Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Uncertainty ?

Uncertainty is a principle to quantum physicists, which tells that you never can know two physical properties of the same object at the same time. For example, if you try to know the momentum of a body with a high degree of accuracy then, you are going to disturb its position. Quantum physicists are happy with this principle. Apparently that reduces their work in a way, seeking the accuracy only till it messes not with the theory. Unfortunately we, the daily people, are less privileged to know how uncertain something is about our own lives.

Uncertainty is something we actually learn to live with. Not knowing for sure if the bus will appear in time, being uncertain about the weather or having an uneasy feeling about the results just delivered by your software code are part of our lives. How do we deal with these uncertainties. Logically, there are two way outs. First, to know. Second, to believe. We can try to know if the program output flashing is actually correct by several tests. Otherwise, we just believe if the smart cube-mate takes a look and tells its correct. We believe the weather report from Yahoo. We believe Ripley's Believe it or Not. The general assumption is that knowledge moves against belief, which may not be true. In cases, where our knowledge rests on our predecessor's knowledge, we are simply shouldering our strong beliefs upon them and building our knowledge house on top. This is the case when you believe that Andrew Wiles proved Fermat's Last Theorem. There are some well-grounded first-hand knowledge like, Sun is brighter than Moon, which does not require us to believe anyone. Arguably such cases are few. On the other hand, with the mounting knowledge base of human civilization, our individual knowledge is getting increasingly populated by beliefs, myths and legends. This is surely a hindrance against innovation unless it is assumed that civilization progressed in perfect way. We definitely need occasional rewiring of our brain to shake the beliefs and seek first hand knowledge. A theory which is supported by observing groundbreaking innovations from youth and the commoners(see here).

Individually speaking, the question is how can one beat the belief. One way is to embrace uncertainty. The quantum physicists are certain about the principle of uncertainty. One need not be so certain about that. Or for that matter, certain about anything. This fundamental trait of raising questions and doubts build a healthy scientific mind set.

Maintaining this constant source of uncertainty is difficult in practice. It engages the mind in non-stop wars over multiple alternatives and that's what drives some of the best minds in craze. A better tip is not to be always uncertain but, rather remain certain about uncertainty of any second hand knowledge. Like pushing the inherited web-based fact down memory with a high degree of uncertainty. Whenever that is revoked for a use, one can pass the uncertainty along. But, not accept it just because it is there in memory for long.

It is often argued that Western civilization brings a scientific mindset whereas, the Indian system is fatalist. While this brings forth a wide range of arguments on Karma and its effect, I will limit myself within a minor observation why fatalism and faith prevails strong in India. Historically, Indian land has been fertile and most conducive to the development of civilization. Little amount of corporal activity would suffice for sustenance. This prompted Indian seekers to question things beyond the physical reality. Of course those theories cannot be understood by each and everyone. To that effect, some rituals/practices were introduced, which ideally helps us to reach closer to the theories. Over time, some practices were questioned and abandoned as any healthy society will do. However, not many new alternative practices were introduced. For better or worse, some unrelated practices were copied and integrated without knowing the theories behind, leaving behind a experimental hotbed of theories and rituals.

In the current generation of ultra-hybrid belief system, sometimes one looks for the knowledge. But, the amount of uncertainty gets associated with so many facts (e.g. will the bus/train arrive, will there be power backup, will there be water supply, will there be an attack, will the PM intervene to save the national exchequer from commonwealth loot) that average Indian youth better leave themselves in the hand of the all-powerful.

Now, I am not so certain about the thesis above. And following is what Dilbert thinks about it.


  1. yep,that´s true, sometimes the uncertainty surrounded us but i think it comes from our expectation & also eagerness for result, & of-course related with materialistic thought.
    so, we can follow "KORMO KORE JAU FOLER ASA KORO NAA"
    though this is not so easy but......can try

  2. We love to live in the "comfort zone". The daily social interaction develops our perception of that comfort zone which can also be characterized by "certainty". 95% of our daily activities have fair amount of certainty. When faced with new situations we adapt very quickly to pull that event into our comfort zone. The fear of uncertainty is just that fear to get out of the comfort zone. Different people would have different appetite for this "uncertainty" though. Don't think Richard Branson minds the uncertainty of life much!

    - Arnab