One significant takeaway from history is that things do not always happen the way we predict them. Who could have known that the assassination of one political figure would eventually lead to a world war? Or that years after a deep financial collapse, we would have to face the dawn of another economic crisis? Or even the outbreak of a pandemic amidst the 21st century?
Today, vast amounts of data and information are being used to try to prevent all kinds of unexpected events which are caused, among other things, by the interconnectedness, interdependence and decentralisation of current societies. On top of that, imagine the side effects of a high volume of unprocessed information. Maybe more uncertainty? It starts to sound like a cliché hearing that “we live in an uncertain world”.
That caught me off guard
Ironically, one thing might be certain: estimating is not among the top human skills. Let’s face it, we go under many biases when it comes to prediction and estimation, especially when an unexpected event occurs, like the birth of a “black swan”, a metaphor that gave title to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s masterpiece on the highly improbable.
According to Taleb, a Black Swan event “is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility”. Secondly, he continues, “it carries an extreme ‘impact.’” And thirdly, “in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”
We are silently acknowledging our struggle with prediction and control, yet sometimes we act as though we were the opposite. In his 2016 documentary, Adam Curtis explored this phenomenon known as Hypernormalisation, a term coined by Alexei Yurchak, defined by the attitude where some governing entities gave up the complexity and fragility and escaped to a sometimes absolutely fake version of the world, accepting it as normal.
What would happen if the neo-liberal world was undergoing to the same fate than its nemesis? “Everyone in the Soviet Union knew the system was failing, but no one could imagine an alternative to the status quo, and politicians and citizens alike were resigned to maintaining the pretense of a functioning society”, as Yurchak puts it.
Evading from complexity and entering in a fake version of reality has a great deal to do with the feeling of uncertainty, affecting the millions of humans on earth. Hypernormalisation can be understood as a way to cope with the fragile, vulnerable and highly improbable, it is somehow a form of Faith. Other phenomenons, such as Prophetisation and Wisdom, as they emanate from several interpretations of sacred writings, have also been useful tools to cope with the advent of Black Swans.
The Catalan philosopher Joan-Carles Mèlich argues about the idea of blind faith in these writings. In his book La Sabiduría de lo Incierto (‘The Wisdom of the Uncertain’), he states that “facing God’s Silence, there’s uncertainty” which explains the obedience to a sacred writing drives its representatives to abide the reality of the Absolute, and they “don’t doubt, don’t question themselves. Instead, they move on without uncertainty until they reach their goal”. As Mèlich clarifies, “it’s like a dream from which you can’t wake up and therefore ignore its nature of dream.”
Traditionally, these ideals were deducted from the interpretations of a holy book, a backup of God’s words in your hands, which adepts kept in their homes as a precious gift. But today these interpretations can also be found in the digital space. In a time where practices like Mindfulness have become very popular, some movements based on fundamentalist interpretations of sacred writings are trying to gain adepts on social media or votes on elections.
Moreover, they have started to coexist with Astrology apps, Social Media profiles influenced by aesthetics of mysticism and neo-sorcery, while eastern economies have been increasingly molded by spiritual tourism, and new age spirituality and crystals have fueled protests from advocates of rational scientific thinking. Is the coexistence of faith and rational thought really doomed?
However, few spiritual practices seem to have a clear answer on how to cope with confusion. Let’s consider, for example, an ancient binary code for divination, the Taoist “Book of Changes” or the “I Ching”. About his Philosopher and Author Will Buckingham suggests that “the ‘I Ching’ repeatedly prompts me to go beyond false certainties and to create new and unexpected possibilities.” In this way, he says, “divination might not be the enemy of rational thought but could be a means to its fuller flourishing.”
Basically, the ‘I Ching’ encourages us to multiply uncertainties. It happens to be by nature what Futurists like Amy Webb are doing. She suggests that, in order to cope with uncertainty, we should propose a set of uncertainties by using tools such as “the axes of uncertainties” for setting scenarios, something rather popular in strategic planning for rational milieus like corporate environments.
In contrast to that, faith means by (rational) definition taking some things for certain, to make an absolute truth out of a granted belief. It’s the perfect balsamic for a stressful feeling such as uncertainty because it relieves the confusion and it gives a continuous feeling of peace, of no-worry of the unexpected, a tool to face the next Black Swan.
The option to retreat from fragility in fake worlds drives us to live in the hypernormalised world, facing the option to embrace the uncertain world, but that couldn’t necessarily mean we ought to abandon feelings of faith. That’s why we want to open our debate on the following questions: to embrace uncertainty, could faith be a means to fuller flourishing of rational thought? Could such feeling still be the first step before drawing different futures?