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?

 

Look Back Or Look Ahead?

With January 1st just around the corner, are you more likely to look back and review the year that is ending, or look ahead to what the new year might bring?

Share why if you wish.

Look Back Or Look Ahead?

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?

Is It Good To Be Predictable?

If someone describes you as predictable, do you think that is a good thing? Do you consider yourself predictable?

There are definitely advantages to being predictable. Primarily, people know what to expect from you. If you are driving in fast-moving traffic, for example, following the rules of the road and not behaving erratically means you are much less likely to be in an accident.

The same thing holds true in your personal relationships. If you behave consistently, your friends and family will find your presence to be stable. If you always show up for work at the same time, then your co-workers will recognize that about you and act accordingly.


Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘How do you think others see you?’ We discuss another question as well, ‘How can we maintain wonder?’


And yet, there are times when predictability can be a drawback. If you follow the same routine, talk about the same things, and go to the same places, growth can be hard to achieve. To be spontaneous can also have advantages.

There are certainly times that acting predictably can be a drawback. When waging a battle, whether an actual physical skirmish, or a proxy like a sports game or a board game, doing the unexpected can be an effective strategy for unsettling your opponent.

So there are times when each is preferable. In general, do you like one over the other? Can you think of other examples where it might be beneficial, or harmful, for people to guess what you are going to do in any given situation? Is it good to be predictable?

Related questions: What is your five year prediction? Ten? Why do people like games? How do you think others see you?