Buridan’s Donkey

This is what Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes in his eccentric (I am saying this because he hates academics) and excellent book ‘Anti-Fragile: Things that Gain from Disorder” about interesting thought experiment ‘Buridan’s Donkey’ :

“A donkey equally famished and thirsty caught at an equal distance between food and water would unavoidably die of hunger or thirst. But he can be saved thanks to a random nudge one way or the other. This metaphor is named as Buridan’s Donkey, after the medieval philosopher Jean de Buridan, who – among other, very complicated things – introduced the thought experiment. When some systems are stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness can unlock them and set them free. You can see here that absence of randomness equals guaranteed death” 

If one is aware of this condition, it might make it easier for one to keep a certain momentum in design process. Imagine as a student how many times we have lost steam waiting to make the ‘only right’ choice. As now i am in the teaching boat, i need to be a bit more precise in this articulation, as a student might use this against me to make design decisions. This irrational sounding ‘random nudge’ must be placed in between the ‘whim’ and ‘rational’. The ‘nudge’ (also a nice word to keep in mind for teachers) has to lean towards ‘rational’ side, i guess. I would read the ‘hunger’ in the donkey as ‘rigour’ here. And there are ‘two’ options, so i equate this to more ‘possibilites’ on paper. Then the ‘random nudge’ can be justified, if it ticks both the boxes of ‘rigour’ and ‘possibilities’. If this nudge works, a teacher has to be careful enough not to ask the student to justify that move in design process. 

Here is a nice clip from Big Bang Theory which makes the point.