Positive Uncertainty

 It may have happened, it may not have happened but it could have happened.                 Mark Twain     

Life is full of possibilities; so is my writing. This blog is the result of my reading the recent book, The Possibility Principle by Mel Swartz. I have adopted his title and made it personal. Because possibility is about something that is possible, but not certain, it is about uncertainty. My writing has been about “Positive Uncertainty” since 1989.

 Think of uncertainty as the wind in our sails.                                                                   Uncertainty is where new possibilities lies. Mel Schwartz

 Possibility and uncertainty are two sides of the same coin. Together they represent the prerequisite and the product of an open mind. Possibility and uncertainty open the mind to decision making questions like: “What else could I do?”  What else could happen”?

 You and I know that possibilities exist. But do we pay attention when making decisions? “Don’t confuse me with possibilities, my mind is already made up.” Possibilities are not facts, but they are possible actions and possible outcomes. Today it is well accepted that we cannot possibly know all the possibilities when making decisions. But we need to realize they exist. This is why it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to make totally rational decisions.

By definition, possibility is a thing that may be chosen or done, out of several possible alternative choices. That sounds like a definition of decision making. Adding a possibility principle to my decision making repertoire seems very appropriate.  Of course, I am encouraging others to adopt the possibility principle and a positive uncertainty strategy.

Possibility invites and requires our participation. To envision and actualize the future         we long for, we must view uncertainty as our ally.   Mel Swartz

To view uncertainty is an ally is crucial; but most people prefer certainty. Certainty and dogma don’t give you many decision making options. Since beliefs become behavior and can be self-fulfilling prophecies, beliefs may well determine possibilities. Do you know what you believe about uncertainty and possibilities?  What you believe will determine how you decide what to do.

I am neither an optimist nor pessimist, but a possibilist. – Max Lerner





Posted in Books I'm Reading | 3 Comments


How Do You See Your Future?

Without language we would have remained animals.                                                          Without metaphors we would still be savages. E. O. Wilson

 Metaphor combines thinking and feeling and creates a readiness for change. It detracts the left brain but doesn’t eliminate it. Why is metaphor so helpful in our thinking? It is easier to think about something while thinking about something else, than it is to think about a thing when trying to think about it. Erasmus G. Addle

You probably know I love metaphor because it has been a major part of my writing for years. Many years ago, during my decision making workshops I conducted an exercise, Four Future Metaphors, adapted from Draper Kaufmann’s 1976 book, Teaching The Future, as a way of looking at how you think about the future and how you get there.

Because I have never posted this metaphor activity, I decided to share it with you not knowing how interested you will be. Metaphors can generate creative ways of thinking. I suggest you use metaphor as a method for understanding your control of your thinking and believing and your influencing your future life.

Four Future Metaphors                                                                                                      Read the four metaphors and decide which comes closest to your belief about your influence over the direction of the future. It may not be exactly right, but it is better than the others.

  1. Roller Coaster

The future is a great roller coaster. It twists ahead of us in the dark, although we can only see each part as we come to it. We can sometimes see around the bend but the future is fixed and determined. We are locked in our seats and nothing we may know or do will change the course that is laid out for us.

2. Mighty River

The future is a mighty river. The great force of history flows along, carrying us with it. Its course can be changed but only by natural disasters, like earthquakes and landslides, or by massive concerted human efforts on a similar scale. However, we are free as individuals to adapt to the course of history, either well or poorly. By looking ahead, we can avoid sandbars and whirlpools and pick the best path through any rapids.

3. Great Ocean

The future is a great ocean. There are many possible destinations, and many different paths to each destination. By taking advantage of the main currents of change, keeping a sharp lookout posted, and moving carefully in uncharted waters, a good navigator can get safely to the charted destination, barring a typhoon or other disaster that cannot be predicted or avoided.

  1. Colossal Dice Game

The future is entirely random, a colossal dice game. Every second things happen that could have happened another way to produce another future. Since everything is chance, all we can do is play the game, pray to the gods of fortune and enjoy what good luck comes our way.

Which metaphor most closely resembles your future vision? Why did you choose your preferred metaphor? What did you like or not like about your choice? What did you like or not like about the others? Discussing your answers with someone else, or better yet, with a group, can improve the illuminating process.

If your choice is not an accurate indication of your view of your influence over the future, what is?  Create your own more accurate metaphor. Here are some examples of personal future metaphors. Mountain climbing; gardening, vacation, cooking, golf, software; dancing; salad; a banquet; computer; orchestra; cabaret; maze; chess game.

If you see this as a useful exercise to think about your future, I would enjoy reading your reaction. Please share your metaphor.








