PRUDENTIAL ALGEBRA: HOW NOT TO MAKE A BAD DECISION.

Good Decision

Your most important decision – Dummies guide to picking a girlfriend – Benjamin Franklin’s Prudential Algebra – Petros is going to date Miss World.

Petros has relayed to me his dilemma in picking a girl to ask out from the 3 girls he thinks he loves. He told me once: “My choices metamorphose with the rising of the sun, and the sun downing”. “I am quite confounded” he said, with a strikingly tedious look.

It seems at first to me that my jolly friend is infected with greed, but I will let him pass: his mood has been playing on his analytic cognition.

In a very hot Georgian summer weather, we sat down at a nearby restaurant (closest to our labs), where we have occasional (and sometimes very heated) intellectual discourse.

After we discussed a couple of stimulating issues (like the science of conjectures, the intricacies of scientific investigation, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and some recalcitrant paradoxes I just came across in a new book I was reading), I decided to take him on his dilemma.

Just like a Chinese massage therapist, (who has crushed countless of millets into dusts) will do, I prodded carefully into him (in my case, into his brain), after few minutes, he coughed out exactly what I have been looking for (with, of course, the awareness of not falling into a confirmation bias)

Anyways, it soon became obvious that whenever he is in an aphrodisiac mood his choice tilts towards June. In a domestic aura – Pete, and whenever he thinks of an afterlife (not very often, only when a family or friend obituary surfaces) – Israel.

It seems to him none of them have the exact combination he was looking for, and he was not ready to sacrifice a very interesting character like June to an overly-religious-moody-persona.

I share the sentiments that for the most important decision, there are no certainty, and choices like this are not restricted to searching for that ‘impeccable’ girl but to other areas like career choices, or say, ‘should I retire?’

Familiar with his predicament I prescribed a powerful but deceptively simple exercise called the Prudential Algebra attributed to Benjamin Franklin in his 1772 letter to Joseph Priestley at London.

(The next morning I e-mailed the letter to Petros, and I told him to meditate (intensely) on it. And again, not to shove it away because of its simplicity)

The letter reads:

“In the affair of so much importance to you, wherein you ask my advice, I cannot for want of sufficient premises, advice you what to determine, but if you please I will tell you how.

When these difficult cases occur, they are difficult chiefly because while we have them under consideration all the reasons pro and con are not present to the mind at the same time; but sometimes one set present themselves, and at other times another, the first being out of sight. Hence the various purposes or inclinations that alternately prevail, and the uncertainty that perplexes us.

To get over this, my way is, to divide half a Sheet of Paper by a line into two columns, writing over the one pro, and over the other con. Then during three or four days consideration I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives that at different times occur to me for or against the Measure. When I have thus got them all together in one View, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out: If I find a reason pro equal to some two reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Balance lies; and if after a Day or two of further consideration nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly.

And tho’ the weight of reasons cannot be taken with the Precision of Algebraic Quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less likely to take a rash step; and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation, in what may be called Moral or Prudential Algebra.”

(Photo Credit)

PS: After several weeks of intense meditations. Petros didn’t find any of the girls ‘worthy’. In the end, he decided to (surprisingly) opt for a tall skinny lady on the internet, who holds a PhD in Environmental Health, and, I must say, she looks like those of the Miss World kind, that I didn’t fail to wonder what she really wants to do with a PhD.

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2 thoughts on “PRUDENTIAL ALGEBRA: HOW NOT TO MAKE A BAD DECISION.

  1. Hahahahahahaha. Bifarin slaying it as always.

    This is good bro. I’d try to use this letter as a template for a decision I’d soon make. And no, I’m not yet choosing a date like Petros. But sha, it will be good to have a Petros here, that friend we can have a good intellectual sessions.

    Thanks for penning this. I’d write you for your advice on blogging and writing general. Perhaps, you can mentor me. =D

    Obiora

    • Olatomiwa Bifarin says:

      Hahaha, now I am feeling jittery, lol, Anyways I am up for grabs anytime.

      The prudential algebra is very potent, used it when I was picking a thesis lab – it’s a pretty neat technique.

      Thanks.

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