(WHTM) — Once upon a time, two brothers were trying to make a decision. They were working on a machine that could revolutionize the world. After several years of testing and improvement, it was time to take the big step of actually trying the device out in real-world conditions. They were both equally competent to manipulate the device — which admittedly could be a bit squirrely at times — but there was room in it for only one of them. Who should go?

They flipped a coin.

And so it was that on December 14, 1903, Wilbur Wright took the controls to make the first flight in a powered aircraft.

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Today is Flip a Coin Day, when we celebrate and contemplate the ability of small discs to help with the sometimes difficult decisions in life. The idea of a coin toss dates back at least to ancient Greece, if not further. (Legend has it Julius Caesar made important decisions by flipping a coin.) Coin tosses can be used for matters small, like who gets the last slice of pizza, and large, like the winner of an election that ends in a dead tie.

The beauties of the coin toss are its simplicity and its impartiality. It renders a simple yes or no, either-or decision unless the coin lands on its edge (which is a meager, but real possibility). And it’s kind of hard to accuse an inanimate piece of metal of bias.

There’s actually a name for making a habit of deciding things by coin toss — “flipism”. The term was coined (I had to slip that in somewhere) by the legendary Disney comic book artist/writer Carl Banks. In the story “Flip Decision” Donald Duck gets introduced to flipism, becomes a “flippist”, and predictably, his relying on coin tosses instead of thinking for himself causes no end of hilarious chaos.

So, can flipping a coin actually be a good way to make an important decision? The answer is yes, but not the way you might think. Long before you reach the point where you actually have to make a decision, you have, consciously or unconsciously, been gathering and processing information on the issue at hand. When you flip the coin, one of two things will happen. There might be an instant, while the coin is in the air, that you will know which way you want the coin to land. Failing that, there’s your reaction to the coin toss result. Whether your response is “Yes!”, or “Ummm…” you know which decision you really wanted to follow.

Just remember, no matter how you make a decision, things might not work out as planned. Remember the Wright Brothers? That December 14 test flight with Wilbur failed, doing some minor damage to the plane. The brothers made repairs, and on December 17, with Orville at the controls, the “Wright Flyer” made the first successful flight of a heavier-than-air powered airplane.

For more about Flipism, click here.

For more about “Flip Decision”, click here.