ambiguity effect

“The ambiguity effect is a cognitive bias where decision making is affected by a lack of information, or “ambiguity”. The effect implies that people tend to select options for which the probability of a favorable outcome is known, over an option for which the probability of a favorable outcome is unknown. The effect was first described by Daniel Ellsberg in 1961.”

Wikipedia

Some personal examples.

I will often choose a familiar restaurant, even when revisiting a foreign city, where the probably of a favourable outcome, a good meal, is higher. Or I will spend hours researching and reading reviews of restaurants increasing the likelihood of a nice meal. This means I may miss some of the great restaurants as I don’t consider any unknown options, or I choose something within known parameters.

On hiking to a mountain peak, on return I will typically follow the path I followed on the way up, or a path I have taken before. I don’t see this as a negative per se, as I believe it reduces the chances of getting lost or walking off a cliff.

How does the ambiguity effect affect your life?

it’s turtles all the way down

There’s an old apocryphal story from 16th-century where a young man climbs a large mountain to speak to the sage at the top. Supposedly this sage knew, like, everything and stuff. And this young man was anxious to understand the secrets of the world.

Upon arriving at the top of the mountain, the sage greeted the young man and invited him to ask him anything (note: this was way before Reddit threads). The young man then asked him his question, “Great sage, we stand upon the world, but what does the world stand upon?”

The sage immediately replied, “The world rests upon the back of a number of great elephants.”

The young man thought for a moment, and then asked, “Yes, but what do the elephants stand upon?”

The sage replied again, without hesitation, “The elephants rest upon the back of a great turtle.”

The young man, still not satisfied, asked, “Yes, but what does the great turtle rest upon?”

The sage replied, “It rests upon an even greater turtle.”

The young man, growing frustrated, began to ask, “But what does–”

“No, no,” the sage interrupted, “stop there–it’s turtles all the way down.”

via Mark Manson

productivity

“The trouble isn’t simply that we subjugate our non-work lives to work, but that we subjugate the present to the future – which, as you might have noticed, never arrives. In seeking to spend life as productively as we can, we bring upon ourselves the ultimate ironic punishment: we miss it.”

Oliver Burkeman – New Philosopher #20

loneliness

“Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties — all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion — these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”

David Foster Wallace on Loneliness: I often like being alone – but I don’t like being lonely

an unlikely pyramid

In the outskirts of Ballandean, a small town about 3 hours south west of Brisbane, Australia, lies a paddock. The thing that differentiates this paddock from every other paddock in the area is its unlikely contents: a 30 x 30 metre square and 18 metre high pyramid built with 9000 tonnes of rock. There’s no sign (except ‘no trespassing’), no explanation, and nothing surrounds it. It’s unlikely and unexpected.

should > could

“One of the biggest lessons is given a challenging situation — kids who want pizza — we all tend to default to what we should do instead of asking what we could do. My colleagues and I did an experiment in which I gave participants difficult ethical challenges where there seemed to be no good choice. I then asked participants either “What should you do?” or “What could you do?” We found that the “could” group were able to generate more creative solutions. Approaching problems with a “should” mindset gets us stuck on the trade-off the choice entails and narrows our thinking on one answer, the one that seems most obvious. But when we think in terms of “could,” we stay open-minded and the trade-offs involved inspire us to come up with creative solutions.”

When Solving Problems, Think About What You Could Do, Not What You Should Do

Cognitive behaviour therapy has taught me to avoid using and thinking of the word should as it discourages flexible thinking. Could thinking is a nice replacement.

r.i.p avicii

So sad to hear the news that Avicii is no longer with us. One of my favourite electronic dance music artists – we’ve spent much time dancing to his songs in our lounge rooms over the years. Rest In Peace 💙

→increasing complexity

“We chose to increase the complexity of our lives by having children”

I found this article and diagram by Austin Kleon very insightful—as a five person household I now realize we have 12 10 relationships to manage. You can apply the same concept to work teams.

Even though I’m a big fan of simplicity, I don’t necessarily see our family complexity negatively, as Marcus in About A Boy says:

“Suddenly I realized – two people isn’t enough. You need backup. If you’re only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you’re on your own. Two isn’t a large enough number.”

a different side of flinders peak

I’ll always have fond memories of Flinders Peak in that it was my first tough mountain that I tackled by myself on my nature/fitness journey. I’ve got this week off work so I did a solo trip up mid-morning yesterday. I thought I’d check out the southern side of the mountain and discovered some great views south and back towards the peak that I hadn’t seen before. Refreshing.

 

mahon pool, sydney

During our road trip to Sydney last week we had a swim in the Mahon Pool – an ocean pool in the Eastern suburbs. I love swimming in ocean pools: as refreshing as the ocean without the sand or waves. I wish South East Queensland had some of these pools.

sunset at lennox head

Living on the East Coast of Australia we see beautiful sunrises over the ocean, but occasionally there’ll be such a dramatic sunset it’s able to light up the whole ocean as well. In December last year we stayed for a few nights in Lennox Head on the glorious Northern NSW Coast and had a few nights in a row of lovely sunsets.

This was my favourite:

lennox head sunset - 1
Lennox Head, NSW, Australia

Part of the rise/set photo challenge.

bigger isn’t always better…

It’s easy for someone becoming increasingly interested in hiking to mountain peaks, not unlike a heroin addict, to desire a bigger and bigger ‘hit’. A few weeks ago it was Mount Tibrogargan at 364m, then Mount Beerwah at 556m, but over the weekend it quickly escalated (literrally) to Mount Barney at 1359m! The hike was 17.5km and over 1200m up!

I must admit I didn’t enjoy it, it was too rough on my body and reaching the highest peak for it to be fully covered in clouds was a major let down. But not enough of a let down to return and do it all again. It didn’t help I was recovering from a rather-nasty sinus infection which made me feel even lousier when I’d finished. I’ve learned from the experience that bigger isn’t always better, and that I should re-visit and appreciate some of the smaller mountains I have access to without constantly seeking a bigger and riskier hit.

nature as an antidepressant

“I have to say”, Professor Howard Frumkin—one of the leading experts on this subject in the world—told me later, “that if we had medication for which preliminary results showed such efficacy, we would be all over researching that medication… Here is a treatment that has very few side effects, is not expensive, doesn’t require a trained or licensed professional to prescribe it, and has pretty good evidence of efficacy so far”. But the research is very hard to find funding for, he said, because “a lot of the shape of modern biomedical research has been defined by the pharmaceutical industry,” and they’re not interested because “it’s very hard to commercialise nature contact.” You can’t sell it so they don’t want to know.

From Lost Connections by Johann Hari

When I hear ‘antidepressant’ I immediately think of a pill. One of those many pills I’ve taken over many, many years.

But one of the best antidepressants I’ve found isn’t chemical, it’s simply spending time in nature. Part of this I believe is that nature makes me feel like my problems are pretty trivial when you put them into a larger perspective: I’m a small thing in a large, complex world part of an even larger universe.

That, and oh, the fresh air.

Update: just saw this on my desk calendar:

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what is something that you can accumulate that no-one else can steal?

One of the many things I love about my Toastmasters club is hearing stories from fellow Toastmasters; seemingly ordinary people often with extraordinary life stories. Maurice grew up as a poor child in Sri Lanka. He worried about accumulating things as these would inevitably be stolen from him. So he spent his money accumulating knowledge through eduction. This allowed him to eventually migrate to Australia.

Sri Lanka
Elephants in Sri Lanka – Taken during our 2013 visit