Managing uncertainty #3…

Posted on January 10, 2011


“I’m not afraid to die… I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Woody Allen.

Jenny: “I guess that’s why so many of us try different ways to escape stress, try to find ‘safe places’ by gulping pills, boozing, glued to the idiot box, or staying in abusive or dysfunctional relationships or blindly follow the leader or the bigot because we’re too frightened to face the uncertainty of flying on our own – too much to doubt, not enough to trust. And of course millions find various degrees of safety in friendship, family, careers, hobbies, etc. ?

Peter :” Yeah everybody needs something to believe … I believe I’ll have another drink.”

Professor Wiggly: ” Of course all if us encounter periods of overload – stormy weather where our little ship of life  gets bounced about. During those storms we rush about fixing this, patching that – desperate and exhausting multi-tasking. And mostly we get through those stormy periods by drawing on our reserves … our social and financial trust funds – we go without sleep, call in friends, open the piggy bank and buy support and expert opinion, go into debt… then when the storm  and the doubts subside we gradually build back up our reserves. During those storms our doubt/trust ratio slips from a healthy, functional level of 1% doubts down to 5% or in really rough times to 10%, or maybe more and we  ‘break down’ emotionally, physically, socially. Then  as the storm and degree of uncertainty   subsides we start rebuilding our emotional, mental, social and economic reserves.”

Jenny: “Interesting. You’re saying that our mental and social health rests on the degree of trust we have in our various models of reality. Not in out there reality because according to ‘the experts’ like Simon and Quine and Campbell and Hawkings we don’t have direct  access to out there reality, only to bits and pieces of sensations selected and distorted by our sensory organs and measuring instruments. So it’s those particular models of reality in which we have faith that help us manage uncertainty, that provide our trusted  bridges into the uncertain future – faith in ideas, our friends, our loved ones, our government, our experts – including scientists (even though they disagree, even though they too – like Hawkings – must rely on their trusted models of reality.) Our bridges into the future our built on pillars of trust, on faith-based reasoning. Some people have faith in science as the foundational support of their bridges, others rely on religion, others don’t put all their trust or faith in one basked, but place their faith in science for some bridges, and religion for others, a mix of both for others, and buy lottery tickets just in case.”

Peter: ” Thanks a lot – I’m not travelling into the future at all, not on bridges built of bits and pieces of sensation held together by biases – called models or theories or expert opinions or hunches or hopes.  No sir, I’m staying right here – I’ll wait and see how far you get on your bridge before I even put a foot on it. People who talk like you and old Wiggly create uncertainty. You’ve got me worrying about all kind’s of stuff  I never even thought of before: can I trust my girl friend – where is she actually when she says she’s visiting her mother? Can I trust my Doctor when all he’s got to go on are bits and pieces of information about my insides, furthermore he gets most of his information from drug companies whose research is based on bits and pieces of information and evidence cherry-picked to make the drug look like a winner so they can make mega bucks. Or how about the driver in the next lane – he’s steering using selected  bits and pieces of sensation which may leave out the stop sign and slam bang into me – and begger up my bits and pieces of sensation. Jeez, I had a nice normal doubt/trust ratio – super normal – no doubts and all trust. Now I can’t even trust my drink – I think the color is a bit different than usual – why is that? Thanks a lot!”

Jenny: “That’s why it’s so important to blindly trust most of your assumptions or models of reality, then you can’t be thrown off-balance when they’re challenged. So, at any one time  you need to be cock sure of 99% of your beliefs and open to learning new stuff about the remaining 1%. Isn’t that right Professor?”

Professor Wiggly: ” Well I’d put it this way: At any given time we can mentally and emotionally afford to be open minded about one or two of  our  main beliefs, while accepting the rest through blind trust, or by blind trust in a ready source of answers – such as the last thing you heard, selected experts, the New York Times, or Fox News,  or your mother-in-law, or taro cards or buying lottery tickets, or having a drink or two and finding that eveything become clear… for a while.”

Posted in: Sciencing