Making All The Decisions All The Time


Thursday, 7.54pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The multiverse exists because every choice we make creates a fork in the road, which leads into a parallel world. – Blake Crouch

Real life decision making is hard. The technical term for it is decision making under uncertainty. We don’t know what the future might be but we still need to make a choice right now. Or do we?

Frost wrote about forks in roads and how taking the one less travelled by made all the difference. Choosing one area of study or another. Choosing one college or another, one country or another, one partner or another. Each choice we make opens up some paths and closes others.

One way of making sense of these choices is to draw a decision tree. What are the choices, and what happens if you choose one or the other. The tree and its branches, drawn sideways in the picture above, are possible paths you can traverse. Importantly, they are mutually exclusive, going down one means you forego the other. Each route has an outcome and the idea is that you choose the route with the best outcome, but the outcome that you can expect is a probabilistic combination of all the routes.

Leave the maths to ones side – I did this tree ten years back to choose between staying in a job, starting a business or doing further studies. The modelling didn’t give me an answer – all the options had roughly the same outcomes. So I made a decision with my gut and I haven’t been unhappy with the results. I went for knowledge and somehow knowing why things are the way they are gives you a feeling of equanimity in a complicated and complex world.

The secret to decision making is perhaps not making one. This is called preserving optionality. Keep all the options open for as long as possible. When given a choice between two options go for both. This is something I learned from the small people in the house. One will choose between options – a fearless decision maker. The other will want both options you’ve written down and demand the pen you wrote it with. I look forward to seeing the outcomes from both approaches as they progress in life.

The multiverse has caught the popular imagination – or at least those imaginations that are fired by the world of Marvel. If you say the words “Schrödinger’s cat” to fans of the Big Bang Theory they’ll get what you mean.

What this means for you and me is that everything you want to do is still possible unless you choose to close it down.

Cheers, Karthik

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