Friday, June 08, 2012

Uncertainty

There can be little doubt that the classical scientific paradigm has provided “the means for systematically acting on the world, for predicting and modifying the course of natural processes, for conceiving devices that can harness and exploit the forces and mate- rial resources of nature” (Prigogine & Stengers, 1984, p. 37). That being the case, it would be naïve to suggest that science has been a purely empirical endeavor devoted solely to the pursuit of knowledge. The human power drive, to have dominion over the natural world, is also at play here. 

Thomas Kuhn (1996, p. 42) pointed out that scientific paradigms imply a specific set of rules or assumptions to which the paradigm is committed and must appropriately respond. In this respect, the classical scientific paradigm both supports and is a natural out- growth of its cultural context, one that assumes that order must be inherent to the natural world because only through order can humankind fulfill its manifest destiny, which, following Genesis I, 28, is to “subdue...and have dominion over...the earth.” Indeed, biblical scholar Lyman Abbott commented that 

the secret of all modern science is in the first chapter of Genesis. Belief in the dominion of spirit over matter, of mind over nature, of man over the physical and the animal creation, was essential to the possession of that dominion. (as cited in Hertz, 1961, p. 5) 

Given this basic cultural assumption, it follows that “to bend phenomena to human needs, natural processes must be reduced in complexity and simplified into predictable, lawlike behavior” (Kellert, 1993, p. 154). And, indeed, the classical model has been enormously successful in this respect to the extent that we have become dangerously inflated in the pride of our own accomplishment. Not only have we come to accept that we can dominate and bend the natural world to our will but also that it is our responsibility to do so.

 - from: The Impermanence Of Being: Toward A Psychology Of Uncertainty Kerry Gordon, Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2003 43: 96

MH - One of the greatest challenges I believe we currently face right now as a society is this: How do we handle uncertainty in an age of access to so much information and upheaval? Contrary to our perhaps most closely held beliefs, we are no nearer "knowing" the world than we were hundreds of years ago. And frankly, this is the where artistic endeavor helps to mediate the anxiety of "not-knowing". I believe this is where my artistic practice is situated.

 Here are a couple of links to important discussions about uncertainty:

The Impermanence Of Being: Toward A Psychology Of Uncertainty, Kerry Gordon, 2003

Education and the Art of Uncertainty, Richard B. Gunderman, MD, PhD

Stephan Lewandowsky's recent post "Uncertainty is not your friend" where he attempts to use a statistical analysis of possible futures to argue that where there is uncertainty the outcome can only be worse than you imagine.

 Judith Curry's multiple posts about uncertainty:

First, a discussion of Stephan Lewandowsky's posts here. And her original article "Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster" a link to her post as the article went to press is here, and a link to the article here.

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