Narratives are how we deal with uncertainty

People act in the face of uncertainty constantly. Arguably most of our actions look more like Knightian Uncertainty than situations with a finite number of outcomes that could or do have probabilities associated with them. If we needed to do an expected value or risk calculation for everything we would be utterly paralyzed. This does in fact happen to people — I’ve been overwhelmed to the point of inaction with the multiplicatively cascading possibilities for what I could do and the resulting potential outcomes. At this very moment I could be writing this, or I could be sending an email, or I could be sipping coffee, or lying on the floor with my eyes closed, or going for a walk, or calling a friend…

One could imagine navigating this uncertainty like Two Face from the Batman universe, flipping a coin at every decision point. You could also imagine finding the best approximation to a risk curve for everything you do and doing a back-of-the-envelope expected value calculation. Most of us don’t do either of these things, and yet we manage to act through the uncertainty pretty well.

Heuristics are narratives.

. Instead, we act based on the stories we tell ourselves.

By definition, you can’t deal with uncertainty through number-based frameworks like probabilistic risk analyses.

However, we act through uncertainty all the time by telling stories that collapse the space either to tractable risks or just a raw narrative. One response to this might be to frustratedly throw your hands in the air and say “so the only thing we can do is to make shit up?” There may be more powerful ways of constructing narratives. What role does scenario planning have in technological program design?

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