There Are No Bad Choices

Your choices are as good as what you make of them

Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

The non-choices

First, let me set things straight with the title: some choices are obviously wrong. You can tell right away. You would be ashamed to even consider them. In this sense, they are not exactly choices.

Some others are a bit less obvious to figure out. For those, God, or the cosmic dice, or evolution, whatever you believe in, has provided us with an infallible compass. It is the inner voice telling you not to buy the Porsche. The one compelling you to study for the mid-terms instead of going out for drinks.

You can choose to ignore it, but you know you should not. Still you do sometimes and you hide behind rubbish like “You Only Live Once”. I know I have, many times over.

I’d like to argue these are not choices either. With a bit of inner listening, you can figure out what to do, and you end up realizing there was only one path to walk, and it did not involve a Porsche. Early enough or too late, that is the real question.

A sea of hesitation

Apart from the non-choices above, remains an ocean of hesitations. These are the real choices, the ones which have no true or false answer in general. Which job offer should I take? Who should I vote for? Do we go for a third child or do we stop at two? Medium or Vocal?

Standing on the crossroad, who’s to tell if left is better than right, especially not knowing where the roads lead? In many if not most situations, the road itself does not know where it leads. So, which is better?

Left or right?

Black or white?

Leave or stay?

In my opinion, adjectives like goodbadright or wrong and their superlatives do not apply to such choices. Good and bad are outcomes in this instance. They depend not on the choice itself, but on the course of actions one takes after the choice is made.

One has also to keep in mind that there are many dependencies to the choice which are out of one’s control. You take left. It is raining. Your car skids and ends up in a tree. Had you taken right, you could have avoided the accident. Or could you have? Whose to say? The road was slippery in both cases, and you might have ended up in an even worse situation. The fact is, you just do not know.

Warning, geek stuff ahead!

You see, the universe is governed by laws which simply prevent us from figuring out precisely what the future holds.

Here comes the geek part, brace yourselves!

Classical physics teach us that we can model the behavior of a system with a set of differential equations, which, given the right initial conditions, should allow us to predict the state of a system at any point in time. However, the devil is in the details. You need to figure out precise enough initial conditions, if you want your predictions to be accurate, for instance, the exact position and initial speed of the system you are trying to model.

Practically speaking, you could predict the exact position of an oscillating pendulum at future times for long enough. You would not be able to predict the path of a ball in a flowing river beyond a few seconds, and that is assuming tremendous calculation power to solve the differential equations behind the prediction.

It gets even more complicated when we move to less classical physics. Quantum mechanics teach us that it is not possible to know with arbitrary high certainty the position and speed of a particle at the same time. If you figure out its exact speed, you lose its position. This is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

Even weirder, the double-slit experiment, if you care to read about it, which shows the “fundamental limitation of the ability of the observer to predict experimental results”.

The choice

In a nutshell, no one can predict the precise outcome of a choice. The laws of the known universe will stand against such a prediction.

So how to make a choice? Well, if your inner voice is silent and you do not feel inclined towards one of the alternatives, heads or tails should be a good enough method. You cannot be wrong. Not when making a choice.

Not yet.

Your choice is as good as what you make of it.

Let the board sound


Was it really better before?

“Things were better before, man”…

I can see where you’re coming from dear friend. Indeed, the past decade or so has been everything but a walk in the park. Economic crisis, terrorism, natural disasters, outbreaks, you name it. Nostalgia aside, I guess however that you should measure the “better” part of your statement by the amount of time by which you define the “before” part of it.

Do you mean 5 years or so ago? Right in the middle of the Islamic State terrorist attacks in Europe.

10 years ago? You’re in the aftermath of the greatest economic crisis since the great depression and at the start of the Syrian conflict.

15 or 20 years ago? That’s 9/11 and the subsequent war on terrorism, Bush, Saddam, the Iraq conflict, the SARS outbreak, hurricane Katherina, the Y2K bug (or lack thereof).

More? 40, 50 years ago? The Cold War, the Berlin wall, apartheid. 80 years bring you back to a world conflict, a genocide and the first and last use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict, 90 years, to the greatest economic depression in modern history, 100 years, to yet another world conflict and another genocide.

And before that? The Napoleonic wars, the Plague, the great fire of London, the fall of the Roman Empire, the fire of Rome, Nero, Attila the Hun, and many other wonderful humanist concepts like slavery or torture, which were the norm for a very long time. Just an excerpt of a very long list. Many things were not better before. Most actually. Human rights, gender equality, air conditioning and ice cream would only be coming later.

Robert, Hubert – Incendie à Rome

If you are still not convinced, picture this last argument: it took medicine thousands of years of trial and error, starting from basic herbal medicine in the bronze age to the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Flemming in 1928 to start having effective and widespread antibiotics. Most people reading this post were born shortly after penicillin had become a staple of modern medicine and most will be gone by the time bacteria will have developed enough resistance to render most antibiotics ineffective. It is as if the entire universe aligned itself in order to make antibiotics available right in time for your birth dear friend and will retire them by the time you’re gone. A personal gift to you and you only, of all the people who walked the face of this earth since the dawn of time, emperors and prophets included. So no, things were not better before and the 20 years of extra life expectancy that this gift gave us is a testament to the brighter present we live in.

My point is, past is gone, future is still to be written, so there’s probably no better time for us than today, which is why I would like to wish you a nice today, a nicer tomorrow, and so on for the next year.

Let the board sound

And best wishes for the year to come