Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Trying to think deeply

There is a book that was popular with computer people and systems analysts at one time.  I think it was Peter Senge's "The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook" that introduced me to the 5 why's.  The idea is simply to ask "Why?" five times successively about a problem or a process.

"I want to have dinner at Sam's."  


I like Sam's.


They have good walleye.


That is only three Why's and we could go off into why the walleye is good or why Sam offers the fish in the recipe and format he does.

What this approach has taught me over the years is that humans usually don't or can't think very deeply.  We normally can't go even five levels down in our thinking.  This is something which little kids play with when they get the Why? bug.  

When I think of analyzing a chess game, I know it will be to my advantage to think ahead.  I can see I could do this and that he will probably do.  But there are many other things he could do, some of which I don't think of and some of which I think he would not do.  That is only one move and a response.  I realize if I were more cautious and more patient and maybe if I had a bigger and better brain, I would ponder more, think out the moves he could make and how I would respond.  But the thinking and the probabilities can all be done away with by taking an actual move and seeing what actually follows.  

I did my dissertation on applying decision theory approaches and models to the problems of school administration.  I have never been a school administrator but some work by others established a set of problems that were typical of what were being faced at that time. The formal approach to making a good decision asks for a list of all possible choices for the decision and the value of making each weighted by the probability that the value will be achieved.  In real life, we never have all the possible decisions, much less all the accompanying values and probabilities.

Analysis paralysis sets in while I ponder my response to the presentation of the idea of dinner at Sam's.  It is quicker and far more cooperative to agree and eat at Sam's.

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