Should I kill myself? Or not? That (since Shakespeare) is the question. At least for many of us, at those moments when we are very very very depressed.
Today I did an experiment (don’t take it too seriously, please). As you know there are several websites that pretend they can help when you need to make a choice: they say they can help people to make a difficult and complex decision. Any decision.
A decision-making website may be helpful, for example, if you are an office manager pondering whether you should sack a certain person, or leave her in place, or promote her. What you do is you enter all the pros and cons for each decision, and the website software will do its math and then present you with the result. A kind of recommendation.
So I decided to go to a proper decision-making site and have it process my Shakespearian question: should I choose life or death? Just because I was curious (and I have no employees to sack, nothing but this one important question).
To get my Life Or Death Verdict, I went to the Odesys website. They began by telling me: “Decision making is hard. We know. Why not let our system guide you through the process step by step until you have reached a decision?”
Below are a few screenshots. They illustrate how the Odesys software guided me through the decision making process. First, they asked me: “What would you like to decide?” just to create a caption. So I entered my question: Shall I kill myself or go on with life?”
Next, Odesys asked me to list all the different decision alternatives I was contemplating. In my case, this was not difficult: just the two alternatives that were already contained in my initial question. Either (1) kill myself or (2) go on with life.
Had I wanted to, I could have made things less black-and-white by entering more nuanced alternatives, like “go on with life in a psychiatric institution” besides “go on with life at my own home”. But I decided to focus on my two basic alternatives:
Then I was asked to list all the factors that might play a role in reaching a decision, in choosing between the different alternatives. After entering these factors, I should order the list by importance, the most important factor first.
I could have entered all kinds of things there, a large list. To keep things simple, I entered a somewhat arbitrary shortlist of five factors that I thought would reasonably cover the essentials. Sorted by importance:
(1) intensity of my depression;
(2) expectations for the future;
(3) physical health;
(4) relationships with other people; and
(5) dependency on antidepressants.
This is where I filled them in, in what I hoped was indeed the correct order of importance:
Next, for each one of my five factors I had to fiddle with sliders to indicate how this specific factor related to my two decision alternatives.
As example, here are the sliders for relationships with other people. I happen to be lucky enough to have a few friends. Because having relationships will not make me kill myself, I pulled the slider for that decision to “bad”. On the other hand my having relationships would support a decision to cling to life, so for that decision the slider went towards “good”:
Well, like a child in front of a gambling machine I waited while the Odesys machine rattled and pling-plonged, weighing my factors to spew out the result. Poinggg! Clonk. There it was. With “kill myself” lined in green, and “go on with life” in red:
Well, if you look at the green score lines, the result is clear. Odesys advises me to kill myself. The green “kill myself” option scored a winning 100 points, while the red “go on with life” option got stuck at 78.
Have you finished laughing at me and my stupidity? Don’t worry, this was just a fun exercise, I don’t take this serious at all.
The outcome of a pseudo-exact exercise like this has of course no real value. You know how it is with online questionnaires, depression tests and the like: usually what comes out of them, is what you yourself did feed into them in the first place. The result is manipulable, the weighing algorithms are arbitrary or unclear, the processed data are nearly always incomplete, and chance answers can greatly change the result.
In this case, if when sorting factors by importance I had just switched two of them (put intensity of my depression on place 4 instead of 1, and relationships with other people on place 1 instead of 4) then the option “go on with life” would have emerged as the winner.
Anyway, my thanks to you for reading through all this dry stuff to here. And my thanks to Odesys for their trouble in trying to help people who cannot decide. Oh, and of course I do realize that Odesys was not designed with suicide decisions in mind. Still, maybe distributing free gambling dice sets would also be a good decision-making idea? At least for some of us?
But this was no completely useless exercise, because it offers one basic conclusion. The conclusion that maybe the current idea of decision-making is based on an incomplete view.
For it looks like the Odesys people think that every decision can be made into a systematically guided rational process. But all our decisions, not just those of depressed people contemplating suicide, but just as well the decisions of the manager considering the firing of an office clerk, are partly based on a strong personal, highly irrational, emotional component.
And all our decisions will always remain partly irrational, because we are human beings.
Now For Some Sentiment
After all this dull pseudo-statistical stuff, shall we turn to some old-fashioned irrational emotional maybe even blatantly sentimental sounds? Just for a little comfort and relief?
Here is, straight from the Heavens where he resides since 1995, the Portuguese fado singer Manuel de Almeida with his song Eu Fadista Me Confesso.
• explainer: The word “obrigado” you hear him repeating all the time, means “thank you”.