Your last 100 days

masterpiece-detailThe end of your world is nigh.

You are told by God, a noted and reliable source, that in 100 days it all ends for you. Your mortal coil will burn out. You become the rarest of individuals who knows exactly when it will all be over.

What would you do with 100 days if they were all you had left?

Perhaps sell the house and tick off as many bucket list items as you can in the time, spiced up with liberal quantities of gay abandon.

You might reconnect with family and friends splurging out on dinner parties twice a week being sure to get the caterers in.

The grudges and prejudices that have dogged you for decades might be melted away as you spend your last 100 days on a mountaintop sweeping up leaves.

You might choose to ignore God’s 100-day deadline claiming a ruse and believe that you actually had a lot more time.

Clearly there will be as many ways to fill the last 100 days as there are people to fill them.

The most common theme among the disparate choices will be to do more or less the same as you always do. You will text, tweet, post and play Candy Crush. You will watch hours of crime dramas and cooking shows on TV. You will complain and argue, laugh and sing. Because these are the things that you do now when you have an unknown amount of time left. They are warm and familiar things that we all choose to do everyday.

And the thing is that you choose to do them. On the train to work, in the evening after dinner, at the weekends, in the 72 hours of the week you are not sleeping or working.

Yes, you choose to do them.

Think about it.

Riddle me this

office-blockThe CEO of Widgets-R-Us is a progressive kind of fellow. No matter that his after work cross-dressing has become an obsession.

In the daytime he thinks hard about the business of selling widgets and is always looking for ways to make improvements. One day as he sipped orange juice in the front of a morning flight to the capital, an article in a magazine caught his eye. It was on the merits of unexpected pay rises and he read it twice.

Fortified by the prospect of a motivated workforce the CEO called his chairman before the seat belt sign was off and easily persuaded him of the merits of pay rises all around. A few weeks later he proudly announced a board sanctioned raise of 5% for everyone in the company.

Not only that but if the company performance improved more pay rises were to come. He proudly told the now eager employees that this made him feel humble to be able to help everyone out.

Sure enough widgets cascaded off the production lines and on to consumers with unprecedented efficiency. The company became hugely successful kicked along by a newly efficient and pay rise motivated workforce.

In the blink of a corporate eye the base pay of everyone in the company had doubled and the CEO smiled all the way to his favourite car dealer.

And the riddle is?

Lex parsimoniae

William-of-OckhamMore than 600 years ago William of Ockham is credited with inventing lex parsimonae, the law of parsimony. We know it as Ockham’s razor, the principle that where there are several hypotheses that predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

It serves as a useful rule because fewer assumptions mean less complex solutions and these are often preferable even when they make less reliable predictions.

You will also know the modern variant KISS — keep it simple stupid — that is wielded to stop us from wandering off to the never never lands of technical, logical and, dare I say, emotional complexity that so many of us find appealing.

I often wonder what William of Ockham who lived the life of a Franciscan friar in a time when witches were burnt and the life expectancy was closer to 30 than 50 would make of mobile phone neck.

What hypothesis might he have put forward to explain the epidemic of downward eyes and squashed chins? Prayer perhaps, certainly a simple explanation with few assumptions and a good fit to the behaviours of his day.

Collective deference would be an option, a mass display of respect to an unseen deity or perhaps in anticipation of a papal visit.

A sudden collective and consuming sadness from the realization that life was indeed hard and without hope of ripe old age.

It is impossible that he would have chosen the hypothesis that people are staring at a device that invisibly connects them to candy crush and tweets with such a force that they can no longer see the sky.

Clearly the razor must have context.

It works for the assumption set that is available at the time. In other words it is dependent on what is known. Friar Ockham had no idea that everyone would carry a mobile device or that they would be addicted to it to the exclusion of all others.

It remains true that the simplest explanation is usually correct. What is good to remember is that the truth, however simple, may not yet be known.