Is There An Ideal Way To Make Decisions?

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I loved the smell of new comics when I was a kid. Few things excite me like getting the new Amazing Spiderman did. I remember the anticipation and the eventual satisfaction of holding it in my hand, staring at it without opening it at first. I’d study the cover, really taking it in before opening it and reading all about my hero.

That smell, though.

I often daydreamed about superpowers, as one does when they worship superheroes. Flying, invisibility, mind reading, etc., etc., but one wish that kept coming back was the ability to ask one question a day and get the 100% true answer.

I wasn’t greedy, I didn’t want to know everything. At the ripe old age of eight years old I knew that life was best if it was filled with mystery.  However, if I could know with certainty one new answer per day I could take over the world!

I suppose that I still wish that I could be certain about more topics. Does my wife really want me to be honest about what I think of her shoes?

Certainty creates confidence. Confidence that I made, or about to make, the right decision.

Is there an ideal way to make decisions?

No, obviously, but curiosity isn’t really about answers it is about exploration. I wanted to find out if there are things that I can do to make better decisions.

Enter Decision Theory.

So far, holy shitballs the people that write about and teach the topic, so far in my experience, are boring as fuck. Seriously. No wonder no one talks about this stuff. Which is surprising to me. I mean, all the self-help crap out there is proof to me that people want better lives, doesn’t it make sense that better decisions will help them do that?

Here is what I’ve found so far:

Decision Theory is com-freaking-plex. Overly so. It is a mathematical discipline that for the most part, has lived in the realm of the abstract, devoid of much real life application.

The simplest way to look at it can be found at Less Wrong. My version is a little less polished in language:

Each decision has a number of possible outcomes. Each outcome can be rated for its awesomeness. When I met my wife I decided to talk to her beyond the normal chit chat level. One outcome might have been having my ego kicked in the nads in the way of a rejection, I might rate that shit at -10. Another might have been that she wanted to get to know me. I might rate that bit of awesome at 100.

Each outcome has a certain probability. The chances of Georgie rejecting me when we met was low, she already agreed to a car pool and unless she was in a horrible mood I suspect that she assumed that we’d have some conversation. I put the odds of rejection as low. Let’s say they were at 1%. The chances that she’d connect and want to get to know me better, well, better than the surface level chit chat, was not too bad. We already knew we had a lot in common and we knew a lot about each other. I put the odds of that at around 60%.

There are other possible outcomes, but let’s stay there, for now, to aid in understanding. If those are the only two outcomes I can decide to talk to her or not by simply multiplying the probabilities against the desirability rating and adding them all up. 0.01 x -10 = -0.1. 0.6 x 100 = 60. 60 – 0.1 = Hellz yeah, Imma go for it.

That is the simplest version of it. What can happen? How awesome is it? How likely is it?

Now, let me help you out. If you want to dive into decision theory you will find that it is hella complicated. There are a lot of competing theories that can drive you mad if you let it. I have done so and I have concluded that it isn’t necessary, like at all, to do so, in order to make better decisions. Life is an intractable problem set, so the pragmatist gets to work with what she has. We’ll leave the prisoner’s dilemma to the theorists and simply live in the real world where you do not commit crimes with people, so that we don’t end up there to begin with.

To make better decisions, then, is really simply a matter of getting better at seeing possible outcomes and accurately assessing their awesomeness and likelihood. The good news is that this can be improved greatly, which we’ll explore in future posts.



Reality Defined… Close Enough

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After jumping down 30 feet into a soft loam pile, sinking up to my thighs, crashing forward and smacking my face into the dirt, I learned that I don’t always make the best decisions. There were other clues, but that example still sticks in my mind, perhaps because I wasn’t able to move my spine afterward that made it stick.

Best decision that I ever made? Carpooling with Georgie Fear. I’ll save that story for later. For now follow me on a relevant bird walk.

I’m as close to omniscience as I will ever get. There is no 90 Days To Omniscience Blueprint that I am aware of as of this post. Until that plan comes available for three easy payments of $19.99 I am stuck with my very limited understanding of things, which is to say that I don’t know anything.

If one is not omniscient, how can they be sure that they know anything? It’s like knowing most of the equation but not all of it and thinking that we can know the answers.

Warning: That might drive you bonkers if you let it, let’s get back to the point.

So, what is left? Just one thing, my experience. That is all that exists for me. Object reality becomes irrelevant to me.

From that perspective, I explore. Whether I am logically correct or not doesn’t interest me, for even if you prove to me that there is an object reality and that I can know it I will still only experience it. So there.

Well then, my first curiosity will be decisions. For they are the very things that determine all of our experiences. Sure there is logical arguments for experiences that have nothing to do with our decisions, but I can’t control those. What I can control are my decisions, that’s it.

Stay tuned for an exploration of Decision Theory. I wish to explore both normative as well as descriptive decision theory. Descriptive to understand how we humans actually make decisions and normative is how to make the best decisions without all the facts. Basically how to make rational decisions.

The aim is to see if I can identify my very human, irrational, maybe moronic way of making decisions and learn to do better.

Of course, that needs no explanation. Better decisions are intrinsically valuable.





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A hero, my hero, saved my life.

It is surprising how easy it is to get to the top of a highrise. I was standing on the edge of the roof of the building in which I lived, ready, willing, and happy to jump.

I had planned my great escape many times before. Each time I went to act I didn’t go through with it. Each of those times felt different than this time. This time I wasn’t scared or even all that emotional, I was feeling sure, feeling confident. This time was real.

I looked down at the ground, and my hero gently grabbed me, leading me off the ledge to safety.

While I was looking down, I did something odd; I calculated the speed that my body would reach on impact, in my head. Doing that calculation took the mental resources away from my “I’m jumping brain” and diverted them to my “that’s neat brain.”

After the calculation, I noticed that I felt great. I had no past, no future, just the now. I was at peace. That felt good, of course, but it also felt new. I lingered with it up there.

And that’s when I decided that I could kill myself tomorrow. I had a few bucket list type things that I wanted to do. Naturally, if a person is a self-absorbed as I was, those items fall into the category of, “I’ll only do whatever I want, then kill myself.” There was some sex, drugs, rock and roll and good old violence.

Hardly anything to be proud of, that came later.

“I can kill myself tomorrow” turned into “I can kill myself next week,” then next month, then, finally I stopped the negotiation. Slowly life turned around and so did I.

Some of you … who am I kidding, all three of you, might be wondering, “cool story, bro, who saved you?”


If I didn’t have enough curiosity to wonder about the impact, I am sure that I would have jumped. Curiosity saved me more times that I can count. After I didn’t need saving anymore, curiosity also gave me all the good things in life.

Curiosity is my hero, private guru, and friend. This blog is a tribute to my hero, curiosity.