SCIENTIFIC UNCERTAINTY

The Need For Hypotheses

“A hypothesis is a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation,” Dictionary

“Being a scientist requires having faith in uncertainty, finding pleasure in mystery, and learning to cultivate doubt. There is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be certain of its outcome,” Stuart Firestein in IGNORANCE: How It Drives Science (2012) 

Hypotheses are a starting point for investigation; human beliefs are not. This is because believing is seeing and seeing is doing. A belief, acceptance that something is true, is often an ending point. People believe to be true what they want to be true — and stop there.  Most people don’t spend time investigating their own beliefs. Although they may be quick to question someone else’s beliefs.  Investigating one’s own beliefs is not typical human behavior. 

“Treat beliefs as hypotheses” has been part of my positive uncertainty theme song for years. But it is not general human practice. Positive uncertainty is a starting point; a beginning of investigation. 

To find yourself at an ending point, with your unchangeable belief, is to find yourself with no place to go. If we, as humans, could have faith in uncertainty, find pleasure in mystery, and learn to cultivate doubt, we could think like scientists, and behave like scientists. But don’t count on it. Remember, we believe to be true what we want to be true. Beliefs R us. And remember the earlier quote from Firestein, “there is no surer way to screw up an experiment than to be certain of its outcome.”

Maybe one way to screw up life’s journey is to be certain of its outcome. Being positive about the uncertainty of life’s journey prepares you to take action with the uncertainty as it occurs. Being sure means you are unprepared for unexpected events. Certainty may lead to shock; uncertainty prevents shock.

“To be uncertain is uncomfortable, but to be certain is ridiculous.”

~Socrates

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