Now is not the time for Certainty


There times in our history when things keep largely the same for a good stretch.

Maybe it’s only for a generation or less, or it could be for a human lifetime or more. Be it the climate, the economy, the governing structures, or anything else, these things might move around a little, but within a fairly predictable range. And while it might feel scary to those living through it, it’s not inherently unpredictable as an overall system.

Now is not a time like that.

Just look around you. Likely you can see that, to the contrary, we know without a reasonable doubt that at least the following things are changing massively right now:
  • our global climate and weather cycles
  • our economic framework and monetary instruments
  • the role and nature of government for many of the most powerful ones in the world

We can argue about why these things are changing or who is responsible. At a certain level, like the everyday decision-making one, it kinda doesn’t matter so much though.

In such times, certainty is especially popular. Anyone offering it has an audience, because it is exactly what many people want to hear. They’re scared. They don’t know what’s going to happen next. No matter how ridiculous the voice or idea may be that’s offering the “Of course this is what happens now. It must be what happens now!” message, it will be believed. People gravitate to flavor of message that asks them to give up the least, and tells them that they are among the best.

Sound familiar?

That’s because this is when we are. We’ve been here before, we’ll be here again. I suspect it’ll get a whole lot worse before it gets better too. Because our ability to achieve predictability will not be restored for a long time to come.

In such times, I believe it is quantifying our uncertainty that is the key. Yeah, we don’t know a lot. But even if we knew everything, we’d be wrong some of the time. We’re just going to be wrong a lot more about a lot more things for a lot longer than usual.

But we’re not going to be wrong about everything any more than we were right about everything before. The power skill is making sound decisions with not enough information. Rolling the dice fast, and moving even faster. Being completely committed to any given move, while keeping as many options open as possible and pivoting or fully reversing course as circumstances dictate.

Because circumstances are changing. And they’re going to keep changing. If you want them not to change, it is pretty easy to find people who will give you the illusion of being certain or being right or being chosen. They are lying. Maybe on purpose, maybe not. It doesn’t matter, don’t take it personally. It’s just what happens now, that’s all.

You can know about how certain or uncertain you are. There are many different toolkits you can use. I typically recommend anything to do with Bayesian thinking or Stoic philosophy, and am increasingly becoming comfortable with the more statistical tools.

What do you use to keep things in perspective and determine how uncertain you are? Comment as you see fit :)

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