Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Choices

Choosing a choice among Choices

Choosing is something that people do all the time. We choose something every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month or every year. Why do we have to choose or rather prefer one item over the others? Why can't we just take anything at random, buy at random, eat at random, make friends at random, or even marry someone at random? If these things do happen, then it would be "interesting" to study the outcomes.

At the department stores we often see customers examine one item to another, compare among similar items, and finally leave the store without buying anything. The same thing happens when they hop over to the next store. At the end of five hours they come home with a shopping bag containing items costing just over twenty dollars. Why do some people spend so much time shopping, yet take home just some trivial things?

Some people appear to be overly choosy that they spend a lot of time before making a choice from several options. It is interesting to know how these people think when they evaluate items before making a choice. Are the criteria they use so strict that a slight divergent from what they think the item of choice should be like, is enough for them reject that item? That may be a possibility. It may be that, for some people, choosy is just a habit. It is something that has been conditioned into their behaviour. It is something that they do not choose to do, but conditioned by the subconscious mind.

That could be an explanation, and could apply to some percentage of the population. Another possible reason is that some people may use "choosing activity” as a 'hobby'. It is something that some people enjoy to do. Then, their purpose to go shopping is not to buy something, but to use the 'choosing' activity as the tool to relax their mind. If such was the case, would we categorise the persons as being choosy?

Making choices may be simple, while some may be difficult. It is simple when the items to choose are common or routine. Deciding what to cook for dinner, for example, should not take three days. Deciding on how to complement a friend when unexpectedly meeting him or her at a dinner, takes only few seconds. To decide whether to take a bath after having exercise, does not take a few hours. On the contrary, to decide on a house to buy may take weeks or months, while to decide marrying someone may take months or years.

Why is it that some decisions are harder and/or take longer time to make than others? One reason could be the degree that the expected impact of a decision or a choice will make on future scenarios of the person involved. For instance, cooking a dinner is not a big deal. If do not cook tonight, you can cook tomorrow. But buying a house may mean that a person or a couple has already decided to live in an area or a city for as long as that person or that couple lives. If not for life, at least big part of his or/and her lives. For such a huge investment, many factors are being considered. These include job prospect, cost of the house, the neighborhoods, cost of living in the city, spouse views and whole lists of other relevant factors.

In the academic world, students finishing per-university education will spend some time to think and discuss their future. Firstly, to study or to work, and then, if they choose to study, where and what course? Why this university not others, why this course, and not others? Such monologue or dialog may be going on within them and between peers and with parents, until the application form s are submitted. Why do potential students care so much about the next level of education? They have to, because generally the type of education they receive at tertiary level generally determine what jobs they will get after graduation. A job is a part of life. People spend one third of their everyday life at the work place, two day a week. This amount to almost spending 8-12 percent of their lifetime living at the place of work. As such, prospecting students have to think whether they like the kind of jobs they will land upon graduating.

When deciding on something that is very significant, people need to have knowledge. Knowledge can be in different forms, such as background knowledge on the items to be decided, knowledge on the contextual relationship with the surrounding, the procedures of ranking of possible choices, the consequences of choosing one alternative, and lastly the steps taken to accomplish the tasks that the choice explicitly or implicitly requires. Thinking and anlysing all the factors and possible outcomes related to each of the possible alternatives, involve a lot of searching and logical thinking, hence the length of time required before making a decision. Scholars call this kind of activity as knowledge-based decision making.

This activity is said to involve different phases. In their paper dated 2002, Jean-Charles Pomerol and Patrick Brézillon wrote as follows: " ... picture of the current situation (including the past), this is the diagnosis phase (Pomerol, 1997). Then, using his expectations about the future and according to his preferences, he develops a scenario reasoning which leads to decision making, this is the look-ahead phase."

and,

"Decision making heavily depends on the diagnosis, we have even argued that in many cases the decision only depends on the diagnosis (Pomerol, 1997). This means that the current state of nature, once identified, triggers an appropriate decision. Things that we like and things that we don't like."

Philosophers of science are thinkers, one of whose activities is to conjure hypotheses and theories to explain natural phenomena. Theories are formed from analysing empirical data which are obtained through observations, experience and/or experiments. Theories are not only useful to explain natural phenomena, but also for making predictions. From predictions, scientists, engineers, technocrats and the layman can make decisions about some tasks which they have to accomplish.

The problem arises when more than one theory are being put forward to explain a particular phenomenon. Each of the theories somehow can explain the phenomenon at varying degree of accuracy or “trueness”. This is where philosophers play a role in delineating the method as to how to choose a theory among the competing theories. These methods include Occum's razor, abduction, verisimilitude and inference to the best explanation. Descriptions of these concepts can be found elsewhere.

For Muslims, there is another dimension to be considered before making a decision. This dimension is the submission to Allah, the creator of everything, and the Knoweth of all the things that He has created. A Muslim must make prayer before the process of making choice begins, during the process and after the process has been completed. Before implementation a Muslim ought to make a special prayer named as “istikharah solat” to obtain guidance as to whether the choice in mind is actually the best choice among the various alternatives that have been considered. In addition, it can also mean to ask for blessings when the choice is put to action (implemented).

In conclusion, choosing is a natural cognitive phenomenon which is carried out by almost everyone and at all time, from simple routine task to a complex task. For complex tasks, an elaborate reasoning scheme is devised so the decision or the choice that will be made will bring out the best possible outcome. In Muslims, blessing from Allah is sought for whenever a task is performed.

Wallahu ‘aalam

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