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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Numerical Simulations of the Lewis Signaling Game: Learning Strategies, Pooling Equilibria, and the Evolution of Grammar


David Lewis (1969) introduced sender-receiver games as a way of investigating how meaningful language might evolve from initially random signals. In this report I investigate the conditions under which Lewis signaling games evolve to perfect signaling systems under various learning dynamics. While the 2-state/2-term Lewis signaling game with basic urn learning always approaches a signaling system, I will show that with more than two states suboptimal pooling equilibria can evolve. Inhomogeneous state distributions increase the likelihood of pooling equilibria, but learning strategies with negative reinforcement or certain sorts of mutation can decrease the likelihood of, and even eliminate, pooling equilibria. Both Moran and APR learning strategies (Bereby-Meyer and Erev 1998) are shown to promote successful convergence to signaling systems. A model is presented that illustrates how a language that codes state-act pairs in an order-based grammar might evolve in the context of a Lewis signaling game. The terms, grammar, and the corresponding partitions of the state space co-evolve to generate a language whose structure appears to reflect canonical natural kinds. The evolution of these apparent natural kinds, however, is entirely in service of the rewards that accompany successful distinctions between the sender and receiver. Any metaphysics grounded on the structure of a natural language that evolved in this way would track arbitrary, but pragmatically useful distinctions.

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