Tag Archives: uncertainty

Edward Gibbon

Mr. Buffon, from our disregard of the possibility of death within the four-and-twenty hours, concludes that a chance which falls below or rises above ten thousand to one will never affect the hopes or fears of a reasonable man. The fact is true, but our courage is the effect of thoughtlessness, rather than of reflection. If a public lottery were drawn for the choice of an immediate victim, and if our name were inscribed on one of the ten thousand tickets, should we be perfectly easy?

Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writings, London, 1796

Holden Karnofsky

[P]eople who rely heavily on sequence thinking often seem to have inferior understanding of subjects they aren’t familiar with, and to ask naive questions, but as their familiarity increases they eventually reach greater depth of understanding; by contrast, cluster-thinking-reliant people often have reasonable beliefs even when knowing little about a topic, but don’t improve nearly as much with more study.

Holden Karnofsky, ‘Sequence Thinking vs. Cluster Thinking’, The GiveWell Blog, June 10, 2014

Timothy Wilson, David Centerbar, Deborah Kermer & Daniel Gilbert

The benefit of knowledge is that it makes the world more predictable, but the cost is that a predictable world sometimes seems less delicious, less exciting, less poignant.

Timothy Wilson, David Centerbar, Deborah Kermer & Daniel Gilbert, ‘The Pleasures of Uncertainty: Prolonging Positive Moods in Ways People Do Not Anticipate’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 88, no. 1 (2005), p. 5

Brian Weatherson

Once we acknowledge the risk/uncertainty distinction, it is natural to think that our default state is uncertainty. Getting to a position where we can legitimately treat a proposition as risky is a cognitive achievement. Traditional indifference principles fail because they trivialise this achievement.

Brian Weatherson, ‘Should We Respond to Evil with Indifference?’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 70, no. 3 (May, 2005), p. 624

John Broome

Global warming is disconcerting in one respect. It seems inevitable that its consequences will be large, just because of the unprecedented size and speed of the temperature changes. Yet it is very hard to know just what these large consequences will be.

John Broome, Counting the Cost of Global Warming: A Report to the Economic and Social Research Council on Research, Cambridge, 1992, p. 9

Samuel Johnson

Life is not long, and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation how it shall be spent; deliberation, which those who begin it by prudence, and continue it with subtilty, must, after long expence of thought, conclude by chance. To prefer one future mode of life to another, upon just reasons, requires faculties which it has not pleased our Creator to give us.

Samuel Johnson, in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, London, 1791, vol. 1, p. 282