Living with uncertainty

heisenberg, limits, physics, social psychology, sociology, uncertainty principle

1.  There is much we don’t know. Yet in our daily life we have to act even when we don’t have all the facts, when uncertainty is real, and all around us. How do we manage? IT IS BECAUSE WE OFTEN KNOW THE LIMITS OF OUR UNCERTAINTY — WE CAN KNOW THESE LIMITS QUITE PRECISELY AND ACCURATELY.

2.  When I tell my doctor about my symptoms, my various aches and pains, I don’t know what the doctor’s response will be; what diagnosis is produced; what I am going to be instructed to do about my health fears I bring to the doctor. In short, I don’t know what the doctor’s response will be, even though that response may have a vital impact on my life.   How can I live with that lack of knowledge? With that uncertainty? It is because there is something I DO KNOW. It is that the doctor is supposed to work – to make the assessment about my symptoms – within currently accepted Western medical science. These are the constraints, the LIMITS within which the doctor is expected to function. For me, the patient, this enables me to accept the doctor’s assessment and suggestions about my state of health. I know, and the doctor knows, the LIMITS within which the transaction between me and the doctor takes place.       This is just one of many examples I could cite, to show how we live with uncertainty in our daily life.

3.  Now, in my 87th year, I remind myself that forty years ago when I was supposed to attend an international conference for physicists, I prepared a paper that suggested an answer to living with uncertainty that fits with physical science. I called it “Bounded Indeterminacy”. It was my sociologist’s arrogant claim that I could teach physicists something new about their own understanding of the Heisenberg “Uncertainty Principle.”  (The conference — which was to be held in Moscow — did not take place, because the Soviet Union authorities did not allow it to be held.  But the papers were eventually published as a book.  See #1, below.)

[My interest in Indeterminacy resulted in these publications: (1) “Bounded Indeterminacy: A Component Part of the Structure of Systems” in COLLECTIVE PHENOMENA AND THE APPLICATIONS OF PHYSICS TO OTHER FIELDS OF SCIENCE: Brain Research Publications, 1975. Edited by Norman Chigier and Edward Stern. (2) “Indeterminacy and General Systems Theory” in UNITY THROUGH DIVERSITY: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1973. Edited by William Gray and Nicholas Rizzo. (3) “Indeterminacy in the Structure of Systems” in BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE, Vol. 19, #6, 1974)]

4.  Bounded Indeterminacy can also say something important about religion. Namely, that the God Principle is really about the Ultimate LIMIT to our uncertainties, to not-knowing. For religious believers in a divinity, in what I call the God Principle, there is a definite LIMIT – an end-point – to all uncertainty. We can call this God, or, if not “religious”, we can all it an underlying orderliness of nature which, even though we can never know it completely, parts of it can be known with real assurance. I call it, living with Bounded Indeterminacy.