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Mindful Of HOW You See

Objectivity is the subject’s delusion that observing can be done without him.                       Heinz von Forester

 The observer is always part of what is observed. You can’t take you out of what you see; your perception is created by subjective you. Whatever you see is what you see. What you see is not what everyone else sees; and it is not all there is. To be a self-aware observer is to be mindful of how you see what you see. Mindful is defined as heedful, attentive, careful, “cautiously attentive”. Not just being attentive, being cautiously attentive. This blog is a reminder.

Most of us are aware that what we see is not all there is. But this awareness gets lost in most of our observations. We usually see what we want to see and don’t see what we don’t want to see and ignore what we can’t see. And what we see is the tip of the iceberg. How you see is explained:

In all visual things, there is a hidden wholeness. Thomas Merton

Perceptions are portraits not photographs.  Daniel Gilbert

 We are seeing only snapshots, not the whole picture. Self-awareness may be an oxymoron. To be totally self aware, you need to be aware of your unconscious mind and know all of your cognitive biases. Paying attention intentionally to your unconscious mind and cognitive biases may be too much to expect. Total mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. I wonder if that is possible.

What is possible is being aware that your perceptions are not photographs. You are not only the one taking the picture, you are also the camera. Portraits might be a useful metaphor for self-awareness. As an observer of my life, I am also the camera taking the snapshots. Even with a wide-angle lens, I am not seeing the whole picture.

To portray as a portrait is to depict or represent pictorially; make a picture of. My observation is making a picture of reality; it represents reality to me. My “portrait map” is not the territory. This is obvious when you realize that everyone else has their own map of the same territory. Their observation depicts a different picture of reality. And no one sees the hidden wholeness.

Subjectivity is the cause of our restricted self-awareness. Subjective is defined as: proceeding from or taking place within a person’s mind such as to be unaffected by the external world. We see with our minds, not with our eyes. Therefore, being a self-aware observer is being aware of what is taking place in our minds.

We tend to see more through thoughts and opinions than through our eyes.                       Jon Kabat-Zinn



Posted in Beliefs | 1 Comment


 Hope Won’t Work

 The future depends on what we do today.  Mahatma Gandhi      

 Hope is not a method; it needs to be turned into action. Today the majority of the population believe that America is in a crisis. The crisis is the direction the government is heading — away from American values of equality, diversity, inclusiveness and the practice of democracy. Today, fear and anger, like hope, won’t solve the crisis. What is needed now is defiance, bold resistance. You don’t just sit there; you DO something.

The good news: The future depends on what we DO today. The bad news: The future depends on what we DO today. It is bad news because people usually prefer hope, fear and anger to action. This blog is a call for more action.

The United States of America, a country of the people, by the people and for the people, is starting to take shape, and take action. They talk, write, march, gather in protest; they let it be known that they disagree. If ever there was a time when the people need to act, this is the time. People in this country and around the world are beginning to do something.

It is helpful that politicians running the country today are saying and doing things that just beg for negative reaction. It’s very hard to just sit there and take it. I know my blog is not bold resistance, but it is what I feel able to do, and makes me feel I might be contributing. Each of us has our special way to do something. Since the election, every day you can count the many ways people are taking action. Even some republican members of congress are beginning to do something, or at least say something.

The politics of today is heading in the direction away from established American values, policies and practices and is cause for alarm. Standing by and watching our current government lead us in this direction, won’t work. If we can imagine, or even visualize, the future our government is heading to, we are likely to want to do act.

Today many people are taking non-violent, peaceful action to protest the direction America is currently heading. What we do today will determine our future direction.

Apathy, like hope, fear, and anger won’t work. To have a country of diversity, equality and inclusiveness will require the people taking action to create it. Today.

The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.                                 John Schaar, Futurist

You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.                                                                          C.J. Jung



Posted in Democracy in Danger | 1 Comment


To Rescue The Future

 Critical thinking is the ability and willingness to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons. It is the ability to look for flaws in arguments and resist claims that have no supporting evidence. *

Could it be that what this world needs now, in addition to love, is critical thinking? Critical thinking is what we have too little of. Try this fantasy visualization: What if in America today, the president of the United States, the majority of the voters, and most of the politicians were critical thinkers? Would the future of America be different? The future doesn’t exist; it needs to be created. So our mindful future thinking will be crucial to creating a positive future. “It is going to be our minds (cultural evolution) not our genes (biological evolution) that creates or destroys our positive future.”  Peter Russell

Critical thinking is cultivated in our minds. I believe the teaching and learning of critical thinking could be a major factor in changing the direction our nation is heading. Although I am not optimistic about this belief, there is some evidence that teaching critical thinking is increasing in high schools and colleges, although probably not required. One problem with teaching critical thinking is in its definition.

