Monday, November 1, 2010

Dealing with Uncertainty

What we as a society currently view as explanations for various aspects of our universe and all things therein are merely models and subject to change. Actively entertaining multiple possibilities at one time is an integral aspect of many more progressive worldviews. The lack of dogma and the interest in discovering "game changing" advances is refreshing. This is in stark contrast to deterministic and rigid views that there is one answer and a person must seek that answer from someone in authority over him or her.

Because our universe and our societies are complex dynamical systems most things are probabilistic and not deterministic. We will never be able to predict perfectly and there are no truly optimal decisions but merely many near optimal decisions from which to choose. Exiting a worldview containing an omniscient, omnipotent god who knew the beginning to the end and emerging into the bright light of uncertainty, probabilities, and largely or completely unpredictable emergent patterns was disconcerting to say the least. The numerous interactions in any complex system including our own lives means that there are a range of possible outcomes to any action. Some outcomes are more likely than others but nothing is a given. Over time I have come to accept, feel comfortable with, and even embrace this reality. In fact the world makes much more sense when viewed through the lens of complex systems.

It is not uncommon for those with a view that there are perfect answers to struggle with decisions and over analyze possibilities. They are often so concerned about selecting "the one right path". Rather random emotions and spurious correlations often make them feel as if they are approaching the path that will lead them to success. They are oblivious to the realities that many differing paths will lead to success and that virtually any path will likely contain challenges and unpleasant surprises. After all of their hand-wringing they embark on their "one correct, god-defined path" only to find that things do not always work smoothly. When troubles ensue they are quick to blame themselves for some perceived sin or for not being righteous enough to "hear" the correct guidance. It is all a maddening exercise in futility based on fundamentally flawed premises on how the world works. If they could only let go, relax, enjoy the journey, and be willing to learn from mistakes and the "imperfections" of life. There is no such thing as perfection in the sense that there is one ideal decision for any situation. Until they accept that reality they will spend a life of recurrent frustration and unwarranted self-recrimination.

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