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Instead of certainty, let scepticism be our guide

Published on 20 November 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

The scope of the uncertainly in which we are living is growing exponentially. When it comes to handling this new reality, we can no longer think in terms of certainties; we need to move to thinking in terms of probabilities and adapt accordingly.  According to Diplo’s resident contrarian, Aldo Matteucci, speaking at Diplo’s conference in Innovation in Diplomacy this week in Malta, adaptive diplomacy is an attitude, an attitude that views uncertainty as a source of opportunity that can be explored creatively.

Matteucci took us through three types of mindsets as history has evolved. From measuring social reality to measuring physical reality (cause and effect) to the last phase from the 1950s onwards which he describes as the deductive approach.  He talked of putting scepticism at the centre of what we do (with due caution, obviously); of processes and technology being servants of knowledge; and the fact that we don’t have been to believers to change our mindset. Speaking of the new sciences – complexity, consciousness, social reality, and evolution, he wondered whether we have the language needed to deal with this new emerging world and whether we are able to deal with the lack of certainty it affords.

How can we ensure that diplomats are open to, and can bear the discomfort resulting from the world being so uncertain? What is the solution for future generations of diplomats? Facing uncertainty is something not everybody can tolerate or deal with effectively. This new understanding of ourselves have led us to realise that our experiences are transformative. We love narratives of self-affirmation, have bounded rationality, are highly situational, and are socially creative.

During his presentation, Matteucci mentioned some books worth reading on the subject. These are just two (reviews taken from Amazon.com)

In The Geography of Thought, Eminent psychologist Richard Nisbett boldly takes on the presumptions of evolutionary psychology in a provocative, powerfully engaging exploration of the divergent ways Eastern and Western societies see and understand the world. When Richard Nisbett showed an animated underwater scene to his American students, they zeroed in on a big fish swimming among smaller fish. Japanese subjects, on the other hand, made observations about the background environment. These different ‘seeings’ are a clue to profound underlying cognitive differences between Westerners and East Asians. For, as Nisbett demonstrates, people think about and see the world differently because of differing ecologies, social structures, philosophies, and educational systems that date back to ancient Greece and China and that have survived into the modern world.

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow gives deep – and sometimes frightening – insight about what goes on inside our heads: the psychological basis for reactions, judgments, recognition, choices, conclusions, and much more. 

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