More Choices

Choice plays strange roles in our lives. Sometimes there is nothing better than having more choices at your disposal. Many a times, however, having one simple straight route laid out is a great blessing.

In his book The Paradox of Choice, the author Barry Schwartz argues that in an era of consumer market, we have at our disposal such a massive array of goods in each category that simple tasks such as buying a shampoo or a jeans can become increasingly difficult. The decisions do not come easy and we have to invest a significant amount of brain resources and energy mostly on optimizing the solution to unimportant issues. This non-stop optimization of the equations that go into decision making regarding trivial tasks is a waste of human time and energy.

Sometimes having choices is worse than having no choice at all. It is hard to say this in today’s world that worships freedoms but this is what happens when even good things go out of proportion. In philosophy, a silly thought experiment, known as Buridan’s ass, relates the available choices in an interesting way.

Imagine a hypothetical situation wherein a donkey that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed exactly in the middle of a stack of hay and a pail of water. The donkey makes a decision based on which of the two is the closest, as a result of which cannot choose where to go first and hence dies of both hunger and thirst.

What does the above thought experiment say about our unlimited supply of goods asking us to choose among them? That a person who tries to optimize each decision is bound to exhaust and burn out themselves. The solution is simple: in trivial matters, anything is OK. Optimize only in the important matters of life.

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