From this multidimensional matrix, a decision must emerge. Professional deciders, Johnson reports, use decision processes to navigate this complexity. Many of the best processes unfold in stages—a divergence stage might precede a convergence stage—and are undertaken by groups.
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Darwin might have divided his friends into two opposing teams, in the divergence stage, and then held a debate between them. The decision might be turned into an iterative adventure. For architects in nineteenth-century Paris, working en charrette meant revising until the very last minute, even in the cart on the way to deliver a design to a panel of judges.
Charrettes are useful not just because they break up the work but because they force groups with different priorities and sensibilities—coders and designers, architects and real-estate developers—to interact, broadening the range of available viewpoints. It would be strange to stage a war game about a prospective marriage. Still, Johnson writes, decision science has lessons for us as individuals. Johnson starts with intuitions—redwoods are beautiful; the tech scene is cool—but quickly moves beyond them.
Eventually, they make a contract. Probably not. Looking back on his decision, Johnson can at least feel confident that he made one. For centuries, philosophers have tried to understand how we make decisions and, by extension, what makes any given decision sound or unsound, rational or irrational. Faced with a choice—should we major in economics or in art history? From this perspective, a decision is essentially a value-maximizing equation. Plug in your values, and the right choice pops out.
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In recent decades, some philosophers have grown dissatisfied with decision theory. Ullmann-Margalit doubted that such transformative choices could be evaluated as sound or unsound, rational or irrational. One might hope that a little research could bridge the divide between Old Person and New Person. You are wrong. Babysitting for other children, having nieces and nephews or much younger siblings—all of these can be wonderful or horrible experiences, but they are different in kind from having a child of your very own, perhaps roughly analogous to the way an original artwork has aesthetic value partly because of its origins.
Before having children, you may enjoy clubbing, skydiving, and LSD; you might find fulfillment in careerism, travel, cooking, or CrossFit; you may simply relish your freedom to do what you want. Having children will deprive you of these joys. And yet, as a parent, you may not miss them. You may end up becoming a different person—a parent.
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In the months before our son was born, our sense of our ignorance mounted. We knew in advance when he would be born—an ultrasound had revealed that he was unusually big, and a C-section had been scheduled—but the morning of his arrival unfolded with a strange familiarity. I had coffee, toasted an English muffin, and read the news; I packed clothes for the hospital into the bag that I take to work every day.
At eleven, my wife and I got into the car. Her mother and a family friend drove us. At the front entrance, we hugged them goodbye. We walked inside.
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Upstairs, in a curtained-off nook, my wife settled into a hospital bed. Occasionally we were left to ourselves.
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