The only certainty is uncertainty

“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know.
There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know.
But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.”

The longer I am in graduate school, the more I feel that you need to be extremely comfortable with high levels of uncertainty in order to be happy in this life. Research itself is, after all, an attempt to move from a place of uncertainty into a place of more and different uncertainties. Contrary to popular belief (and much undergraduate coursework), science is not really about collecting and expanding a body of facts, but expanding the number of things we can ask questions about. In Stuart Firestein’s recent book, “Ignorance” (reviewed here and recommended reading for scientist and non-scientist alike), the author suggests that doing science is a lot like looking for a black cat in a dark room, where there often turns out to be no cat at all. Although you might have a good idea of the outcome of an experiment, you don’t know what the end result will be. And of course, unexpected results can lead you to new questions that you didn’t even think you were asking.


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