diamond geezer

 Monday, March 24, 2003

Heads or tails?

I can be very indecisive sometimes. At least, I think I can be.

When I'm forced to make a decision, I'll often use some random means to help me make up my mind. For example, when my flat needs cleaning when I decide my flat needs cleaning, I have been known to number all the rooms from 1 to 6 and then roll a dice to see which room I get to clean first. (For some reason it's always the bathroom, by the way). However, any major decision I have to make can be usually reduced to a mere yes/no answer, in which case the toss of a coin can be the perfect way to decide on the outcome.

As we all know from (very) elementary probability, a coin will always land either heads up or tails up, with a 50/50 chance of each. Of course, like all the best mathematical models, that's not entirely true. If you toss an American penny there's a slightly higher probability of getting tails rather than heads. That's because the heads picture weighs slightly more, so it ends up on the bottom more often. There's also a tiny chance that any coin will land on its edge, a probability that can be greatly increased by standing in the middle of a muddy field. Meanwhile coin tossing is in fact a predictable process following predefined physical laws of motion and isn't really random at all. A well-designed mechanical gadget could flip a properly-positioned coin so that it always landed showing the same face. Honest. If you're worried by all this uncertainty and you want to practise flipping coins to see how not-quite-but-nearly-fair they really are, try this simulation here. But let's ignore all that - 50/50 it is.

So, when there's a burning question that needs to be answered, a coin is perfect. Simply assign one option to 'heads' and the other option to 'tails', commit yourself to the decision of the coin, and flip away. Should you not have access to a real coin*, below is a way to flip a simulated coin online instead. You can choose to flip a coin from the country of your choice so that, for example, major economic referendum issues could be decided by the tossing of a Euro, whereas Middle Eastern countries could be invaded on the flip of a quarter. Your own personal burning question is probably less world-shattering, but type in your two options below and see what the coin toss tells you.

heads or tails*Please note: "If you were born recently in the United States, you may never have seen one of these strange artefacts known as a "coin". Coins were a popular form of currency before the advent of credit cards, and are preserved here in digital form, should they disappear from the real world in the next 20 or so years."

From bitter experience I can guarantee that, every single time you decide to base your decision-making on one flip of a coin, it always comes up with the option you didn't want to choose. You hadn't consciously realised this beforehand but, once the coin has spoken, it's suddenly crystal clear that this was the option not to proceed with. If the coin has chosen heads you always end up deciding to go with the tails option instead, and vice versa. You can delude yourself that it was the coin made the decision, not you, but in fact you've ended up doing what you secretly wanted to do all along.

I discovered the coin-flipper about two hours ago, and I asked the oracle whether or not I should go out for the evening.
If it's Heads: go out to the cinema
If it's Tails: stay in

It came up heads, but instead I've spent the evening researching coin-tossing online and writing this. Which, of course, is what I secretly wanted to do all along. Well, there's nothing on at the cinema at the moment, is there? Maybe tomorrow.

Tell me what the coin decides for you...


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