THE NECESSITY OF UNCERTAINTY
When evaluating uncertainty I often think of an egg toss. What are the chances of throwing the egg without the other person dropping or breaking it? Humans can be tricked into believing they can control uncertain events, by remembering recent successes or by the persuasion of others. However, recent failures can also sway a person into believing they have even less chance of throwing the egg without breaking it. Our short-term memory convinces us that we were right (or wrong) before, so we will be right (or wrong) this time as well.
Robyn Dawes’ book: Rational Choice in an Uncertain World explores how decisions concerning uncertain events usually test a human in both chance and skill. Humans, he says, fall to believe in superstitions when any shred of skill is involved. People may look for or even invent a pattern that will convince them that their risk is lessened.
Dawes analyzes how and why humans try so hard to grapple with chance, but ultimately he feels “An essential part of wisdom is the ability to determine what is uncertain; that is, to appreciate the limits of our knowledge and to understand its probabilistic nature in many contexts.” (p. 264). In other words, without uncertainty we would never know hope or face challenges. Dawes further explores the inevitability of chance by stating, “uncertainty is a necessary precondition for the existence of ethical choice.” (p. 267). Without chance, people would become all knowing and self-indulgent. Chance forces humans to second guess themselves and even hold back on risky decisions. Without those fears and constraints, ethics would be like a bad egg toss, gone.
To cope with uncertainty, humans make up rule-based systems (such as discussed in Subjective Probability) to increase the certainty in their decisions. These systems employ our values and ethics as well as our own feelings toward a subject. Dawes states, “Rationality does not dictate what to decide, only how.” (p. 272) In utilizing these formulas, we also make use of our hope, ethics, and freedom of choice.
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Text Credit: Dawes, Robyn, Rational Choice in an Uncertain World, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. Orlando, FL, 1988.