A Prisoner’s Dilemma

The sky gets a bit gloomy and some serious thoughts might come into one’s mind. Nevertheless it should not darken the spirits, we all know this all is only a game..

Jurgen Winkler has been working as a full time professional artist since 2007 and also holds a Biology degree from the University of Amsterdam. In recent years he has had several solo and group exhibitions in the Netherlands, including at the Gemeente Museum in The Hague (2011 and 2012). Jurgen’s biology studies laid the foundations for scrupulous research and recording; as a biologist he conducted detailed analyses on jellyfish and toads and his meticulous observation of animals led to a deep-rooted interest in human behaviour, which became a significant source of astonishment and inspiration in his work.

His artwork entitled A Prisoner’s Dilemma depicts two lower body parts merged into an inter-dependent structure. Through A Prisoner’s Dilemma, Jurgen shows the different sides of dependency in relations, exploring conflicting themes such as alienation and intimacy, power and impotence.

The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a bargain. Here’s how it goes:

  • If A and B both confess the crime, each of them serves 2 years in prison
  • If A confesses but B denies the crime, A will be set free whereas B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)
  • If A and B both deny the crime, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison

There are many examples in human interaction as well as interactions in nature that have the same payoff matrix. The prisoner’s dilemma is therefore of interest to the social sciences such as economicspolitics, and sociology, as well as to the biological sciences such as ethology and evolutionary biology. Many natural processes have been abstracted into models in which living beings are engaged in endless games of prisoner’s dilemma.

In environmental studies, the prisoner’s dilemma is evident in crises such as global climate change. It is argued all countries will benefit from a stable climate, but any single country is often hesitant to curb CO2 emissions. The immediate benefit to an individual country to maintain current behavior is perceived to be greater than the purported eventual benefit to all countries if behavior was changed, therefore explaining the current impasse concerning climate change.
In psychology, an example of prisoner’s dilemma was described in addiction research. Addiction can be cast as an intertemporal prisoner’s dilemma problem between the present and future selves of the addict. In this case, defecting means relapsing, and it is easy to see that not defecting both today and in the future is by far the best outcome, and that defecting both today and in the future is the worst outcome. The case where one abstains today but relapses in the future is clearly a bad outcome – in some sense the discipline and self-sacrifice involved in abstaining today have been “wasted” because the future relapse means that the addict is right back where he started and will have to start over (which is quite demoralizing, and makes starting over more difficult). The final case, where one engages in the addictive behavior today while abstaining “tomorrow” will be familiar to anyone who has struggled with an addiction. The problem here is that there is an obvious benefit to defecting “today”, but tomorrow one will face the same prisoner’s dilemma, and the same obvious benefit will be present then, ultimately leading to an endless string of defections.


In other installations, sculptures, drawings and photographs by Jurgen Winkler, humour is often perceptible and palpable though a dark and aching undercurrent also characterises his work. Using different techniques and materials, including clothing and household goods that originate from recycling shops or his private surroundings, Jurgen is able to create self-reflective pieces which also speak about the human condition.

Here are some more of his nature and animal behavior-inspired installations:






  1.  Jurgen Winkler, A Prisoner’s Dilemma, 2012
  2.  Jurgen Winkler, Survival of the Fittest, 2011
  3.  Jurgen Winkler, Zonder Titel (1 meter been), 2009
  4.  Jurgen Winkler, In Zijn Verlangen Werd Hij Tot Het Uiterste Gedreven, 2012
  5.  Jurgen Winkler, ‘Waarom thuis achter de geraniums zitten als het elders ook kan’, 2007
  6.  Jurgen Winkler, Zonder Titel (stoelen), 2009


See more at:  http://www.jurgenwinkler.nl/index.html

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