Models of Transformative Decision-Making


Deciding to undergo a transformative experience present unique challenges for a reasonable decision-maker, and for any attempt to give a formal account of how people can make such decisions. This chapter focuses on the challenges of novelty and change. It develops a normative hierarchical model for decision-making over novel objects, and show how it captures the commonsense intuition that we can rationally decide to try a new experience, but also that such decisions can be graded in difficulty. It then presents a framework for how people can think about big decisions that will affect their core beliefs, desires, and ultimately themselves, by modeling this as a decision process of choosing between different selves. Empirical evidence is used to refine different sub-models of this meta-reasoning process, including the asymmetric treatment of current and future utilities, the difference between future utilities and future beliefs, and a distance function between selves that is separate from considerations of future happiness.

Becoming Someone New: Essays on Transformative Experience, Choice, and Change
Tomer Ullman
Primary Investigator

My research focuses on the structure and origin of knowledge, guided by perspectives and methods from cognitive science, cognitive development, and computational modeling. By combining these, I hope to better understand the form and development of the basic commonsense reasoning that guides our interaction with the world and the people in it.