Open main menu

Flipism, sometimes written as "Flippism," is a pseudophilosophy under which all decisions are made by flipping a coin. It originally appeared in the Disney comic "Flip Decision"[1] by Carl Barks, published in 1953. Barks called a practitioner of "Flipism" a "Flippist" (with two P's).[2]

An actual coin is not necessary: dice or another random generator may be used for decision making.

Flipism can be seen as a normative decision theory, although it does not fulfill the criteria of rationality.



In the 1952 comic book, Donald Duck meets Professor Batty, who persuades Donald to make decisions based on flipping a coin at every crossroad of life.[3] "Life is but a gamble! Let flipism chart your ramble!" Donald soon gets into trouble when following this advice. He drives a one way road in the wrong direction and is fined $50. The reason for the fine is not the bad driving but letting the coin do the thinking.[4] Indeed, there are those who view the resort to Flipism to be a disavowal of responsibility for making personal and societal decisions based upon rationality.[4] However, in the end, flipism shows surprising efficiency in guiding some decisions.[4]

Flipism in decision-makingEdit

Flipism is a normative decision theory in a sense that it prescribes how decisions should be made. In the comic, flipism shows remarkable ability to make right conclusions without any information – but only once in a while. Of course, in real life flipping a coin would only lead to random decisions. However, there is an article about benefits of some randomness in the decision-making process in certain conditions. It notes:[5]

Though the author himself may have intended this as a rejection of the idea that rationality (in the standard sense) has some special claim to superiority as a basis for making decisions, what he may really have discovered are the potential benefits of strategic commitment to randomization.

Commitment to a non-trivial mixed strategy can be beneficial for the informed party in a potential conflict under asymmetric information, as it allows the player to manipulate his opponent’s beliefs in an optimal fashion. Such a strategy also makes the player less inclined to enter into conflict when it is avoidable. Coins and "flipism" have been used to suggest mathematical outcomes to a variation of the Prisoners Dilemma.[6]

Another way of seeing the utility of flipism in decision-making can be called revealed preferences. In the traditional form, revealed preferences mean that the preferences of consumers can be revealed by their purchasing habits. With flipism, the preferences can be revealed to the decision-maker themselves. Decisions with conflicting preferences are especially difficult even in situations where there is only one decision-maker and no uncertainty. The decision options may be either all appealing or all unpleasant, and therefore the decision-maker is unable to choose. Flipism, i.e., flipping a coin can be used to find a solution. However, the decision-maker should not decide based on the coin but instead observe his or her own feelings about the outcome; whether it was relieving or agonizing. In this way, flipism removes the mental block related to the act of decision-making, and the post-decision preferences can be revealed before the decision is actually made. An example of revealed preferences is embodied in the Old Testament story, the Judgment of Solomon, wherein King Solomon offered to resolve a child custody dispute by ordering the baby cut in two, and upon seeing the reactions made an award.

Still a third approach is to look at flipism as the endpoint of a continuum bounded on the other side by perfectly rational decision-making. Flipism requires the minimum possible cognitive overhead to make decisions, at the price of making sub-optimal choices. Truly rational decision-making requires a tremendous investment in information and cognition to arrive at an optimal decision. However, the expected marginal value of information gathered (discounted for risk and uncertainty) is often lower than the marginal cost of the information or processing itself. The concept of bounded rationality posits that people employ cognitive parsimony, gathering only what they expect to be sufficient information to arrive at a satisficing (or "good enough") solution. Flipism is therefore a rational strategy to employ when the cost of information is very high relative to its expected value, and using it is an example of motivated tactical thinking.

This is a commonly recognized decision making technique used in everyday life. Other similar methods include:

  1. coin flipping, cutting a deck of playing cards, finding a quotation in a holy book, consulting the Magic 8-ball, rolling a die, and other random or coincidence methods;
  2. accepting the first option that seems like it might achieve the desired result (known as satisficing), given the marginal effort involved in trying to process the information and optimize the result;
  3. astrology, augury, fortune cookies, prayer, tarot cards, revelation, Methods of divination or other forms of divination or oracular device; and
  4. Highest Paid Person's Opinion (HiPPO).[7]

These forms are in contradistinction to Analytics, a commonly used method of data-based decision making.[7]

According to Kevin Durand and Mary Leigh, Flipism is “a psychological tool, and not an agent of fate.”[8] It is neither a revelation of the wishes of the head of state (e.g., Julius Caesar, whose head was on the coin, ergo, heads showed 'Caesar's will') nor the divination of a deity's will.[8]

Similar conceptsEdit

In popular cultureEdit

Flipism is a film trope that is used to argue for “the supremacy of free will in a chaotic world.” [8] It is a recurrent theme, often seen on television and other media, and even in real life.[11]

