Are You Certain about Uncertainty?

“What do you want to do now? What do we do now?
I don’t know. I guess we just keep going”.

circle01.fw These are the end lines from the 2008 thriller movie “Uncertainty” which captures the uncertain ways human actions are led to with a scenario as simple as the flipping of a coin.

Uncertainty, to begin with, tells us about the ambiguity inbuilt in deciding or judging a subsequent move. In a sense, all human actions are uncertain, as to whether it will lead to the intended goal, with cent percent certainty. But then actions are also embedded in knowledge and belief. What happens when knowledge and belief itself are inadequate to come to certainty? Or, is there any kind of knowledge which is certain? Sankaracharya the 8th century philosopher amuses everyone by a set of questions in one of his works – “who are you; whose are you; where did you come from”?, and goes on to say that these are the pertinent questions for reflection which will bring in the certitude that our experiences are as unstable and unreal as a mirage.

The meta-question involved in the dilemma of deciding what is uncertain, and why it is so, is, whether “certainty” itself is a factor that undermines the possibility of human thinking and experiencing. Or is such a question different from the philosophy of no or limited choices that arise from biological determinism. If there are unlimited choices, would uncertainty stand a chance to be meaningful? In other words, why should uncertainty be even assumed? Uncertainty from whose point of view? Is the whole notion of uncertainty an aftermath of our psychological need to be undecided in thinking and acting, and, our moral need to be not accountable to oneself and others, or is it an existential vent for deeper emotions such as fear?

There is overwhelming discussion on the physical attributes of uncertainty and the fundamental limit to precision in terms of measurement and understanding. There is also another discussion on “flow” which promises the fluid nature of the imaginative and creative powers of human mind and the continuity involved in human expressions. Certainly, different discourses of thinking, implies that we do harbour a few contradictions in our approach to “uncertainty”. On one hand if we hold that in general our knowledge about anything is limited at a given point, and also the consequences of human action are limited by its sheer unknowability, then we will also have to accept that there are unlimited ways of knowing, believing and acting. On the other, we cannot believe in uncertainty and at the same time act by the logic of determinism. The principle of uncertainty, by its sheer existence, implies unlimited and inconclusive possibilities of human choice and freewill.

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