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[Opinion] The Mountain Climber’s Promise

Posted May. 31, 2005 06:38,   


In game theory, the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” is an idea stemming from a story about two burglars who are put in a disadvantageous situation due to a lack of trust in each other. Two burglars who are captured by police can receive light punishment if both keep the promise that they don’t confess. However, due to the fear of the other’s confession, both choose to confess and face punishment, or one burglar who keeps the promise suffers the maximum charge while the other burglar who confesses is released.

However, if the game is repeated, and both are related to each other in society, their choices will be different. Namely, if the game ends for good, one who breaks the promise can enjoy the advantage. However, if the game repeats, the one who confesses will face social punishment in return for his betrayal. When it comes to human relations, there are the number of cases that are as numerous as the ones often seen in chess and baduk (Go or Weiqi)). Thus, nobody knows the kinds of circumstances that will be encountered in real life.

There are people who often make promises but don’t keep their promises. Politicians are a good example of this. They often brag of the promises they make to the nation even when they know the promises will hardly be kept. Later, they cite the circumstances in which they made the promises as a reason for their failing to keep them, saying their promises were sincere at the time or attributing them to current conditions that are different from those that were in effect when they made the promises. However, if such violations of promises and poor excuses continue, the politicians will end up facing the cold shoulder from voters. The reason is that the game in politics repeats itself again and again.

Mountain climber Um Hong-kil, who promised to collect the body of Park Moo-taek, who died while climbing Mt. Everest, kept his promise a year later. Um found the body that was at the edge of cliff, and attempted to move it to another place. However, due to bad weather, Um climbed down the mountain after burying Park’s body in a stone grave. The mountain climbers’ promise, which was as strong as the mountain itself, is not understandable according to the game theory that stresses individual interests. But the promise that is deeply carved in the icecap of Mt. Everest will never melt, no matter how much temperature changes.

Hwang Ho-taek, Editorial Writer, hthwang@donga.com