Critical thinking definitions include such terms as objective, reason, skeptical, unbiased, rational, and factual evidence. The adult human mind is so full of cognitive biases and cultural indoctrination that being rational and objective is almost impossible. Some have suggested we teach critical thinking in elementary school, because children may not yet have well developed cognitive biases. But scientist believe the young brain may not be ready.

It seems obvious that today’s president, voters and politicians are not good candidates to learn critical thinking. I am aware that some voters and politicians today are already good critical thinkers. We know that many people, maybe a majority, are not happy with the direction this nation is heading. Is there some way to organize the current critical thinkers and the unhappy voters into a force to create a new future direction? Maybe a new kind of positive conspiracy?

When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: Those who make it happen. Those who let it happen. Those who wonder what happened. John M. Richardson Jr.

Other definitions:                                                                                                                    (critical thinking is a complicated mental process with several definitions)                             * includes the rationalskepticalunbiased analysis or evaluation of factual evidence.          * the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.                             * a mental process of reviewing clear, rational thoughts based on evidence to reach a             conclusion.

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Fallible Yet Enjoyable Perception

  Illusion is the first of all pleasures. Voltaire

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. Albert Einstein

Illusion is defined as an erroneous perception of reality. Seeing the sun rise or sun set isan erroneous perception of reality. So is seeing an airplane getting smaller as it flies away. These are examples of Einstein’s quote. Illusion is pleasurable because the erroneous perception is usually personally positive. An erroneous perception of reality that is personally negative is not enjoyable. But we usually believe what we want to be true, and believing is seeing. This has been the theme of most of my blogs. Because perception and illusion are so significant in today’s world of change and uncertainty, following is a review of some important thoughts about the way we see things.

  • Inattentional blindness, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The Invisible Gorilla book illustrates the illusion of attention. We experience far less of the world than we think we do. The famous selective attention gorilla test shows how easy it is to not notice what is in plain view; we see only what we pay attention to.
  • What you see is all there is, Daniel Kahneman. In his best-selling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman makes the point about intuitive thinking, that  you see only what you see; and what you see is the map of your reality. But the map is not the territory. This is an example of “holistic blindness”.
  • Positive Illusions, Shelley Taylor. She identified three common positive illusions. Unrealistically positive views of self. Exaggerated perceptions of personal control. Unrealistic optimism about the future. These are examples of unrealistic perceptions. Being realistic is being aware of things as they really are.
  • The Knowledge Illusion, Stephen Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. In their book they write: By avoiding illusion, you’re more likely to be accurate. But illusion is a pleasure. Many of us spend a significant part of our lives living in illusion quite intentionally. We fantasize to enhance our creativity.
  • Not all illusions are visual, Daniel Kahneman. There are illusions of thought, which are called cognitive illusions. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future. Errors of intuitive thought are often difficult to prevent. Biases cannot always be prevented.

 Apparently the joys of illusion will always be with us. Rational thinking requires constantly questioning our own intuitive thinking and would be impossibly tedious. However, it is easier to recognize other people’s illusions than our own.

If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion. Noam Chomsky

Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion. Arthur Koestler




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Doubt Leads To Questions — Questions Lead To Wisdom

 To be wise has changed from being able to answer the questions                                                  to being able to question the answers.   Unknown

To doubt or not to doubt; that is the question. Actually, if you don’t doubt, there is no question. The lack of questioning is not the road to wisdom. Doubt is not a four letter word, but it is not very popular. Certainty is more popular because it feels so good. Being closed-minded is clearly not being wise. Although I have written a lot about doubt, I consider this blog an urgent reminder of its importance today. Especially today.

Because doubt and wisdom are themes of this blog, this time I want to share some thoughts of others older and wiser than me.

  • Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. Voltaire
  • Doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom. George Ille
  • The surest way to lose the truth is to pretend that you already possess it.                   Gordon Allport
  • The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell
  • A belief which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief; it is a superstition. Jose Bergamin
  • The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions.                      Claude Levi-Strauss

Today, doubt is needed more than ever. Although truth-telling can’t be required, doubt has become an essential skill. The benefit of doubt is found in its consequence: an open mind. The best way to understand the advantage of open-mindedness is to think of the disadvantage of close-mindedness: a closed mind is a dead end; it has no where to go; it eliminates change. If there is no doubt, there is only certainty.

he consequence of not doubting is that it eliminates the consequences (the benefits)  of doubting. What is going on in the mind (and not going on in the mind) determines what we do. Attitudes turn into action. Beliefs become behavior. Thinking and doing are related. The ABC’s of life: Attitudes – Behavior – Consequence.

Keeping the mind open in the face of uncertainty is the single most powerful  secret of unleashing your creative potential. Michael Gelb



Posted in Wisdom | 2 Comments