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Evolution and the Mechanisms of Decision Making$

Peter Hammerstein and Jeffrey R. Stevens

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780262018081

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262018081.001.0001

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(p.vii) The Ernst Strüngmann Forum

(p.vii) The Ernst Strüngmann Forum

Evolution and the Mechanisms of Decision Making
The MIT Press

Founded on the tenets of scientific independence and the inquisitive nature of the human mind, the Ernst Strüngmann Forum is dedicated to the continual expansion of knowledge. Through its innovative communication process, the Ernst Strüngmann Forum provides a creative environment within which experts scrutinize high-priority issues from multiple vantage points.

This process begins with the identification of themes. By nature, a theme constitutes a problem area that transcends classic disciplinary boundaries. It is of high-priority interest, requiring concentrated, multidisciplinary input to address the issues involved. Proposals are received from leading scientists active in their field and are selected by an independent Scientific Advisory Board. Once approved, a steering committee is convened to refine the scientific parameters of the proposal and select the participants. Approximately one year later, the central meeting, or Forum, is held to which circa forty experts are invited.

Preliminary discussion for this theme began in 2008, when Peter Hammerstein brought the initial idea to our attention. Together with Jeff Stevens, the resulting proposal was approved by the Scientific Advisory Board and from June 23–25, 2010 the steering committee was convened. The committee, comprised of Nick Chater, Peter Hammerstein, John M. McNamara, Reinhard Selten, and Jeffrey R. Stevens, identified the key issues for debate and selected the participants for the Forum, which was held in Frankfurt am Main, from June 19–24, 2011.

The activities and discourse that surround a Forum begin well before participants arrive in Frankfurt and conclude with the publication of a Strüngmann Forum Report. Throughout each stage, focused dialog is the means by which participants examine the issues anew. Often, this requires relinquishing long-established ideas and overcoming disciplinary idiosyncrasies, which have the potential to inhibit joint examination. However, when this is accomplished, a unique synergism results from which new insights emerge.

This volume conveys the synergy that arose from a group of diverse experts, each of whom assumed an active role, and it contains two types of contributions. The first provides background information to key aspects of the overall theme. Originally written in advance of the Forum, these chapters have been extensively reviewed and revised to provide current understanding on these topics. The second (Chapters 7, 12, 15, and 20) summarizes the extensive group discussions that transpired. These chapters should not be viewed as consensus documents nor are they proceedings. Instead, their goal is to transfer the essence of the discussions, expose the open questions that still remain, and highlight areas in need of future enquiry.

(p.viii) An endeavor of this kind creates its own unique group dynamics and puts demands on everyone who participates. Each invitee contributed not only their time and congenial personality, but a willingness to probe beyond that which is evident. For this, I extend my gratitude to all. A special word of thanks goes to the steering committee, the authors of the background papers, the reviewers of the papers, and the moderators of the individual working groups: Nick Chater, John McNamara, Sam Gosling, and Rob Boyd. To draft a report during the week of the Forum and bring it to its final form in the months thereafter is never a simple matter. For their efforts and tenacity, I am especially grateful to Ed Hagen, Kevin Gluck, Sasha Dall, and Thomas Bugynar—the rapporteurs of the discussion groups. Most importantly, I wish to extend my sincere appreciation to Peter Hammerstein and Jeff Stevens. As chairpersons of this 11th Strüngmann Forum, their guidance proved invaluable and ensured a vibrant intellectual gathering.

A communication process of this nature relies on institutional stability and an environment that encourages free thought. The generous support of the Ernst Strüngmann Foundation, established by Dr. Andreas and Dr. Thomas Strüngmann in honor of their father, enables the Ernst Strüngmann Forum to conduct its work in the service of science. The Scientific Advisory Board ensures the scientific independence of the Forum. Supplemental support for this theme was received from the German Science Foundation and the Stiftung Polytechnische Gesellschaft.

Long-held views are never easy to put aside. Yet, when this is achieved, when the edges of the unknown begin to appear and gaps in knowledge are able to be defined, the act of formulating strategies to fill such gaps becomes a most invigorating exercise. We hope that this volume will convey a sense of this lively discourse. Most importantly, we hope that this multidisciplinary examination of the cognitive mechanisms that govern decision making—mechanisms that were shaped over evolutionary time through natural selection—will initiate an alternative to the existing axiom-based theory of decision making.

Julia Lupp, Program Director

Ernst Strüngmann Forum