Buridan's Donkey 🪅
The end of year holidays can be a good time for slowing down and zooming out. Buridan’s Donkey is a neat story for this week.
What is Buridan’s Donkey?
The story of Buridan’s Donkey has many variations.
In one memorable variation it describes a hypothetical situation in which a hungry donkey stands between two identical piles of hay. The donkey normally goes to eat whichever hay is closest to him. In this case though, both piles are exactly the same size and distance apart. Unable to decide, the donkey eventually dies of hunger!
Why is this interesting?
The story of Buridan's Donkey can be interpreted in a few different ways.
It could be read as a warning against indecision, or so-called analysis paralysis. If they donkey just made a decision - any decision - it would not have starved. Similar to the idea of having a bias for action.
It could also be read as promoting the benefits of longer term thinking. The donkey would have survived if it have realized that it could go to eat one hay pile now, and go to the other later. Similar to this great advice not to be short sighted.
Or it could get you thinking about the nature of free will. This story can be read as a demonstration that there is no free will. You can go down that rabbit hole here.
Want to go deeper?
🔖 I just reread D. Siver's short and sweet Don't Be a Donkey post
💎 Choose your own analogy from all these gems! There are sources back to Aristotle for versions of this story. Sometimes the variation was a donkey stuck between hay and water. Another had a donkey who could not decide between oats and hay. One had a man faced with the choice of equally good dates.
🧠 Build your latticework! Revisit related mental models:
🤔 Wondering if OpenAI's GPT-3 or GPT-4 could/should write this newsletter for me going forward?