False Dichotomies

The Danger of Either-Or: Unveiling the Shades of Grey in Our Decisions


Imagine you're at a crossroads, forced to choose between two paths: one leading to certain success, the other to inevitable failure.

It’s a trap. A compelling scenario that’s rarely a reflection of reality.

Our brains, overwhelmed by the complexities of the modern world, crave simplicity. It's easier to categorize life into binaries: good or bad, success or failure, left or right. But reality is rarely this black and white.

Reality is probabilisticcontinuous, and interconnected. But that’s hard to deal with, so we make it binarydiscrete, and isolated.

The outcome: False Dichotomies — deceptive either-or scenarios that are ignorant of the in-between.

Consider these everyday examples:

  • Politics: An interconnected and multidimensional political landscape becomes left vs. right and blue vs. red.
  • Business: Based on probability scenarios and different circumstances, a business strategy can be more or less effective over time — but is either considered right or wrong.
  • Education: A job seeker's education and knowledge are a function of the university courses they have completed and the self-education they have done on the side, but are viewed through the prism of: Bachelor's or Master's?
  • Personal Decisions: You can apply numerous approaches to solve an unsatisfactory job or relationship situation, but the question is reduced to: stay or quit?

Simplifications are useful. They’re necessary. However, what matters even more is nuance.

Knowing when to use dichotomies and when to put in extra effort to avoid them is a superpower.

Here are 3 other concepts you might benefit from:

The Streetlight Effect

Via Negativa

Causal Reductionism