Leveraging Certainty To Deal With Uncertainty

Uncertainty scares most of us. When we’re uncertain, we feel unprepared to deal with reality properly. If you don’t have a clue what the weather is you’ll feel unprepared to dress properly. If the weather app says there’s a 40% chance of rain then it’s probably a good idea to bring a rain coat or umbrella with you when you go out, even though it’s probably not going to rain.

Of course, uncertainty can certainly manifest itself into things more important than preparing for the weather. Imagine you’ve just been offered a new job that pays more than your current one and has some new aspects of it that excite you: you’ll get an office with one of the most beautiful outlooks of the city, you get to travel more and take orders less, and you even get a small stake in the company. You may like the idea of changing jobs because you want something new and this job excites you with its upgrades. However, you also may feel anxious about making the switch because of the uncertain outcome of what will happen at the new office. You really like your current coworkers, and they really like you back. How certain can you really be that your new relationships will be better than your current ones? There is no job-happiness app out there calculating the percent chance that you will like your new coworkers less than your current coworkers. Unfortunately, no type of such meteorologist exists, and you must use your own judgement in evaluating the likelihood that taking this new job is the right choice. You must think about what happens at your current job and pick up on the patterns of what satisfies you or dissatisfies you. To do this, you consciously or subconsciously rely on patterns and you will seek a new position that contains the same good patterns and doesn’t have patterns you’ve identified as bad ones.

We often use patterns to help us deal with uncertainty. Sometimes we use statistics, but most pattern-recognition is subconscious. However, sometimes pattern-recognition isn’t perfect, especially when it’s subconscious.

Peter Bevelin writes in Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin To Munger:

“We want to find reasons for all kinds of events- random or not. We search for patterns even where none exist. For example, there must be something important that is happening if a particular number comes up again and again. But it is always possible to find patterns and meaning in an event if we actively search for them and selectively pick anything that fits the pattern and ignore everything that doesn’t. But we can’t predict the pattern in advance.” (Bevelin, 166)

We mustn’t think we know more than we really know about what the future holds. Even if we currently hold unconscious biases that will harm us we can use our own volition to conceptualize why these biases are irrational and why we must avoid acting on them (like racial biases). As the founder of analytical psychiatry, Carl Jung said: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Instead of ignoring our tendencies to over-extrapolate likable data and draw inaccurate conclusions we must only make predictions off complete certainties to prepare ourselves to thrive in the uncertain future.

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