Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Should we worry about uncertainty?

In preparation for the discussion topic of "Should we worry about uncertainty?", a topic that I proposed, for the next Cafe Philo in New York City in two weeks, on Thursday, May 21, 2009,  I made the following comments...

I'll refrain from overly dissecting the next Cafe Philo discussion topic, "Should we worry about uncertainty?", both because it happens to be the topic that I proposed and also because I am anxious to hear how others have interpreted the topic. I'll try to give only a very brief explanation of the topic, sufficient so that nobody can complain that they didn't know what it was about.

It was interesting that the topic garnered so many votes on the first vote and without any of the usual haggling about "But what does that really mean?" and "But the answer is simple!" and "That doesn't make any sense!". My hunch is that the mere mention of "uncertainty" and "worry" in the present "times" and "crisis" evokes a visceral reaction. People are experiencing the negative consequences of "uncertainty" in a big way and a way out is desired.

Now, whether that in fact was how others saw the question remains to be seen and will be a subject of debate. Whether the uncertainty of the current times/crisis is the main "worry" of people remains to be seen.

Without trying to parse the topic too much, I would simply suggest that it be interpreted as broadly as possible.

1) "Worry" should include the full range of thought, reasoning, communication, and action related to how we "cope" with uncertainty. "Worry" has negative and emotional connotations, including anxiety, which was the original intent on my part, but the full range of processes related to how we "deal" with uncertainty are fair game. Think as broadly or as narrowly as you see fit.

2) "Uncertainty" can be expanded to include the full range of degree of certainty, from absolute certainty to absolute uncertainty (completely clueless?) and "the unknowable" unknown unknowns. My original intent was dealing with situations where the facts are not sufficiently clear to lead to a high degree of confidence, but the discussion can also encompass excessive confidence when we may falsely imagine that we have a high degree of certainty but are mistaken for reasons that we do not necessarily discern. Feel free to think as broadly or narrowly as you see fit with regards to whatever aspects of uncertainty, certainty, and confidence you feel is of interest.

3) Don't feel constrained to the current times/crisis, unless you want to.

Feel free to pose propositions in terms of actual real-world situations that seem relevant to dealing with uncertainty, past, present, future, or imagined.

I could have worded the question as "How can we cope with uncertainty?" or as "Should we really have greater confidence about certainty than uncertainty?" or "What is the rational response to uncertainty?", etc., but somehow phrasing it as "worry" may elicit a more interesting discussion.

Feel free to include both the ontological nature of certainty as well as the behavioral aspects of what we "should" do in the face of the many degrees of certainty.

Ultimately, my main interest is to examine what "tools" philosophy can offer us to work with perceived certainty, uncertainty, and worry about them.

Other than all of that, you are free to interpret the question however you wish as perceived by you, as it was given, regardless of how I might interpret it.

-- Jack Krupansky


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