How you construct your ‘reality’: #1

Posted on September 26, 2011


How do you make decisions about the unknown, for instance about the future – which is uncertain! No one knows for sure what’s going to happen. Nevertheless, even though we’re ignorant of what lies ahead we all have to walk, run or jump into the unknown and unknowable future, we all have to make really big decisions that could lead to success and happiness, or to failure and disaster, or an unpredictable mix of both!

Jumping into the uncertain future

What decisions are we talking about? Well, for example, how do you choose a career, or a mate (according to the divorce rate, not very wisely), or who to trust, or decide on an investment (remember Berni Madoff or the 2008 market meltdown?),  how to you choose a place to live and work and choose which apartment to rent or house to buy,  or how to vote (remember George W. Bush who was so popular and then ended up with such a lousy approval rating?), or how to raise your children, or whether to have a life-threatening operation, etc, etc.

In brief, how do you make decisions in uncertain situations – you do it everyday? We’re going to explore how you and others make life changing choices – often with ridiculously high confidence – about the unknown and unknowable future. Stop and think for a moment about how often chance plays a huge role in many life altering decisions – for instance how did you meet your best friend or husband or wife?

Believing is seeing...

Two Nobel Prize winners (Herb Simon and Dan Kahneman) proposed that we make decisions in uncertain situations by relying on trusted but fallible assumptions – biases – supported by  readily accessible, but often unreliable information – for instance by relying on promissory notes provided by glib politicians, TV evangelists, investment bankers and internet hucksters, news editors, etc.  Recently Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist,  proposed that we don’t have direct access to REALITY or TRUTH.  Instead  we must construct it with our fallible senses out of  fuzzy signals such as sound and light waves. He calls this process of reality construction “model dependant realism.” In a way Simon, Kahneman and Hawking are proposing a shift from the model that seeing is believing to one that assumes that believing is seeing.

According to this view the best we can do is construct models (pictures, stories, mathematical maps) of reality, the best we can do is to construct not ‘truth’ but ‘truthiness.’

Where do we get our models? Where did you get yours?  From your parents? From your failures? From your teachers? Where did I get mine? Where do we get those trusted assumptions, beliefs, or biases that Simon and Kahneman talk about, that generate the energy and confidence to enable us to crawl,  limp, walk, run or leap into the unknown future?

In the next post we start to discover where one person started accumulating his models of reality…. his truthies!

Jumping into unertainty:

Believing is seeing : flickr (uncertainty, cyclops)

Posted in: Sciencing