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Uncertainty & Complexity

Brian Castellani, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

“Unknowing” as Opportunity Potential

As people, perhaps we react with fear when we identify the experience of another as so “radically” different from our own experiences because it ultimately makes us look inward and forces us to question the validity and relevance of our own ways of existing in the world. That can be a scary existential threat if we assume that some ways are wholly good/bad or right/wrong. If you’re doing things the “right” way, then the other way must be “wrong”. Right? Instead of trying to come to conclusions about the existential questions that seemingly anomalous events may elicit, maybe letting go of the need to come to conclusions at all–and just accepting “closure” and “certainty” as illusory concepts in the first place– could help us connect to others, ourselves, and the wonderfully unpredictable world around us.

Because, nobody knows (probably), but if we can unconditionally accept our shared potential as human beings: a potential to deliver good ideas, bad ideas, and everything in between, maybe we can co-recover those integral connections that make our ‘being’ relevant. And that is a type of sense making that is priceless.

Otherwise, harm could result as a consequence of unequal power distributions across stakeholders in conditions of equally distributed uncertainty.

When we become aware of the many knowledge voids–the uncertainty introduced by reliability and validity issues, the epistemological and ontological mysteries surrounding consciousness itself, the frequency with which we often automatically presume the essence or nature of any ‘thing’ or ‘construct’.– it clearly becomes difficult to lay claim to ‘what is’ or to assert ‘The Truth’. It seems prudent that we all (professionals,“laymen”, all sentient humans) acknowledge this inherent uncertainty, especially in situations where problems are ill-defined. Otherwise, harm could result as a consequence of unequal power distributions across stakeholders in conditions of equally distributed uncertainty. In other words, when decision-making power is asymmetrically distributed across people (for example, medical professionals enact power over), yet the conditions are such that all people in the situation have the same degree of lack of insight (high, symmetrically-distributed uncertainty state), the epistemic values and biases of the “expert” few (the medical professionals in this example), dictate the experiences of the many (who are equally as capable of producing epistemic goods in universal, high uncertainty states).

Given the ethical implications that epistemic arrogance has on our practical outcomes –it seems important to reflect upon how we may be able to integrate–from the social to the biophysical–a meta-theoretical framework of uncertainty that makes salient the ever- present instability inherent to what we think we believe. See Also Acatalepsy and Intellectual Humility


Domen RE. The Ethics of Ambiguity: Rethinking the Role and Importance of Uncertainty in Medical Education and Practice. Acad Pathol. 2016 Jun 16;3:2374289516654712. doi: 10.1177/2374289516654712. PMID: 28725771; PMCID: PMC5497921.

Han PK. Conceptual, methodological, and ethical problems in communicating uncertainty in clinical evidence. Med Care Res Rev. 2013 Feb;70(1 Suppl):14S-36S. doi: 10.1177/1077558712459361. Epub 2012 Nov 6. PMID: 23132891; PMCID: PMC4238424.


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