From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Flipism, sometimes written as "Flippism", is a pseudophilosophy under which all decisions are made by flipping a coin. It originally appeared in the Disney comic "Flip Decision" by Carl Barks, which was first published in 1953.
In the comic book, Donald Duck meets Professor Batty, who persuades Donald to make decisions based on flipping a coin at every crossroad of life. "Life is but a gamble! Let flipism chart your ramble!" Donald soon gets into trouble when following this advice. He drives a one way road in the wrong direction and is fined $50. The reason for the fine is not the bad driving but letting the coin do the thinking. Indeed, there are those who view the resort to Flipism to be a disavowal or responsibility for making personal and societal decisions based upon rationality. However, in the end, flipism shows surprising efficiency in guiding some decisions.
Flipism in decision-making
Flipism is a normative decision theory in a sense that it prescribes how decisions should be made. In the cartoon, flipism shows remarkable ability to make right conclusions without any information - but only once in a while. Of course, in real life flipping a coin would only lead to random decisions. However, there is an article about benefits of some randomness in the decision-making process in certain conditions. It notes:
Though the author himself may have intended this as a rejection of the idea that rationality (in the standard sense) has some special claim to superiority as a basis for making decisions, what he may really have discovered are the potential benefits of strategic commitment to randomization.
Commitment to a non-trivial mixed strategy can be beneficial for the informed party in a potential conflict under asymmetric information, as it allows the player to manipulate his opponent’s beliefs in an optimal fashion. Such a strategy also makes the player less inclined to enter into conflict when it is avoidable. Coins and "flipism" have been used to suggest mathematical outcomes to a variation of the Prisoners Dilemma.
Another way of seeing the utility of flipism in decision-making can be called revealed preferences. In the traditional form, revealed preferences mean that the preferences of consumers can be revealed by their purchasing habits. With flipism, the preferences can be revealed to the decision-maker herself. Decisions with conflicting preferences are especially difficult even in situations where there is only one decision-maker and no uncertainty. The decision options may be either all appealing or all unpleasant, and therefore the decision-maker is unable to choose. Flipism, i.e., flipping a coin can be used to find a solution. However, the decision-maker should not decide based on the coin but instead observe her own feelings about the outcome; whether it was relieving or agonizing. In this way, flipism removes the mental block related to the act of decision-making, and the post-decision preferences can be revealed before the decision is actually made. An example of revealed preferences is embodied in the Old Testament story, the Judgment of Solomon, wherein King Solomon offered to resolve a child custody dispute by ordering the baby cut in two, and upon seeing the reactions made an award.
Still a third approach is to look at flipism as the endpoint of a continuum bounded on the other side by perfectly rational decision-making. Flipism requires the minimum possible cognitive overhead to make decisions, at the price of making sub-optimized choices. Truly rational decision-making requires a tremendous investment in information and cognition to arrive at an optimum decision. However, the expected marginal value of information gathered (discounted for risk and uncertainty) is often lower than the marginal cost of the information or processing itself. The concept of bounded rationality posits that people employ cognitive parsimony, gathering only what they expect to be sufficient information to arrive at a satisfying (or "good enough") solution. Flipism is therefore a perfectly rational strategy to employ when the cost of information is very high relative to its expected value. Compare Motivated tactician.
This is a commonly recognized decision making technique used in everyday life. Other methods include:
- listing advantages and disadvantages of each option (an informal form of decision matrix);
- coin flipping, cutting a deck of playing cards, finding a quotation in a holy book, consulting the Magic 8-ball, and other random or coincidence methods;
- accepting the first option that seems like it might achieve the desired result
- astrology, augury, fortune cookies, prayer, tarot cards, revelation, Methods of divination or other forms of divination or oracular device.
- Alternatively, dice or another random generator may be used for decision making.
- In game theory, negotiations, nuclear deterrence, diplomacy and other Conflict theory-- rationality, realpolitik or realism can themselves limit strategies and results. They can limit the ability of a player to make demands or get its own way through bluff, bully, instill fear, cause apprehension, or psychologically manipulate or send a heeded warning—and therefore can increase the likelihood that an opposing party may engage in objectionable or unwelcome behavior. If one knows the lines and can predict the response, than predictability and proportionality become a restraint, not a virtue. Consequently, 'taunting a junkyard dog is OK, if you know you are beyond the reach of its tether.' Thus irrationality (real or perceived) can be an important countervailing tool or strategy, particularly as a deterrent and if it engenders hesitation, fear, negotiation and resolution, or change of course. On the other hand, alternate strategies such as honesty, building a climate of trust, respect, using intermediaries, mediation or other forms of conflict resolution, sanctions, patience, process and reasoning might still be available, as might strategies like so-called Win/win bargaining (also called "interest-based" bargaining) -- which tries to reach an accord based on interests, not necessarily on positions, power, rights or distribution.
In popular culture
- A record company named Flippist Records in Minneapolis, MN.
- The story Flip Decision has been a subject of a linguistic research about translations from English to Finnish, and from English to the Helsinki dialect.
- Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein once wrote a poem—entitled A Psychological Tip -- describing the advantages of coin flipping in decision making.
- Some of the notable characters in fiction who practice flippism (to varying degrees) include:
- The main character in the book The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (a.k.a author George Cockcroft) and later novelsThe Search for the Dice Man, Adventures of Wim and The Book of the Die.
- Jake Nyman, the protagonist of the film American Perfekt.
- The main antagonist, Anton Chigurh, in the novel No Country for Old Men and the film.
- The Batman villain Harvey Dent (a.k.a Two-Face).
- Leela from the Futurama series.