Buridan’s Ass: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

John Cousins
March 4, 2023
2 min read

Buridan’s ass is a concept in philosophy used to illustrate a problem that arises in thinking about free will. It describes the balancing point between two equally desirable options. Here’s how it goes:

A donkey that is equally hungry and thirsty is placed precisely midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water.

The ass has equal preference for the food and the water and it is exactly the same distance from each so that it can’t decide by which is closer. With no rational decision criteria at its disposal, the donkey just stands there until it drops over dead.

This is a paradox. It sets up a situation where there is no way to identify one choice of the other. Like the Gordian Knot that Alexander solved by just slicing it with his sword, this paradox can be overcome with Yogi Berra’s maxim:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Tom Perkins talked about his partner Kleiner’s profound wisdom

“The more difficult the decision, the less it matters what you choose.”

Eugene Kleiner’s deep insight into decision making is brilliant because it’s counter-intuitive. We tend to think that the harder a decision is to make, the more effort we should expend insuring we make the correct choice. But if two options are so equivalent, then either one is as good as the other. Then bold action becomes more important than the choice.

It applies to breaking through this paradox. So go ahead and choose. And whatever you choose, choose boldly. Boldness has power and magic in it.

Projects that expand the set of opportunities have positive option values.

There is a way to value the options that committing presents. Its called Real Option Pricing and uses the techniques of valuing financial options like the Black Scholes model.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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