  • Batman villain Two-Face (Harvey Dent) is entirely reliant on flipping his signature coin in order to make decisions.
  • A record company named Flippist Records in Minneapolis, MN.[12]
  • The story Flip Decision has been a subject of a linguistic research about translations from English to Finnish, and from English to the Helsinki slang.[13]
  • Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein once wrote a poem—entitled A Psychological Tip describing the advantages of coin flipping in decision making.[14] He noted:


Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
and you're hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No -- not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you're passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you're hoping.
  • The book The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart (a.k.a. author George Cockcroft) is about a man who lets his whole life be determined by the dice. The book's themes are continued in other novels, The Search for the Dice Man, Adventures of Wim and The Book of the Die.
  • The philosophy is practiced by Jake Nyman, a character in the film American Perfekt.
  • In the novel No Country for Old Men (and the Coen Brothers' film) the main antagonist, Anton Chigurh, employs the use of flipism in determining the fate of some of his victims, and towards the end of the novel, he gives a short dissertation on the concept.
  • The fictitious religion in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game includes a god of luck, trade and thieves. Many of its priests who embrace the first aspect are said to use flipism for every important decision.
  • In the television series Futurama, the episode "The Farnsworth Parabox" depicts an alternate universe which only differs in that decisions made by flipping coins have the opposite result, with a flip of "heads" in the existing universe being "tails" in the alternate.
  • An episode of The Big Bang Theory sees Sheldon Cooper resolving to make all of his life decisions based on the roll of a die. This eventually results in him growing a goatee and wearing dirty underwear. In another episode, Sheldon tries revealed preference for selecting his next game platform, to no avail.
  • Science fiction author and satirist Leo P. Kelly's novel The Coins of Murph depicts a post-apocalyptic world where all decisions are made by flipping coins, in order to prevent humanity from ever again reaching the level of technology required to conduct a nuclear war.
  • In Chapter 57, Season 5 of House of Cards, the character Frank Underwood talks about Flipism in solving deadlock situations during election since the founding fathers did not mention it.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Carl Barks: Flip Decision, Walt Disney Comics & Stories 149, Vol. 13, No. 5 (1953).
  2. ^ Information taken from Michael Barrier book "Carl Barks and the Art of the Comic Book", page MBAC-176. Information on novel taken from the Carl Barks Library (page 8C-532). More information can be found in a "Lost in the Andes" article in The Carl Barks Library (set 1)
  3. ^ "Flip Decision" (dt.: "Wappen oder Zahl?") Walt Disney's Comics & Stories Nr. 149 (1953) Archived July 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine..
  4. ^ a b c Salin, Phillip (Winter 2011) [1988]. "Appreciation: Scrooge McDuck and His Creator" (PDF). Liberty Magazine, Prometheus. 29 (2). Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Karl Wärneryd (2008). Religion, Ritual, and Randomization Archived 2011-07-27 at the Wayback Machine.. Public Choice Society Annual Meeting, San Antonio, Texas, March, 2008.
  6. ^ "Velleman, Dan, MetaDilemma Amherst College". 2005-11-28. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  7. ^ a b Ramakrishnan, Ramanathan; Muthu, Mathirajan; Ravindran, A. Ravi, eds. (July 12, 2017). Big Data Analytics Using Multiple Criteria Decision-Making Models. Boca Raton, Florida: Taylor & Francis Group, CRC Press. pp. 128–129. ISBN 9781351648691. 
  8. ^ a b c Durand, Kevin K.; Leigh, Mary K. (September 12, 2011). Riddle Me This, Batman!: Essays on the Universe of the Dark Knight. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 202. ISBN 9780786487318. 
  9. ^ Kahler, Mark. Rationality in International Relations International Organization, Vol. 52, No. 4, International Organization at Fifty: Exploration and Contestation in the Study of World Politics (Autumn, 1998), pp. 919-941 © 1998 MIT Press.
  10. ^ "Integrative or interest-based bargaining". Retrieved 2010-05-22. 
  11. ^ "Heads or Tails?". TV Tropes. Retrieved March 27, 2018. 
  12. ^ Flippist records, with an example of one of their phonograph records.
  13. ^ Maarit Koponen (2002). Studies at the Interface of Translation and Culture (SITCU). Sarjakuvista käännöstutkimuksen kohteena (in Finnish). University of Helsinki.
  14. ^ "Nair, PGR, Literary Shelf, ''Piet Hein: The Emperor of Epigrams''". 2007-08-19. Retrieved 2010-05-22. 

Further readingEdit

  • Flipism, Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories, #149, February 1953 (reprinted (#365)

External linksEdit