# Nerd Discernment

### The oddly specific mathematical answer to discernment is 37%.

In *The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy*, an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought works for 7.5 million years to find that "the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything" is... 42.

Since then, readers have been trying to figure out the special significance of the number 42. Author Douglas Adams admits that it was a joke. He thought it would be funny to say that the answer to everything was a simple number. He picked one at random.

I thought of *The Hitchhiker's Guide* when I came across the "37% Rule." This is a mathematical solution for what is called the "optimal stopping problem" or "explore/exploit tradeoff."

Even if you have never heard those phrases, you have dealt with the dilemma of knowing when to stop exploring new options and finally choose something.

If we choose too quickly, we might not find a good fit. If we keep trying out new options, we miss out on the freedom that comes with commitment. We also risk becoming a jack of all trades and master of none.

In this case, 37 was not chosen at random. Mathematicians have found that one has the best odds of finding the ideal match if he tries out but rejects the first 37% of his options and then chooses the next option that is better than what he has experienced thus far.

(For those interested, the math is 1/e, which equals 0.368, which is rounded to 37%.)

Now, is the meaning of life 42? Should we robotically sample 37% of our options before making any decision? Of course not. We also need to pray.

Still, this exercise can serve as another arrow in our quiver for making decisions.

Plus, as someone who was a far better mathlete than athlete in high school, I had to share this!