Ryan Frantz
Exploring Certainty

I’ve started exploring certainty. That is, what we think we mean when we’re certain about something. What does it mean to believe we fully understand a thing? How do we assess confidence, especially when experience has shown there is always something more to learn?

Light and matter, for example, were once thought to be made up of particles. Later, light was believed to have wave-like properties. Eventually, we came to learn that light and matter can behave both as particles and waves! As theories developed, scientists tested their hypotheses and collected data that often confirmed them. Science being the process that it is, though, means that others may design further experiments whose data nullify existing hypotheses. How, then, do we develop and gauge confidence in our processes and results to effectively state that we have learned about the nature of a thing? That we know it?

Further, light may act as a wave but as soon as we attempt to observe it, it behaves as a particle! How do we reconcile that, by itself? And how does knowledge of that knowledge affect how we think about things? At other scales? Is our perception limited by our (understood) environment? As 3-dimensional beings we can’t perceive a 4th dimension, but we can extrapolate its existence from understanding the experience of a 2-dimensional being encountering us.

All this blows my mind, all the time. It also makes me curious about how we can better describe confidence in our knowledge and the boundaries beyond which our certainty gets fuzzy. I suspect attempting to clarify these epistemological properties can have a productive impact on understanding how we develop mental models and assess the complexity of our systems.