What to do when you don’t know what to do?

What should be done in decisive moments, or in moments you just simply don’t understand the importance of doing or abstaining from doing something?

It might have happened that being a rational being you might have thought once:
Why do we need to burn crackers in Diwali?
Or for that matter, Why do we need to hold a chopstick in a specific way?
How are girls supposed to wear skirts and frocks, why can’t a boy do that?

Though these seemingly weird questions are totally answerable, the moot problem is what do you do when you don’t have an answer and you are supposed to do something about it?



Typically human beings can be categorised into two groups:
a. impulsive
b. decisive

A pathological / impulsive person has more white matter in his brain than an average person.[1]
And thinkers / rational people have more of prefrontal cortex than an average person.[2]

The white matter is a cluster of nerves which connect various portions of the brain, this is what enables a person with more white matter to connect different parts of the brain quickly, and take actions quickly.

Whereas, the prefrontal cortex is associated with thoughts, philosophy, logic and decision making, the quality of a decision would depend on the amount of frontal cortex one person has.

Sometimes we decide and do, and sometimes we are just too impulsive to even realise there arose a doubt.

This article is for those people who are not impulsive, and would rather make a choice than be impulsive.


What affects a decision?

A typical human being spends most of his time deciding “What to do?”[3]

And this is what actually defines the human being.
a. The amount of time spent
b. The process of decision making
c. The question to be decided
d. The decision itself

A decision is ‘a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration’[4].

What is consideration here? Consideration is appreciation of available information.

Thus the objective quality of a decision would depend upon:
a. Power to appreciate/notice
b. amount of information available

Power to appreciate or notice is called intelligence[5] and it is more appropriately (considering a short run period) a constant for any human being.

What varies from place to place and time to time is the amount of information available. Thus if there is something of every decision which remains out of our control, it is available data.


What to do when decisions can’t be formed due to negligible / nil data?

To understand this you need to appreciate a typical “Mumuration”[6].
A murmuration is a flock of Starlings.


In a murmuration every individual while in flight follows the surrounding individuals, and simply repeats the action, thus acting like a unified body.

Thus the amount of intelligence required to tackle a specific predator is negligible because of group efforts. That is, even one of the individual Starlings is unaware of the presence of danger, its life is saved because of just simply following the group.

There would be situations in life when we don’t know any better. At those times it is the safest to follow our immediate neighbours.



To survive any situation we have to take evasive action.

Let’s quantify evasive action into number of calculations.

Say to avoid a danger, 100 petaflops of calculations need to be done. When you don’t have a machine which can calculate 100 petaflops, you divide it over a few machines, or for that matter 100 machines which have 1 petaflop capability each.

And thus by sheer number of active participants we can decrease the amount of load and time taken by one single unit, given that we totally rely on each other (which happens in a murmuration).


Also let’s take the probability of one single calculation to be bad or good at 50%.

In an average problem if 10 options are to be selected. The probability of the correct answer by sheer chance would be:

1 out of 1024! that is a mere ~ 0.001% success!
1000s will fail before one makes the cut.

Whereas by following the herd, where there is already a charted way, howsoever lengthy or difficult, which is known to have been popular; it’s far more easy and safe.

The probability of success is 100%!

You can say this to be a kind of loss aversion, but this is the very way animals and even human beings have survived. This is undoubtedly the best survival strategy.



Not only in murmurations, this type of shared decision making is found in the nature among many species of animals.

In a group of chimpanzees, many individuals placed over a large area alert the others by crying out loud (multiple data source) when threats are detected, and the leader makes a decision.

While in a buffalo herd, the young and the females stay in the middle of herd, without even knowing what is outside the periphery of the herd, they just follow the males on the outer end, and thus survive.

From cave men times onwards when there were things inexplicable, certainly those survived who followed a group blindly. This could be possibly one of the reasons that human beings are tightly knit social animals. Many other species whom we consider to be smart, and highly successful, like dogs, dolphins, etc. all evolved in packs.

This could be possibly another reason for the fact that humans being rely on customs and practices much more than rationality.[7]

So to say if a certain decision is too heavy on you either by available data or the quality of the decision. It’s best to rely on others.

That also means:

“When there are things you don’t know,
it’s then best to go with the flow”



Being sceptical would come after too much of a cost when you are actually incapable of thinking better. More so, when you are under paucity of time or peer pressure.

Scepticism is a luxury which only a few can afford to have. If you want to be sceptical and deny something which you can’t disprove, it might turn out to be a huge opportunity cost. Instead, in those decisive moments it’s better to give up thinking and to go with the flow.

This can be said to be one of the drawbacks of a tabula rasa mind. Also a drawback of pure logic. This is why it is advisable, and beneficial for people of low cerebrational capacities to be obedient, religious and follow customs and law.


For e.g.:

If your mom asks you to stop on the road when a black cat crosses it and you do not have reason to prove her wrong, it’s best to follow what she says.

If you are a kid it’s best to listen to elders.

If you are an entrepreneur study your experiments more than actually experimenting.

If you are visiting a different country for the first time, try to get acquainted with local customs and laws. Your rationality and innocence would be of secondary importance.

If you’re driving on a road which you are unfamiliar with, it’s best to follow someone else in front of you.

If the whole world says the Earth is flat, it’s best to be at peace with it, until and unless you have reason to disprove it.

If people say homosexuality is just bad, it’s best to not commit it, when you have no reason to prove otherwise.

Sometimes we turn out to be safe by being sceptical and not following others, this is pure chance.


In a nutshell:

“Do what others do”.

And I’m sure this as an advice would be beneficial for at least 90% of the people at any time.

The changemakers are in the last 10%, who anyway won’t pay heed to an article like this. Also the fact that changemakers are far more intelligent that they can afford to be sceptical, and achieve success.

You can say this to be a kind of loss aversion, but this is the very way animals and even human beings have survived. This is undoubtedly the best survival strategy.

It’s not like there aren’t exemplary people around us. An unintelligent or uninformed person can’t definitely outshine all, though he can outshine the majority by being laborious on the path of success charted by someone else.

For e.g.: Say you want to become an associate at Freshfields.
There is someone you know how he did it. Simply follow him with all your efforts.

But if you want to fly to Mars, you gotta be super smart!

Proof lies in the common aversion to rationality, and acceptance of religion, customs, and advertisements just by following others. Also the fact that human beings and other successful mammals are closely knit social beings demonstrate the fact that probably being social helped us to prosper.

These traits of human beings which have survived is an anecdote to the fact that survival and prosperity most of the times lie in being irrational.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *