We express our character through observable action. The nooks and crannies, the polished and rough, are on display for the world to see. Others look and judge by the actions we take. We work, we love, we hate, we give, and we hurt. These outward actions are measurable elements, easily compared and contrasted with others. Actions are essential to well-being (see Five Basics of Well-being; Building Blocks of Choice). We shouldn’t feast on positive mindsets while starving for positive action; but there is more to a person than the value of their actions; something beyond description, existing in the mind, and (metaphorically) in the heart—I call this the undefined. Peace comes to those that accept the undefined and flourish while living with the uncertainty.
In their brightly bleached lab coats, scientist and doctors scurry around the laboratory and medical offices frantically measuring regions of the brain for activity, jumping at meager morsels of understanding to grasp the undefined measures of life. Scientific discoveries are enlightening, opening new realities, and creating better methods of healing. Even with modern technology, vivid brain scans, detecting chemical movement and neuronal communication, we still only have a small glimpse into the vast universe. The liveliness of our existence remains relatively undefined. We live in a vast realm of uncertainty.
Living with Uncertainty and Freewill
Innate drives, shaped by experience, leap to life. The neurons communicate unnoticed without invading equipment but express themselves through motivations, emotions, consciousness, and behaviors. Somewhere in the twisted axons and neural synapses is born self-confidence, security, and self-esteem pushing connections and inspiring hate. Does this make me good or evil? How does freewill exist within this framework? The answers remain—the undefined. We must live with the uncertainty.
Science will continue to provide expanding insights into the fabulous functions of the brain; but the knowledge has become too technical for the ordinary human. How does the activity of our brain help us survive divorce, courageously compete for gainful employment, break devastating addictions or endure suffering from cancer?
We live in the richness of existence regardless of what is defined and what is remains undefined. We must walk through daily existence with liveliness, full of emotions, and healthy connections. Presumably, we will understand more about life at sixty than we did at twenty. But the twenty-year-old is tasked with making choices that have greater impacts on their futures—education, marriage, and careers.
Making Decisions in Uncertainty
Unknowns will always challenge us. Perhaps many unknowns will shift with new discoveries, answering stubborn questions from the past. However, with new knowledge also comes new questions. Within the realm of partial knowledge, we must act. Immanuel Kant wrote, “Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.”
The well-lived life needs knowledge. We must hunger after knowledge, gathering facts and data. However, our actions must respect the infinite, understanding our humble limitations. Francis Bacon is correct, “Knowledge is power.” He wasn’t calling for complete knowledge—for completeness is impossible.
Reid Hastie and Robyn Dawes wrote in their comprehensive research in uncertainty and decision making that, “people who attempt to grasp the totality of situations in order to predict or control exactly what will happen seldom fare as well as those who seek the more modest goal of living with the uncertainty…” (2009, location 3888).
Basically, expecting to gather all the details before making a choice, impacts are ability to act. We wait and become frustrated.
Great Thinkers all Come to the Same Conclusion
- “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” ~Thomas Sowell
- “The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.” ~Benjamin Franklin
- “To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.” ~Nicolaus Copernicus
- “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge.” Daniel J. Boorstin
- “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” Socrates
Embrace the Uncertainty
So, go ahead, embrace the unknown, live with the uncertainty. Our undefined center is the obstacle; accepting it is the answer. We must live within the burden of ignorance but flourish with the gift of partial knowledge. We gather the fragments available, organize our lives into action, and trudge forward into the darkness, where we find happiness, fear, joys. This is the experience of the undefined life. This is living with uncertainty. And consequently, this is the life we live.
Hastie, R., Dawes, R.M. (2009). Rational Choice in an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making. SAGE Publications, Inc; Second edition.