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Cointoss (alexmuir.com)
56 points by AlexMuir 1520 days ago | hide | past | web | 28 comments | favorite

From the article:

> As I throw that coin into the air, I often find myself hoping it comes down on one side. That moment reveals what I actually want to do. I ignore the coin result and do what I wanted anyway. The one-second window often reveals what a few hours or days of mulling has failed to uncover.

That's a great advice!

It reminds me on a great radio talk show at Berlin's youth radio "Fritz". It was about hard decisions. The caller stated his or her problem, and talked about it with the moderator. Then, the moderator threw an imaginary dice (some kind of random number generator, plaing the sound of a falling die), and confronted the caller with that "oracle decision". The direct reactions were always revealing: It was either "Great, I'll do that!" or "No! That's bullshit!" ... so either way, that random "oracle decision" helped them to maked the real decision.

The use of this method is also described here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coin_flipping#Use_in_clarifying...

I'm not sure about this attribution to Freud. The wiki reference is to a management self-help book. That kind of book is full of inspirational quotes, never cites sources, and really shouldn't be relied on.

Digging back it seems likely that the story has been mangled somewhere from this apposite quote, also popular in the same kind of book:

When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.-- Freud. This one's real though, it's related by Theodore Reik in "The Inner Experience of a Psychoanalyst", 1949. In context, Reik studied under Freud (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Reik). They met and Reik asked for help in choosing a career, the quote was Freud's reply. There's not a mention of a coin in the anecdote.

There was an episode of _Frasier_ where they did this. I think it was near the end of season 6.

Off-topic, not trying to be a jerk, just wanted to suggest that you change the font color for your paragraphs as it doesn't contrast with the background enough.

It's actually not a color problem. It's at #222, and even turning it to full black doesn't solve the issue. The font is just incredibly thin. Increasing the font-size is a better option here.

Yeah, you're right. 18px and bold made it much better for me.

I'm on it. This is stock Obtvse, a Svbtle clone. I just put it up as a lightweight Rails blogging engine while I get some other stuff done. The whole thing needs redesigning, and I'm fairly embarrassed about having such a cloned (and, frankly, overused) design.

Also, the left-hand navigation overlaps the content when you zoom on mobile...

Fixed and thanks.

This is the plot of the 1971 novel, The Dice Man? (I thought that was reasonably well known?) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dice_Man


Dice Man would be faced with a situation requiring a choice. He would then assign numbers to the options, then roll a dice, and then do whatever the dice said even if it was unpleasant to him.

AlexMuir's version is to assign numbers to the options, then roll a dice / toss a coin, and decide while the coin is still in the air.

> KFC or McDonalds

I'd reflect on how you got into a situation where those are your two choices :-)

You're right - I should simply have both.

Grab something to eat

Maccy D's or KFC

Only one choice in the city

Done voicing my pity now lets get to the nitty gritty


in these cases you do not toss a coin, you use it to get to a different place with more choice :)

I also do this often, but taking inspiration from "The Dice Man", I assign weights to options (0.3 for one option, 0.6 to another, 0.1 for the third - I assign weight very quickly, without much consideration), launch calculator and press Random button. If 0.4 comes up, second option wins (over 0.3, less than 0.9).

And this is exactly how we generate random values with a certain distribution.

Another trick is that if you think "best out of 3" after it has landed you know you should go for the other choice because that's what you really want.

Absolutely. Any sense of disappointment in the result tells you what you need to know.

Not exactly, since one could be disappointed/not totally happy with either choice (e.g. when buying a car: that car has more comfortable seats, but this car has more space).

(This isn't to say the technique is wrong though, I use it myself.)

Original quote from Arnold Rothstein (Boardwalk Empire)


To me, the main effect here is that you have an excuse to stop thinking about the other options. There has been a ceremonial decision making process, and because of it your mind can rest. It's the same as writing your choices down on strips of paper and pulling one out of a hat. That process, that ceremony, gives you piece of mind, not "what you actually want to do".

This is more an exploitation of the human brain's tendency to romanticize chance than an actual method of decision making. If your decision is so arbitrary that the outcome of a coin toss will mentally satisfy you then you've already made your decision; it's both, just pick one. Theres no magical insight into your soul going on here just whatever you thought of while the coin was in the air. If you had tossed the coin at a different time in the day, or perhaps right after seeing an ad for KFC maybe your 1 second decision would have been different.

When I'm walking and I reach a crossroad where my 2 available options are very close in terms of distance, I usually avoid coming to a halt at all and just start running in one arbitrary direction.

Even if my chosen path ends up being slighly longer in distance, the small amount of time gained by this quick process usually makes up for it.

It is a big mistake to ignore the result! This method only reveals its true power when you fully commit to the result.

The Chinese practiced this a long time ago - called it 'I Ching'. 'Ching' is the sound the coins make when they hit the table ;)

Freakonomics are doing a study/website on this idea (Minus the option to pull out if you realise what you really want)


I read Tom Perkins (the VC) write once, "The more difficult the decision, the less it matters what you choose."

Another reason to toss a coin is when facing an arbitrary choice. Rather than making an informed or uninformed decision on something that doesn't even matter (and thus wasting your allotment of daily decisions before reaching decision fatigue), just toss a coin.

I mostly do this when I don't know what I want to eat in a restaurant. Find two things that look remotely okay, toss a coin.

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