Friday, October 8, 2010

The Fallacy of the Single Right Choice

"Horseshoe Falls" by Michael Malich (1999)

"A principle which I have endeavored to assert in most aspects of Davidson family life is the 'Fallacy of the Single Right Choice'. The enunciation of the principle has stilled many a vain debate, based on the faulty premise that there must always be one, and only one, 'best' way of performing some activity like dressing for a party, or cooking fish. A useful feature of fish is that most kinds can be cooked in most ways."  --Alan Davidson, "North Atlantic Seafood, A Comprehensive Guide with Recipes"

On Tuesday night when I rode out to see the aluminum horsemen of the deluge spouting water during/after the epic storms that hit Phoenix that afternoon and evening, even though many signs were very positive, I prepared myself for disappointment. Part of me was looking at it as gathering data, how many cubic feet per second of water, for how many hours, would have to flow down IBW (Indian Bend Wash) before water spouted out of the horses' mouths, and how many cfs would be too many to permit me to get close enough to the horses at night without getting washed away, an outcome which would probably land me and my story on a web site that gets more hits per day than this blog has gotten since post numero uno. But another part of me wanted to see water pouring out of those horses' mouths like some kind of equine oral Niagara Falls.

The practical side wanted a backup plan just in case, though. I was riding along through Scottsdale, happened to be sporting my brightest headlight, and thought to myself, "Well, if the horses don't come through, there's always the Horseshoe Falls. Push Button for Horseshoe Fountain: it never disappoints me." So as a backup plan, as I rode through the thunderstorm toward the ultimately dry-mouthed horses, I also thought: park the bike with that bright headlight in the middle of the piles of horseshoes and smooth black rocks, hit the fog button, and take a video.

By the time I got back to the piles of horseshoes, the storm had stopped, and the winds had died down. I more or less love the video that resulted, and I think that it also shows that it pays off to look for more than one right choice, as the title of this post suggests. Rather than riding home with my head hanging low due to under-performing horse statues, I found another right choice, and made the most of it. 

Think about it: how often do we set our hearts and minds on a particular choice, deem it the single right one, and then feel disappointed or worse if it doesn't play out the way we wanted it to? I know for kids this often looks and feels like the end of the line when it happens. In the face of not achieving what seemed like the most important thing ever, what's left? Here, now, at age 14 (for example), something doesn't turn out right, so that's it! Yet, in almost every case, this is the Fallacy in action, since there are almost certainly other right choices, if the eyes and mind are open to them, if the imagination and/or reason would do some work. It's possible that some of those may turn out to be superior to the initial unrealized "right" choice which looked so singular and vital when it was the center of attention.

Sometimes, the single right choice deception may arise from force of habit. When riding a bicycle, for example, perhaps a certain choice in a previous situation proved to be successful, so the next time a similar situation occurs, the Fallacy of the Single Right Choice may arise, and blind you to a better choice in that specific instance. The Fallacy may blind you to vital information about the present situation that makes it different, that requires a different choice than before, or that offers better opportunities for success, or escape, or happiness, if you are open to them, recognize them, and act on them.

Through the rolling fog, and thunderstorms, and blinding bright light, there's a lot of smooth rocks to choose from around Horseshoe Falls. Don't settle on just one, at least not in haste, or caught in the grip of the Fallacy.  

I believe there's a corollary to the Fallacy of the Single Right Choice (if you can have a corollary to a fallacy, not sure about that), and that's the Axiom of Decisive Action, but that's probably a different post. Note though, I believe all the trees that used to shade the Horseshoe Falls installation blew down on August 24 in the same freak wind that blew down the fence around the construction at Soleri Bridge, and also cracked limbs off the tree in my Welcome to Phoenix post. (this is mere supposition, by the way, a conclusion based on the shallowest of circumstantial data)  I was shocked when I rode by the Falls a few days later and saw them all gone, but check out how the thing looks now, at night, after the decisive action the took to rip out all the damaged trees.

The book that the quote at the top of the post comes from is fantastic, by the way. The first half is a "fish catalog" which has one or two pages with detailed drawings for each of the major edible creatures of the North Atlantic, along with basic information about how they live and what people do to catch, eat, and cook them. The second half consists of recipes for same from around the world. Good reading, good eating. Each with different right choices on how to cook them.

I won't be blogging for several days because there's some other right choices I've made. I felt that this post would be a good choice to represent the blog while I was away. My front man. The guy at the velvet rope who looks good and lets pretty much everyone go in. 

Take care, ye merry band of cyclist-bloggers and readers. Don't let anyone, including that noisy inner voice, tell you there's only one right choice, or only one right way to do things. Keep your options open. Like the road. Get up. Go ride.



  1. Wow, great front man. Our family could have benefitted greatly from knowing about the Fallacy... my Mom and Dad had a single right way to do everything, from washing dishes to making toast.

    My Dad is dead now, but several years before he died I was at home, making toast. It popped up, and was ready for the second round in the toaster after being flipped. I flipped the pieces, using the prescribed way of flipping them that was believed to provide greatest variation in toasting surface / element exposure. The actual maneuver is too complex too describe.

    My Dad walked into the kitchen and peered into the toaster. "Did you flip those the XXX, xx, xxx, way?", he asked. I said, "yes, I did. But what is the worst thing that would have happened if I hadn't?" Believe it or not, this was a rather rebellious thing to say. My Dad laughed and said "nothing, I guess". I was about 35. It was the first time I ever questioned the "single right way" mentality. It was a nice moment, somehow.

    Sorry for getting all sappy, and thanks for that post and the reminder.

  2. That is some crazy mist action!
    Perfect for some Halloween shenanigans.
    Have a great break O Diligent One of Cyclo Prose and Velo Imagery(ODOCPVI).

  3. something fascinating about that video. Like the new header but the old one was great with that old bike license plate and all. Kind of miss that plate. Maybe you could put it on one of your bikes then take a shot of the bike from behind . . .:)

  4. Rantwick - thanks! I also could have benefited from knowing about some variation of this back in the day, to counteract the "always done it that way" parental truism / tautology / pleonasm. That toaster habitoid sounds challenging. Sometimes, my dad's single right way actually was the best way. Or at least a pretty good way. Often not, though, and I knew it, said so, and suffered wrath.

    limom - ODOCPVI is back in the saddle again.

    FraSiec - I too kind of miss the Phoenix bicycle license plate. I have a feeling it will show up on the blog again some day.


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