How Do You Deal With Uncertainty?

Being in an uncertain situation can be extremely frustrating. Is there a way you have learned to deal with uncertainty?

Human beings, generally, feel more in control — and therefore, more comfortable — the more they know about something. In fact, that urge has been behind much of the development of science and technology over the last few hundred years. Wanting to know more, about how the world works and ways to modify it, is something that comes naturally to our species.

While this is true at a societal level, it is also true at an individual level as well. The more information we have, the more in control we feel.

For example, someone who has been diagnosed with a disease will often learn everything they can about it. Even very complicated systems, like the stock market or the political realm, people will study in great detail, trying to gain an edge.

In reality, knowing more does not always confer an advantage. So-called experts do not have a better record predicting the future than anyone else. There are plenty of examples of a basketball novice finishing ahead of a diehard fan in March Madness brackets, for instance.

There are certain times and certain situations that are completely out of your control. In that case, what do you do? Can you learn to embrace the uncertainty? Or instead, are there methods to feel more in control of an inherently uncontrollable scenario?

Related questions: What is unknowable? Why are we fascinated with the unknown? How do we know what we don’t know? Why don’t you know what makes you happy?

 

Should We Try To Predict The Future?

Despite many thousands of years of practice, human beings are mostly unable to predict the future. After failure upon failure, the question arises: should we even try?

From big events to trivial ones, we humans are really inept when it comes to divining what comes next. There are some very basic things — the sun will rise tomorrow — and that’s about it. Jobs are unstable. Health issues can arise at any time. Marriages fail regularly. And of course, the farther out in the future you go, the less certain things get.

Admittedly, as our understanding of the universe grows, some predictions come easier. For example, scientists can predict with great accuracy solar and lunar eclipses.

And yet, even science has its limitations. Predicting exactly when a particular breakthrough will or will not happen is an exercise in futility. Science is, inherently, an exploration of the unknown, which means that progress is inherently unknowable.

None of this stops us from trying to predict what comes next. From taking your umbrella with you when you go out for the day, to selecting the numbers for the lottery jackpot, we can’t help but guess what will happen next.

A lot of time, effort, and money is spent regularly on prognostication. Insurance companies have armies of actuaries. Pundits get paid to sound confident in their predictions of the next election, even if they were completely wrong about the last one. Meteorologists use the latest in cutting edge technology in forecasting the weather.

Could all this time, effort, and money be put to better use? Would our lives be better without the constantly mediocre attempts to predict the future? Or is it the case that our efforts in that direction is what drives us to learn? To make new discoveries that can make our lives better in other ways?

Related questions: What is time? How much does your past determine your future? How do you plan for the future? What is your five year prediction? Ten?

Should We Pay Attention To The News?

Sometimes it seems that trust with our journalistic enterprises is at an al-time low. Should we even pay attention to the news?

One problem with the way we consume our news is that it is becoming ever more partisan. Whatever your political beliefs may be, there is a cable channel, website, or newspaper that will reinforce that view. Other sources are, of course, “fake news” and must be lying.

In addition, the way the news is currently being reported is hyper-sensationalized. If it bleeds, it leads, as the saying goes. Whatever gets ratings or clicks is what tends to drive news cycles these days.

So that seems like a problem with how the news is presented, not with the news itself. If we could simply supply some journalistic standards, maybe we could fix the current problem of divisive, misleading  coverage that oftentimes spills over into overt propaganda.


Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the related question: ‘How much of our thoughts are our own?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘How much is enough?’


But even politically neutral, factual reporting creates a problem: a distorted view of reality. Negative stories tend to be more noteworthy than positive ones. A child being abused is news, but 10,000 children not being being abused isn’t.

If you hear a constant drumbeat of negative news stories, your natural inclination is to think the world is worse than it actually is. To illustrate, violence has been falling in the U.S. for decades now, and yet many Americans think crime is worse than it has ever been.

And yet, in order to have a functioning democracy, you need to have a well-informed electorate. How can we, as a society, be well-informed without reporters reporting on that society?

Is there a way to tune out the news and yet stay informed? Is there a way to fix the current broken system to make it work better for us? Should we pay attention to the news, or ignore it for our own well-being?

Related questions: What news from the last year made you optimistic? How can we encourage debate? How do you know who to trust? What is the greatest problem facing humanity?