So I happened to go to the office pantry yesterday to grab myself a pick-me-up for the hour.
And because it’s still “summer” and there are so many interns here, I always bump into some fellow philosophers (to give you perspective, all of us are doing PhDs… Doctorates in Philosophy).
Speaking with a fellow PhD student can be so different from a normal conversation, because there’s a fair amount of insight, contemplation, critique and sometimes even creativity that goes into the conversations. So I thought it would be perfect to write about these mini discussions.
The first one I’ve decided to write about is a conversation that I had yesterday.
There’s a coffee machine (a fancy Keurig) in the pantry, and there happen to be 8-9 odd choices for coffee. Now I’m very sensitive to caffeine. Tea works fine, but the coffee in America is really strong for me. So I get cranky if I consume too much/ have it too strong.
Which meant that I had to make an important decision. Light roast, medium roast or dark roast? Luckily I had another PhD intern in the vicinity whose brain I could pick.
“Go for the dark roast then”, he said. “The higher the roast, the lesser the caffeine”.
Whaaaaat? Really? I’ve spent two years here and I don’t know this already?
Hold on. Google to the rescue.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I need to check this on the internet”.
“Clearly you don’t trust me enough!”, he said.
I just don’t trust people in general. I need enough samples to ensure that what’s being told to me is not an mere opinion or hypothesis. So my thumb rule is, never trust a person in the first go. For…. scientific reasons.
“I trust you to the extent that whatever you’ve said has created enough suspicion in my mind to actually bother cross checking it online.”
Defense strategy level: Nailing it.
Okay, so Google said, for the same volume, Dark roast has less caffeine. For the same mass, Light roast has less caffeine. It’s basically a different in density.
Okay, great but I don’t know the concentration in those Keurig pods. They’re both the same volume, but do they have the same volume of water? I’ll never know.
So I decided to go with Dark roast…. you know, because of my newly built…. trust. And then Keurig has this additional complexity. It asks you for cup size. 4oz, 6oz, 8oz, 12oz.
Now does it maintain the concentration or vary it according to cup size? Fortunately I had Googled this before, so apparently, choosing a bigger cup size waters down your coffee more.
Great. I go for 6oz.
And at this point, I basically tell my patient friend why I just choose to go for the midway option, because that way I’m cutting my losses. You know, like a minimax problem. You go with the option that minimizes the maximum loss that you could incur.
And he did, what any other intellectual would at that point of time. He made a counter argument.
Okay, bring it on, I’m good with counter-counter-arguments. I’m good with arguments of all sorts, tbh.
“That’s not the best strategy. For example if you go to a store and buy a Cola bottle, they non-linearly increase the price, so it’s more economical to buy bigger sizes. There’s a higher payoff if you go on extreme ends.”
Sure, but those two optimization problems are not equivalent.
Though that’s not the correct argument…
“Okay, but so many times, I end up buying the bigger packet of chips, for best price/pound. But… More often than not, I also cannot finish the packet. So I end up wasting most of it.”
“Okay, so you save it for later and finish it later”, he said.
“Yeah, but I sometimes can’t even finish it over a month, and the quality of crispiness declines with time, so I’m not exactly getting my money’s worth. Instead if I pick the medium priced option, I get a bang for my buck w.r.t. the smallest option, but I also finish it all, and am effectively paying lesser than I would have for what I’ve actually consumed.”
At this point someone else came by and started talking about something else, thank you for the diversion, stranger, and saving my friend from further embarrassment.
But that discussion was definitely, some food for thought!