Epigenetics (2012) and Game Theory (2008)

Originally posted 1/3/2016. Lead images from Amazon.

epigenetics game theory

5 STARS and 3 STARS (respectively)

So the full titles of the books are: Epigenetics: How the Environment Shapes Our Genes by a professor named Richard Francis and Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life by Len Fisher.

These are both non-fiction books, so I won’t exactly be focusing as much on plot and romance as much as organization and clarity.

A quick note on the subjects of these books:
Epigenetics is, as the title claims, the study of how our genes interact with the environment around us. This new subfield of Genetics has been developing ever since we realized that our genetics expression can change without mutations. In my own words, an individual (such as you) can evolve based on the environment that you’re put in. Not just on a psychological level, but your environment actually changes your genetics. My personal favorite experiment, not mentioned in the book, is on the inheritance of fear. Yes, if not all of the epigenetic markers are removed before fertilization, fear can be inherited. The book focuses more on epigenetic’s “intended” natural function: gene regulation (ex. turning on certain hormones when you’re exposed to long periods of stress, etc.). The mouse fear study I’m referring to can be found here
Game Theory, a bit older than epigenetics but not too old, is the study of decision-making and forming strategies in everyday situations. For instance, the game of rock, paper, scissors; splitting up a birthday cake; or when playing chicken with your neighbor.

Of course, for more info on either of these topics, you can read the books.

Rock, Paper, Scissors
This book was very opinionated. There’s nothing wrong with that intention; the author’s whole stated purpose for studying game theory was to find ways to apply game theory to real-world social problems. So of course those would be mentioned in the book. But personally, I didn’t agree with what little was said of those recommended strategies. Fisher briefly explains a skeleton of a plan for real-world applications, but what little there is either comes across as impractical or is inadequately explained. Otherwise, the book is well-organized, entertaining, and informative. Fisher does a great job of explaining the “seven deadly situations” and examples of their occurrences in every day life.
The awful thing, though, is that often the examples don’t seem to line up with the described theories. It’s perfectly understandable to compare the Cold War to a game of Chicken, or disappearing spoons in a workplace as the Tragedy of the Commons. But there are several other examples that become somewhat confusing as to their relation to the assigned Situation.
Non-fiction books are designed to either inform or persuade, and the author does not fully accomplish either of these. The persuasion is cut off by only giving vague ideas of real-life social cooperation solutions; it comes across as food for thought, just prompting the reader to think about the topic and its possibilities. But then the other option, informing, occasionally fails with the chosen examples. Yet I will say that these instances were rare, so it’s fair to classify the book as a mostly successful informer.
The organization was a bit confusing before the author explicitly stated its organization a ways in. Maybe I just didn’t read quickly enough.
Overall, I do recommend it as an informer. Game Theory, mostly as far as social decisions are concerned, is something that I know intuitively on a basic level. Many people probably do. But even so I still recommend the book for its mathematical/scientific perspective of looking at things.
Another reason I would recommend it: it somehow makes math sound fun!

Now, at first I was angry with this book. I’ve been a huge fan of Epigenetics for a while, and I was really hoping for some juicy details on things like inheriting fear or changing eye-color. It did touch on the subject of epigenetic differences in identical twins, and it did touch on inherited stress/famine responses, but mostly the book talked about gene regulation and effects on early childhood. But once I accepted that this was vital information, I got more invested in the book.
And THEN I got to the chapters about color blindness and Mules/hinnes. WOW that stuff is fascinating! And, of course, the book does a wonderful job of explaining things. Some things seemed oversimplified to me (but that might be because I’m planning on majoring in biology), but oversimplified is better than under-simplified when it comes to non-fiction.
You want to know whether or not I recommend this book? readitreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreaditreadit.
Read it.
It’s not nearly as witty or anecdotal as the Game Theory book, but the subject is so exciting! And I never once got angry at the book for a lack of explanation.

This review wasn’t as organized as most of my reviews were, but that’s probably because the books were non-fiction (I didn’t group these together because they’re similar, but because I was too lazy/busy to write the Epigenetics review before I’d already finished the Game Theory book). The review would be too long if I summarized and commented on every chapter, but with no plot there’s not much else to comment on.
But I feel somewhat frustrated. These are both very interesting and important topics. While I wouldn’t be offended if none of my followers read the fiction books I review, I would feel honestly offended if any of you, reading this, didn’t try to look deeper into these topics.

On that note, I do have a question for you. If someone acts negatively towards you (bullying, shaming, insulting, ignoring, acting out, being passive aggressive, etc.), do you think it would change them more to punish them (not reward them) for behaving badly, or do you think they would change more if you redeemed them? Does it vary by situation? Would you be able to tell which method you should use?

Any questions, comments, or concerns are highly appreciated!


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