The Uncertainty Mindset 2019-2020

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#1: Varieties of the unknown

Vaughn Tan4th January 2021 at 11:26am

This issue is the first one! It's about a deep-seated problem with how most of us think about action and causation: we routinely mistake true uncertainty for risk. (For more on this, see risk vs. uncertainty.)

I distinguish between the uncertainty mindset (which assumes that situations cannot be fully understood in advance) and the risk mindset (which assumes that they can). Risk mindset is appropriate only in truly risky situations—and those turn out to be vanishingly rare.

There are at least three sources of true uncertainty:

  1. Unknown-ness from emergent interactions of calculable unknowns.
  2. Unknown-ness from insufficiently precise knowledge about calculable unknowns.
  3. Unknown-ness from entirely unanticipated outcomes.

What should we do when we’re exposed to other forms of unknown-ness? The three non-risk varieties of unknown-ness above are only the tip of the iceberg in an increasingly complex, interconnected, and interdependent world. Thinking about unknown-ness forces us to attend to the different varieties of unknown-ness that exist—and consider new ways to plan for and respond to them.

You can find it here: #1: Varieties of the unknown