An optimal brain can be composed of conflicting agents

Adi Livnat, Nicholas Pippenger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many behaviors have been attributed to internal conflict within the animal and human mind. However, internal conflict has not been reconciled with evolutionary principles, in that it appears maladaptive relative to a seamless decision-making process. We study this problem through a mathematical analysis of decision-making structures. We find that, under natural physiological limitations, an optimal decision-making system can involve "selfish" agents that are in conflict with one another, even though the system is designed for a single purpose. It follows that conflict can emerge within a collective even when natural selection acts on the level of the collective only.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3198-3202
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number9
StatePublished - 28 Feb 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Bounded rationality
  • Collective decision making
  • Computational complexity
  • Levels of selection
  • Modularity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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