SOCIETY & CULTURE
In this essay, I will set out to explain and communicate the theoretical and practical exploration of what Uncertaintism might be and what defines it and what its implications are in the world. I will also provide a rather individual perspective on this topic through the idea of living an uncertaintist way of life, as opposed to providing a large-scale understanding of Uncertaintism. Although as a group we have only scuffed the surface, I will try to further this Ism by introducing theoretical ideas that may be of inspiration for this Ism. And lastly, I will attempt to provide an analysis of the role of Uncertaintism in Society and Design in the 21st century.
The roots of this Ism begins with an incoherent mixture of ideas that included repetition, equal valueness of everything and more importantly self-doubt, which lead to our temporary name of ‘Meta-repetitionism’.
In essence before undertaking any experiments or tests, the ideological beginning revolved around finding ways in which we could use repetition to create ‘Existential Doubt (Uncertainty)’ or the opposite ‘Existential Certainty’.
- Stare at any given colour for 1 minute against a white wall
- Remove colour and stare at the white wall
- See visual illusion
- Repeat with other participants
At every turn of each person the same effect happens, the first participant sees a pink/purple colour on the white wall where the green colour was after it was removed.
The first participant retells the effect and the experience, she feels a little confused about how this is happening and creates doubt about her own perceptive senses. In turn, this also creates on the other participants, who are listening to her, some initial questioning and disbelieve. However, once everyone participates, they all perceive the same effect and speak about it in a similar manner. In this case, doubt is turn into certainty by the collective agreement of the event, and what was initially uncertain disappears.
What is interesting about this experiment is the influence of the first participant on the rest of the others, Doubt (uncertainty)was distributed very quickly by communication and the use of language, although the experience may seem uncertain, there is definitely the notion that only thing that you are certain about is that you are experiencing such experience.
What would have happened if the first participant lied or created another reality different to what she was seeing then communicating this to the others, investigating this space is very interesting and will be explored further in this essay.
“We are not certain of what to do we do but this is kind of, almost, nearly it.” The only certainty is that we are uncertain.
Uncertaintism in the real world
We all have seen a magician perform a magic trick, such as choosing the exact card you picked even though he never saw doing it, making doves fly out from his hat to even making disappear an elephant from the stage. In the book Certainty of uncertainty Von Foerster states that we associate magicians with mechanical things false bottoms, tricks, optical illusions, however, he says magic is actually not about this at all but instead it is more about creating an atmosphere, in which something unbelievable, something unexpected could happen, something nobody has ever seen. The magician creates a level of uncertainty when he creates an atmosphere that allows for this to happen. There are clear elements about the structure of this situation, the magician is in control of the situation, there is an element of certainty in the sense that the magician knows very well what he is doing that is achieved by the way a magician is certain of what he is doing. Yet the output of his performance creates an environment of uncertainty about what is going to happen in any given magic trick. Of course, this type of uncertainty is created with the goal of entertaining the audience.
On the opposite side to magicians when comedians perform they use a particular technique to embrace uncertainty, this is called spontaneity. Spontaneity is a by-product of the struggle between our opposing tendencies of control and impulse. This gives them the ability to turn common unexpected and boring topics into ones that are funny and interesting. Moreover, comedians are able to take risks when they perform and most often this pays off with a huge reaction from the audience. Comedians deal with uncertainty by being spontaneous and taking risks when they perform. From a different perspective, it is a different way of approaching and creating a situation that does not rely on control but by being spontaneous.
Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle
In the world of small particles, uncertainty is at the heart of quantum mechanics. As opposed to the classical deterministic understanding of the world where there was a strong belief that if you measure all particles in the universe with enough accuracy at any point in time, you would be able to predict its motions in the future, and for that matter also in the past. This leads again to a deterministic world, and world of certainty.
However, Heisenberg argued one couldn’t measure with absolute certainty properties of any given particle, because of the interaction between the measurer and the particle being measured causes an unavoidable uncertainty in the result.
Hypernormalisation- Adam Curtis
In his latest film, Adam Curtis puts together a narrative about what is happening in the world at a bigger scale, and how those with power see uncertainty and risk as a threatening and dangerous condition to the economic structure of the world. Politics is seen as an unreliable way of governing a country and the whole world where Capitalism operates and dominates the socio-economic relations of every one of us. However, uncertainty is also being used as a form of social control. What it is being seen in today’s world according to Adam Curtis is a different kind of politics, a political agenda governed by financial powerhouses. In addition to this, a new type of social control that undermines people perceptions of the world is emerging. Politicians of our time, tell stories that are confusing and contradictory, it is a non-linear world where individuals like George Osborne tell us the economy is growing but at the same time wages are going down, that he is cutting the deficit but then it is revealed the deficit is going up. As individuals, we become more powerless to understand what is going on, because we leave in a state of confusion and uncertainty, with the end goal of normalizing social activity and keeping it in one state that is more predictable and deterministic.
