Head vs Heart

There’s a sense in which Beeminder is about making your heart submit to the will of your head. That sometimes sounds dangerous and wrong to people. But I stand by it, assuming you’re past the Straw Vulcan stage.

Being an extremist by nature I’ll even go so far as to say Head should always trump Heart, with the key caveat that Head has grokked Heart’s concerns and factored them in to the decision-making.


For context for everyone else, this arose out of talking about how to decide things, and I shared what my wife does when I’m agonising over some kinds of choices (mostly ones that don’t affect others, but I think we’ve also done it to get me out of Three Laws-like deadlocks): we toss a coin… if I don’t like the answer, the other option is what I’d really decided all along. (For more than two options, an RNG works fine.)

This is really more about peeling back the fussing and second guessing (and either realising it doesn’t matter, or that you knew the correct choice all along) than head v heart, though.


I guess the irrational choice is by definition always the wrong one. But I’d be quite uncomfortable saying that no one should ever make a decision purely on intuition.

1 Like

I’m with @narthur on that. I think the coin flip trick is great for revealing what your gut thinks. Your head should then factor that in in deciding. But I don’t think @shanaqui’s disagreeing, just saying that this is a trick for when rationally you’re stumped on what to decide.

I actually have a way over-elaborate thing I made related to this question. “Danny’s Agonizing Guide to Agonizing Decisions

1 Like

Yep! Sometimes you’ll find the answer is genuinely “either, so I’m fine with accepting this option”, sometimes it’s “yes, this option was right all along” and sometimes it’s “no, wait, that option actually isn’t an outcome I’m okay with”. It’s most appropriate for deciding what’s for dinner… but I’m pretty sure we have used it to figure out what I actually want to do in a morally confounding situation. (Which does not necessarily mean I actually decided based on the coin flip; the coin flip provided more information that could tip the balance, though.)


First, you really need a warning on TV Tropes links! That site is so addictive.

I think it was Hume who said “reason should serve the passions.” In other words, your values and desires are just there. They are what they are. Reason is only useful if it helps you get what you want.

I think it’s more useful to think in terms of short-term and long-term thinking, and to say Beeminder is about making the short-term part submit to the will of the long-term part.

Interested in the Three Laws-like deadlocks! Asimov used the term “roblock” in one of his books to refer to a robot being stuck, and I can relate.


Yeah, there are plenty of people who believe that rational decision making would be impossible if it weren’t for emotions… Logic is paralyzing without emotion to tell us what matters to us and what we value. It’s hard to extract what should be from a completely passionless description of what is.

I endorse the coin flip for major, life-altering decisions. Or, rather, the insight gained on the other side of the flip.

Close friends are on the brink of ending a three-decade marriage. B has spent the past 1.5 years voicing doubts. A, who doesn’t want the marriage to end, is being battered by the fallout. If I were given the chance, I’d say this to B:

"Realize that you aren’t just deliberating on future damage to this relationship. The past eighteen months have done relentless damage already. At some point A will decide A’s had enough, and end it Aself. […pause…]

“Now: when I said that, did you feel relief, or did you feel dismay?”

1 Like

Probably both…

I submit that one of those will have come first, and that knowing which one it was is useful data. Especially for such major decisions that mean tearing apart the established order and putting it back together. (This is true for both sides of this decision, staying together or divorcing: what was, wasn’t working for B, and staying together means tearing that down and building a better marriage.)

It isn’t easy to hurt someone, especially knowing that everyone around you will likely fall into the easy cultural trap of labeling you the culprit, your partner the victim. But if the decision to leave has already been made—and I think that’s likely the case, albeit not in B’s conscious awareness—it’s better for everyone to say it and move forward. First response was relief? Now you know that you’re already gone, and it’s time to let A move on, too.

On the other hand, feeling like you’re drowning for months and years with no clear way out can make you make rash decisions, because something has to give. So you leave the relationship, only to find that wherever you go, there you are. It wasn’t the marriage that was drowning you, but now it’s gone, and A has moved on. First response was dismay? Now you know you don’t want to lose A.

The example I’m thinking of is too private to share even for me, since it involves other people, but the situation I’m thinking of was like an emotional version of The Runaround.