The Uncertainty Principle and Dead Reckoning

Stephen Tobolowsky talks at great length about the “uncertainty principle.” As  rough quote: “Certainty, like doritos, is best in small doses.” I couldn’t agree more.

The difficulty is that when you are staring down the barrel of untold of changes and life seems to change every day, literally moving 90 degrees to the left one minute, followed by 90 degrees to the right. The rapid changes make for an exhausting emotional rollercoaster of change. It’s not so much that we want certainty as much as all our expectations have been completely flummoxed.

Greek has a term for this: paradox. That is, when something happens that is contrary to our expectations. The problem is that the subconscious does not know what to do with confusion, and so often we may act out in anger, frustration, go on a bender, or pick up an extreme sport. It’s not so much the matter of encountering transcendence that is the motivation for so much of our bad behavior in the face of confusion, it’s rather wanting to make that encounter on our own terms. Rather, we can also choose to embrace confusion, to allow ourselves not to get angry, to not act out of our misguided need to control things.

The choice to make a more positive response lies in two factors that I can see.

First, we have to get change our mindset. What we see as a 90 degree shift may actually be only a five degree movement if we zoom out a bit. It’s not that everything has changed, it’s that there are some adjustments to be made. When we think the adjustments are too large

Second, we have to practice a mindful attitude of dead reckoning. Dead reckoning is a naval term that means that you determine where you are going to be within the next hour with 95% accuracy, and the next 24 hours with perhaps 75-80% accuracy. That is to say, you will likely be right about what will happen on your drive home from work, but you will not expect the very possible car accident that you will be in. You may imagine that tomorrow you will be going to work just as you are now, but you might have a lot less clarity or control over all the other factors 24 hours from now. You recognize that you have a good guess as to what will happen, you have some ability to predict the future, but it’s only a probability, never a sure bet.

What this does is it frees the subconscious from having to ask the question of “what if?” of having to have a need for certainty that cripples us from living and taking risks and becoming flexible to the million and one changes that can take place between now and one week from now.

Today, we got some interesting news. Nothing bad or good (nothing wrong with our health and no deaths in the family), just interesting news. We have a pretty good idea of what will happen in the next hour: we might get a particular email or we might not. We have an even less clear idea of what will happen in 24 hours. Beyond that, we are not engaging that part of the future, because there is so much going on now here in the next hour and 24 hours. Moving beyond what dead reckoning can tell us is only a recipe for predicting what may never have reason to come to pass. For me, I will remain tranquil.




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