Regret minimization as life strategy

Regret minimization (technically regret minmax – minimize maximal regret) is a useful mental model for decision making.

Recently Tyler Cowen discussed it in an excellent interview The Complacent Class, Sex Robots, and Deathbed Regrets: A Conversation with Tyler Cowen (skip to 49:45, but the whole thing is recommended).

There is no transcript so here are my loose citation notes:

If you lived an “optimal” life there would be a lot of regret at the end of it.

Regret minimization is not the best life strategy.

Your deathbed perspective is not the best/most relevant metric of anything:

you perception is at lowest
your cognition is at lowest
your memory is the worst
you are not responsible for anything

Compare with Jeff Bezos’ decision strategy:

“The framework I found, which made the decision incredibly easy, was what I called — which only a nerd would call — a “regret minimization framework.” So I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.” I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision.”

The same model is cast in different light. I think Cowen and Bezos would actually mostly agree – “local” regret minimization is premature optimization.

  Cowen Bezos
Apparently says that regret min strategy is… bad good
which regret he means experiential self: real-time regret remembered self – regret at life end
does the utility of
death-bed-me matter
not much yes

The only thing, that is not quite reconciled is – how much should you take into account your “death-bed” personas preferences?

Which reminds me of a famous quote:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do

— apparently NOT Mark Twain


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