U turn

“Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

– Robert Plant

There is something in our minds, some quality inculcated deep into us from the time we’re little, that works to prevent us from simply changing paths when things start to go wrong. I suspect it has something to do with the sheer complexity of the decisions we are called upon to make in our lives – from the really big things like job and home and love and spiritual purpose, down to the little things like what brand of bread to buy.

There is so much we need to do that we set up these self-actuating mechanisms, little automatic pilots guiding the various choices in our lives, so that we can feel free of the weight of continual decision making.

It all works, except when it doesn’t. From the global financial meltdown to that brand of salsa you bought three weeks ago that is slowly going bad in your fridge, we are victims of our own efficiency at multitasking and auto-delegation.

I sometimes wonder whether the world would be a better place if we all had a little psychological restart button that we could press from time to time – something to tell our fearful habit-driven selves that it’s ok to change things up, to try a new path, to drive off the main road at the next exit and just explore a little.

I guess this is a form of spiritual enlightenment, the ability to see situations as they really are, and not through the misleadingly comfortable glasses of how things should be but aren’t, or the dangerously comfortable glasses of the way things used to be, but are no longer.

Maybe it’s something we should teach our kids in school, when they are still young and the lesson is more liable to stick: That yes, it’s wonderful to set a bold and daring course, plan for your future, charge forth with gusto and all steam ahead. But it’s also useful to know when you might be heading the wrong way, and to have the presence of mind – just every once in a while – to make a U turn.

3 thoughts on “U turn”

  1. Ahah, you do learn that at school, provided you take a graph theory class 😉 Let’s say you have nodes, that are states (things you want to achieve and things along the way) and you have a connected graph with lots of connections. Each edge has a cost. So to go from node X to node Y, you must add the costs along the path. Something I have learned by programming these costs functions is that no matter where you are, you always need to re-evaluate the cost function to the goal, because what you already spent does not matter.

    It’s the same for things of life. Wherever you are, you must compute the cost to reach your goal, no matter how much you already spent (in sacrifices, and so on)… that’s how you can realize that for some paths, it’s always gonna cost too much, and maybe you should change your goal.

  2. Completely off topic – but: I’m somehow expecting a reference to Vim Venders tomorrow…

    On U-turns, I think game theory covers a lot of that. We do seem to be a species that tends to weigh past investments more than possible future losses. We also have a tendency to gamble. Quite a lethal combination if you think about it.

  3. I agree with Zabador that graph theory does a great job of modeling what you should do in these situations. The problem I find (and that I was trying to get at in my post) is that we generally don’t do that – we frail humans quite often fall back on habit, and go with the familiar choice, rather than the better choice. I I suspect it would be quite a different world if people were to make their important decisions on a rational basis. I’m not even sure whether it would be a better world – but I’m sure it would be a very different one!

    As far as alphabetic topics go, I suspect I’d need to wait another day to do proper justice to Wim Wenders – although I can see how if would be funnier if I didn’t. 😉

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