12/22/2004

12-22-04 - 1

12-22-04

In the last rant I wrote about optimization and life decisions. There are two related things I've been thinking about a lot recently.

Responsibility and impulsiveness. This is sort of an interesting and difficult life trade-off. On the one hand, if you are wise in your decisions, you can avoid regrets - note that this does not necessarilly mean you are just a cautious stick in the mud, you still might make decisions like running away with the Circus or doing drugs or whatever, it's just that you actually thought about it, you saw the consequences, and decided that was the good thing to do. To be bold & thoughtful is difficult, but it is in some ways great. One problem with this is that making wise decisions takes time, and by taking that time, you will miss many opportunities, especially in social situations where split-second reactions are important. On the other hand, if you are impulsive and don't consider your actions carefully, you are liberated in a way, free from considering consequences, and you can do a lot more fun wild things; the disadvantage is you will wind up doing a lot of things that cause you trouble and pain, and of course you risk a small chance of very bad things like injury or jail. Finding a good balance here is almost impossible, because once you start considering what the right balance is, you've fallen into the careful/thoughtful camp. Of course, what many people do is behave very carefully most of the time, and then get themselves drunk to free themselves from that thought and allow themselves to be impulsive. This is of course very silly - if impulsiveness is good and fun, then it's good all the time, and you should do it when sober too.

The other thing I've been thinking about a lot is the way very small differences in the way you weight various outcomes in decision making lead to very large differences in behavior. Let's imagine you're making decisions as I described previously, by considering the choices and generating an EV based on your perceptual rating of the value of the various outcomes. If we were all perfectly smart, we would still make different choices, because the way we rate the outcomes is different. As a simple example, you have people who generally find confrontation to be very unpleasant. So, any outcome involving confrontation they would rate very negative, and that biases their whole decision making to avoid those situations. Every normal person enjoys good times and doesn't like bad times, but even small differences in how you rate them lead to very large behavior variation. For example, someone might really enjoy the good times (as opposed to neutral times), and not care too much about bad times - this person is more likely to make decisions that have a chance of going very good or very bad, such as running off to Vegas with a stranger; someone else might not rate the good times very high, but rate the bad times very low - this person will have totally different behavior, making decisions based primarily on avoiding the bad times, so they're more likely to just stay home all the time and watch TV.

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