Giving and Taking Chance

Supreme effort often goes into the process of making life’s little decisions, weighing up the multitude of advantages and disadvantages perceived in the mind, considering all the possible actions and allocating each a value based on the projected outcome. I’ve often wondered what would happen if each of the many little choices we seem to experience from day to day were to be determined at random, to live life by the roll of the dice or the flip of a coin.

Perhaps you can remember back to a situation where you’ve had a decision to make and were presented with a few options, like choosing between two movies in a video store or deciding which of your favourite restaurants to take her out to for dinner, “tossing up” between the two as it were and actually flipping a coin in an effort to circumvent your decisional duty. How many times have you been discretely pleased when a certain result came up in the cards that you perhaps had a slight preference for, using that coin toss to affirm your good judgement? And how many times have you thrown up that coin again, blaming some kind of interference or making it best two out of three when the result was not what you were hoping for, what in your mind had already been determined, if only by the smallest of margins?

We studied this a little in my Philosophy of Mind class at uni a while ago, about free will and all that. Are any of our choices really up to us at all, or are they just an automatic processes determined by previous experiences and the mechanics of the mind? Our lecturer seemed to have chosen to believe that free will is a mere illusion — something I’m still undecided on. I tried to think of a particular choice in which previous experience would have little to no bearing on the decision, pulled out a twenty cent piece from my pocket and asked him to choose heads or tails. Tails was his timely response and I asked him why he had chosen tails over heads. ‘I don’t know’ was his reply.

Was his decision free will? Was it purely random? When you are one hundred percent certain of the odds and returns, choices become easier, as they can be precisely calculated, and when split down the centre, you can be sure whichever choice will be adequate. Decisions in life however are often infinitely more complex. Experience and disappointment frequently advises against taking chances, with relationships, with fashion, with friends, with money, with specific career choices, with different directions in life, though sometimes intuition and emotion can lead to actions against all ordinary rationality. It’s certainly not often that someone will disregard their previous assumptions and actually give you a chance; it might be one in a million, but when that chance arrives on your doorstep, you’d be a fool not to take it.

Adelaide Street, Brisbane