“On a superficial level, at least part of the western world seems to have entered a phase in which uncertainty as an enduring feature of life is losing the allure of being mainly the carrier of opportunities. As the collective mood swings, not for the first time uncertainty becomes associated with the threat.” e.g economic crisis (2008)
The Cunning of uncertainty -Helga Nowotony 2016
The manipulative nature of uncertainty
In any of the cases above and many others, uncertainty is used as a way to manipulate a space and the people within it. Magicians, comedians, politicians all create an environment of uncertainty through which they can manipulate the audience, this manipulation, of course, has different endpoints. It is for this reason that Uncertaintism is a real hot topic of our time. How we operate within this framework will be crucial to how we respond to unexpected uncertain situations of the future.
Uncertaintism as a lifestyle – the uncertaintist
So how do we explore or bring out an uncertain nature or behaviour from each individual and what could this imply if acted upon the real world? This is one of the foundational questions about this ideology. Does the uncertaintist have to become an individual who operates as the manipulator of situations in an already uncertain world? And what would his end goal be, would it be to his own advantage and the manipulation of existing structures in the world.
An uncertaintist doesn’t just read the news from one single newspaper, he reads the same news from lots of different newspapers, additionally he notices the language that newspapers use and sees that the words should, would, could, might, possibly, maybe, probably, likely, come up frequently, and words such as fear, terror, shock, alert also do. He also notices that most articles don’t really have a conclusion and leaves him with more questions.
The uncertaintist coffee drinker doesn’t just ask by saying: “ I’d like a Venti Vanilla latte, two extra shots, wet, with whipped cream and caramel dressing, extra hot. Instead he is not really sure of what he wants to get, he wants to ask questions to find out what his best choice could be from all the different options that he could choose from.
Barry Schwartz in the book the paradox of choice describes the negative impacts of having too much choice available to us. ‘As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our own consumer culture, the autonomy, control and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates.’ It is for this reason the uncertain individual does not allow the environment to take control of his choices nor he goes in a shop to get something specific. He embraces uncertainty and the notion of multiple-choice availability; this does not come at the cost of his person but at the cost of the consumer outlets because it is certain that most if not all of the consumer outlets would want to get as many sales as possible at every point in time.
Manipulating Uncertaintism by embedding it and living it.
In The Cunning of uncertainty- Helga Nowotony states: ‘The interplay between overcoming uncertainty and striving for certainty underpins the wish to know in order to be able to influence the present and the future.
It is rooted in the deep-seated desire for security, the material, technological and social protection necessary for survival, comfort and well-being. The individual uncertaintist rejects this statement because he already has identified that the world he lives in is an uncertain world. He does have a wish to know, in order to influence the present but not the future; he rejects any desire that he may have for security necessary for survival, or comfort.
To develop on this framework as a group we intervened and identified sites where people feel uncertain and used uncertainty as a way to disrupt routines and consume time. We amplified the uncertainty in our behaviour and consumed 5.5 hrs. of time across 12 sites which included Primark, Joy, Specsavers, Sainsbury’s, Starbucks, Ladbrokes and Subway.
By making these interventions we got a lot of information and feedback about the uncertain individual taking action in these environments. Making the transition between seeking an element of certainty in life to seeking uncertainty is not as easy as it may be seen, the uncertaintist has to function in a space where his behaviour might be looked at or be questioned. Yet there seem to be two different ways of acting in the environment, the first is being uncertain in a passive way that shows that you are not really sure what you want and being indecisive and confused by the choices you want to make. The other is becoming uncertain in an active way that shows that you are not sure what you want to get but shows that you are ready to make a decision once you have the answers that you need. The differences between these two modes are more vividly shown in the way the uncertaintist uses verbal language and body language. At many points in the interventions, we tended to move into a passive uncertaintist, because of the inexperience of the territory we were exploring we allowed the environment to take control. At other points in time, the active role took over.
One intervention required us to go into Sainsbury’s supermarket, the plan was to spend a lot of time choosing any given item just because of wanting to know which is best for you, We wanted to take many items to the check out and ask questions about each product to the sales assistant, eventually deciding to just buy one product or none at all. At one stage we spent looking at frozen items and trying to choose one item while the whole fridge was open. Normally customers look at the items with the fridge closed. The prices for each product on sale are also inside the fridge. However, there are different implications and outcomes from simply doing acts such as this, items might defrost and therefore might go to waste, the temperature in the whole supermarket might come down, sales assistant might approach you with a different state of mind. How a uncertaintist responds to the feedback he receives from the environment he is acting in is very crucial to creating a lifestyle and a persona that fully embodies uncertainties.
To conclude, uncertainty as an ideology and a movement is still at its very early discovery beginnings, there are many things that I feel that we could still develop, given more time. How to really become or make the transition from certainty-seeking individuals to uncertainty-seeking ones is one important if not the most important part of this Ism, there is a need to describe more precisely the framework around our manifesto, as I see it very open. Creating a lifestyle and tools that other individuals can use to operate in the everyday is what I would have liked to do, as this would help create a different kind of response to a very saturated, mechanical seeking future. I would have like to expand more on this topic and how changing to an uncertain mode of person could affect new emerging technology such as the Internet of things where its whole basis is to create complete automation.