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Flipism, sometimes spelled "flippism", is a pseudophilosophy under which decisions are made by flipping a coin. It originally appeared in the Donald Duck Disney comic "Flip Decision"[1][2] by Carl Barks, published in 1953. Barks called a practitioner of "flipism" a "flippist".[3][4]

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 original 1952 comic book, Donald Duck meets the eccentric Professor Batty, who persuades Donald to make decisions based on flipping a coin at every crossroad of life:[5] "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 his bad driving, but rather the fact that he relied on a coin to do his thinking instead of deciding for himself.[6]

In decision-making[edit]

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. In reality, 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:[7]

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.

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 their 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:

These forms are in contradistinction to analytics, a commonly used method of data-based decision making.[8]

According to Kevin Durand and Mary Leigh, flipism is "a psychological tool, and not an agent of fate".[9] 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.[9]

There are those who view the resort to flipism to be a disavowal of responsibility for making personal and societal decisions based upon rationality.[6][citation needed] However, in the end, flipism shows surprising efficiency in guiding some decisions.[6][citation needed]

Similar concepts[edit]

In game theory, negotiations, nuclear deterrence, diplomacy and other conflict theoriesrationality, realpolitik or realism can themselves limit strategies and results. They can limit the ability of a player to make demands or get its own way through bluffing, bullying, instilling fear, causing apprehension, or psychologically manipulation or sending a heeded warning — and therefore can increase the likelihood that an opposing party may engage in objectionable or unwelcome behavior. If one knows the lines and can predict the response, then predictability and proportionality become a restraint, not a virtue. Consequently, "taunting a junkyard dog[a] is OK, if you know you are beyond the reach of its tether."[7] Thus irrationality (real or perceived) can be an important countervailing tool or strategy, particularly as a deterrent and if it engenders hesitation, fear, negotiation and resolution, or change of course.[10] However, alternate strategies such as honesty, building a climate of trust, respect, using intermediaries, mediation or other forms of conflict resolution, sanctions, patience, process, data and reasoning might still be available, as might strategies like so-called win-win bargaining (also called "interest-based" bargaining) – which tries to reach an accord based on interests, not necessarily on positions, power, rights or distribution.[11] Another approach is Cooperative bargaining and gain sharing.

In popular culture[edit]

Flipism is a film trope that is used to argue for "the supremacy of free will in a chaotic world".[9]

  • Batman villain Two-Face (Harvey Dent) is entirely reliant on flipping his signature coin in order to make decisions due to his inability to decide anything for himself.[12]
  • In the 2020 novel 'The Flip Side' by James Bailey (writer), the main character relies on tossing a coin to make all his decisions.[13]
  • A record company named "Flippist Records" in Minneapolis, Minnesota.[14]
  • The story "Flip Decision" has been a subject of linguistic research about translations from English to Finnish, and specifically to Helsinki slang.[15]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • The philosophy is practiced by Jake Nyman, a character in the film American Perfekt.[citation needed]
  • In the movie King-Kong vs. Godzilla, Mr. Tako, head of Pacific Pharmaceuticals, is seen in multiple scenes flipping a coin which seem to rule his decision making.
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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, a religious practice designed to circumvent the normal human decision making process which was seen as the cause of a disastrous nuclear war.[16][17]
  • 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, and describes "flip decision" as "one of my favorites."[18][19]
  • Danish poet and scientist Piet Hein wrote a poem entitled "A Psychological Tip", describing the advantages of coin flipping in decision making.[20] He wrote:

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.

See also[edit]

  • Applications of randomness – Uses of an apparent lack of pattern or predictability in events
  • Coin flipping – Practice of throwing a coin in the air to choose between two alternatives
  • Magic 8-Ball – Toy fortune telling device
  • Nash equilibrium – Solution concept of a non-cooperative game
  • PP (complexity) – Class of problems in computer science
  • Ukehi – Ancient Japanese ritual using a random outcome to divine a path of action
  • Donaldism – Disney comics fandom – Fandom movement for Disney comics



  1. ^ An aggressive dog that guards a scrap yard or junkyard


  1. ^ Barks, Carl (w), Barks, Carl (p), Barks, Carl (i), Barks, Garé (let). Flip Decision, vol. 13, no. 5 (1953). Walt Disney Comics & Stories.
  2. ^ "Flip Decision, Donald Duck/comic story/10 pages". Comics.
  3. ^ "The Philosophy of Flipism". Seriesam.
  4. ^ "W WDC 149-01 the philosophy of flipism". Seriesam.
  5. ^ "Flip Decision". Rastetter. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011.
  6. ^ a b c Salin, Phillip (Winter 2011) [1988]. "Appreciation: Scrooge McDuck and His Creator" (PDF). Prometheus. 29 (2). Libertarian Futurist Society. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  7. ^ a b Wärneryd, Karl (January 20, 2008). "Religion, Ritual, and Randomization" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 27, 2011.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Kahler, Mark (Autumn 1998). "Rationality in International Relations International Organization". International Organization at Fifty: Exploration and Contestation in the Study of World Politics. 52 (4). MIT Press: 919–941.
  11. ^ "Integrative or interest-based bargaining". Beyondintractability. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  12. ^ "Meet The Criminal Two-Face!". DC Comics. 19 May 2015. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  13. ^ "The Flip Side by James Bailey". penguin.co.uk.
  14. ^ Flippist records, with an example of one of their phonograph records.
  15. ^ Maarit Koponen (2002). Studies at the Interface of Translation and Culture (SITCU). Sarjakuvista käännöstutkimuksen kohteena (in Finnish). University of Helsinki.
  16. ^ Franklin, H; Pederson, Jay; Reginald, Robert (1995). St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers (4 ed.). St. James Press. p. 503. ISBN 9781558621794.
  17. ^ Kelley, Leo (1974). The Coins of Murph. Coronet. ISBN 9780340186176.
  18. ^ "House of Cards Season 5: 23 Biggest WTF Moments". 9 June 2017.
  19. ^ "House of Cards : Frank Underwood joue à Pile ou Face". 5 June 2017.
  20. ^ "Nair, PGR, Literary Shelf, Piet Hein: The Emperor of Epigrams". Boloji.com. 2007-08-19. Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. Retrieved 2018-10-04.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]