investigate the effect of punishment on cooperation and find that punishment acts like a magnetic field that leads to an “alignment” between players, thus encouraging cooperation. We suggest that a thermal Hamiltonian picture of the evolution of cooperation can generate other insights about the dynamics of evolving groups by mining the rich literature of critical dynamics in low-dimensional spin systems.


Thermodynamics of Evolutionary Games
Christoph Adami, Arend Hintze