On accepting randomness

To build upon my first post, there is a reason for not saying, “I don’t know” often. Our confidence in our abilities to predict small and big events. This confidence originates in my ability to frequently connect random events and assign meaning to them based on my emotional state. It doesn’t matter if the event is happening on the other side of the globe; if I know about it, I will attach a good/bad/ugly meaning. The more information I have, the more I learn to assign meaning. Information, Meanings (mostly wrong), and Confidence form a vicious loop and reduce our ability to say “I don’t know.” 

The habit of attaching meanings is fueled by our propensity to look back and classify events as good/bad/ugly. This is the same habit that makes us sit and classify future events as good/bad/ugly. 

Let us entertain for some time the role of randomness in every significant event of our lives. Often I assign good events to my ability and harmful to chance. I forget that the factors affecting each event are infinite. Only a few are visible to me. Let’s list down the 10-factors that affect my rank in some competition: 

  1. Right health

  2. Right family environment 

  3. Right Food and Nutrition 

  4. The right amount of fun/entertainment (luxury)

  5. Right Resources and Environment to learn be consistent

  6. Right motivation 

  7. Right peer group

  8. Right Friends (sometimes peers and friends are not the same)

  9. Right Emotional state

  10. Right ability to master curriculum 

My rank in any exam is the right combination of all these ten factors. It is like a 10-digit lock, and only one correct combination opens it. Out of the 10 digits, I can control 3-4 at maximum. I can work hard, be disciplined, use the resources well, and listen to guidance. Sometimes we dial in the correct 4 digits, and the lock does not open. That is because the remaining 6 digits can generate 1 Million combinations. Out of a million, one combination is correct. If it comes through, I succeed. Otherwise, I fail. How can I assign success to just my ability or my failure to the lack of it? 

Randomness has the most significant say in every major event of my life. For example, maybe the teachers who checked my 12th board exam papers were in an excellent mood each day, and they were generous with a few extra marks. Those different few marks led to all awards/rewards I might have received. Just by the roll of dice, those trophies/prizes could go to anyone else. 

I have no business assigning the meanings to these random events of the past and future and constantly connect them to my actions. I can assign if I want to, but reality will not move according to my meaning. Things might not dial in despite my best efforts, and that’s ok. Success and failures are random events. My efforts are necessary but not a sufficient condition for achieving success. 

Stop assigning meanings to random events in life and the world. Try saying “I Don’t Know” often.

The role of randomness in our lives and the world has been covered extensively by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto - a collection of 5 books: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, Antifragile, The Bed of Procrustes, and Skin in the Game.