Cunning of Uncertainty
Uncertainty is interwoven into human existence. It is a powerful incentive in the search for knowledge and an inherent component of scientific research. We have developed many ways of coping with uncertainty, ranging from making promises and managing risks to predictions about the future - the ultimate reservoir of lifes uncertainty. The key question for us today is whether our societies, instead of being stifled by uncertainty, can learn to embrace it and become more open towards an evolving future.
In this new book, Helga Nowotny shows how research can thrive at the cusp of uncertainty, eventually transforming it into - always provisional - certainties. Uncertainty is never completely static - it is constantly evolving. It encompasses long time scales and, on the level of human experience, also very short ones. Decisions over life and death may be taken at the blink of the eye, while human interactions with the natural environment may reveal their impact only in geological time scales. Such is the cunning of uncertainty: it appears at unexpected moments, it shuns the straight line, takes the oblique route and occasionally the unexpected short-cut. The more willing we are to acknowledge the cunning of uncertainty, the less threatened we will feel by it and the more inclined we will be to accept that any form of scientific inquiry may produce results that are provisional and uncertain. This is not a message that is easy to impress on politicians and policy-makers, for whom small short-term gains tend to trump long-term but uncertain high-gain opportunities.
Wide-ranging in its use of examples and enriched by the authors experience as President of the European Research Council, one of the worlds largest organizations for scientific research, The Cunning of Uncertainty will be a must-read for students and scholars in all disciplines, politicians, policy-makers and anyone concerned with the fundamental role of knowledge and science in our societies today.