Fall ruminations

2006-11-03

in Daily updates, Oxford

Lower reading room, Bodleian Library

Four acquaintances of mine have become engaged during the span of the last three days. In the Oxford case, my speculation is that the recent cold snap is generating nesting-type behaviour in people: making them think about the safe, warm, and comfortable parts of life rather than the dashing about on sunny days parts.

As I’ve said before, this is the period where things in life start becoming truly optional. That applies to everything from education to where you live, which people you’ve known all your life you will continue to know, and how you spend your days, weeks, and months.

To some extent, it goes to show how people are generally better at making decisions within narrow frames than beyond them. To take a trivial example, people are better at playing video games than at deciding whether or not to play. People are better at passing exams and writing essays than at deciding which educational programs to enroll in. When things become really wide open, the limitations of our ability to collect and filter information become most apparent. The correct combination of heuristic approaches to decision making – what non-economists call ‘judgment’ – can certainly be a scarce commodity. I am personally quite concerned about whether I am seeing all the possible options, understanding each in a reasonably accurate way, and engaging in patterns of behaviour that make the most desirable options more likely to transpire.

As is often demonstrated in matters romantic, there is also an enormous element of chance that shapes the paths of human lives. Being adaptable enough to identify and seize the good chances is perhaps the most critical skill for living an extraordinary life, in contrast to one that is merely happy or successful.

My best wishes to all the newly-committed couples. I hope the marriages proceed as planned, and that they all reflect upon the decision in ten or twenty years’ time as one of the best choices they have made.

PS. Cycling home with a bag full of ripe grapes, tomatoes (I bought the gorgeous on-the-vine expensive ones), bananas, and apples, I noted with appreciation the incredible capacity of global markets. It is, after all, now getting dark around 4:00pm here, and it is below freezing at night. Of course, the thought of all those fertilizers, tractors, machines, trucks, and aircraft was also a reminder of how much goes into the operation of those markets, and how concealed huge expenditures of effort and resources can be.

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