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Rationality In Times Of Uncertainty

Process information wisely, follow discretion and keep love alive

Life can become very uncertain, sometimes. Especially, the world that we are living in has an enormous potential to change whatever we believe about it. We live in a time when information flow is so vast and so free that it can, with ease, influence, cloud and modify our judgment.

What are beliefs anyway? What we think or know to be true based on experience or transfer of information becomes a belief. Of course, no one can personally experience everything out there and hence, the kind of information that we expose ourselves to becomes a crucial influence on our beliefs.

How we think in a particular situation has a lot do with the kind of beliefs we hold and the kind of experiences we have had. Today, technology has made it possible to access authentic information at the tips of our fingers. I consider that as a great boon.

This enablement of information access acts as a double-edged sword — while we have access to authentic information, we also have a huge number of sources that provide the same information but, in many cases, in different versions.

That’s why the use of technology has to be coupled with a sense of judgment using which we can discern (between fakes and authentics).

We are constantly exposed to electronic, print and social media. Anything that happens in any part of the world no longer remains local to that particular region — it spreads; as knowledge. What happens in one country can have social, political and economic impact on any other part of the world (or on the whole world). Thus, events as well as information have truly become global in terms of impact. Just like the scale of events has widened, so has the uncertainty that couples them.

Today, when multilateralism is apparently declining, when the political landscape of the world seems to be retrograding and when we talk about tariffs, bans and walls for movement of things, ideas and people across international boundaries, unpredictable and uncertain natural (and man-made) events remind us what globalization truly means. All the great progress that we have made over millions of years and all that we believe to know about the Universe is questioned by nature, every once in a while— sometimes in ways unfathomable.

The recent outbreak of COVID-19 across the world stands as an example. There is an unrealistic amount of information that can be accessed about a virus that has shocked the world economy and has deviously claimed close to 9000 lives, as I write this. At present, we don’t know how long will this last, we don’t know how much more it can potentially spread and we don’t know what kind of impact it will have on the world when it ends.

Yes, we have models and we predict. Models like SEIR have been applied in some countries recently to classify populations based on their susceptibility and possible exposure to the virus. Surely, these are great mathematical tools and they help us plan and organize our defense better but we need to do more. Over the years if we have learned anything, it is this — our models are not perfect, our understanding of nature is flawed.

Hence, in these uncertain times, we should and we must rely on a few things — our discretion, our ability to discern and love. What good is rationality if it is not used when uncertainty and doubt loom large? We must look at each piece of information with a skeptical and objective lens and decide in a rational way if we need to believe in it.

As I said, technology has not only brought quality but also a large quantity of information to us and obviously we need to identify truth from misinformation. Otherwise, our ability to discern will be hampered — and it will lead to the formation of false beliefs.

And that’s why, we must shield our minds with rationality and common sense when we expose ourselves to information that is available, unending and relentless. But, is rationality an end in itself? Is being rational a guarantee to right beliefs, right action, and right mindset? What if uncertain times force us to act irrationally? What if a circumstantial brain clouded by fear still takes irrational stances and forms wrong beliefs?

In order to answer all such questions, we must understand that a rational mind needs a touch of tenderness to overcome feelings that it doesn’t control. Fear and panic arising out of circumstances are examples. And that tenderness comes out of love. When we love and when we are loved, it strengthens our ability to be rational even in times of peril. It gives us a feeling of security.

Though, in normal circumstances, many of us tend to perform well even in the absence of security but — uncertain times call for unusual norms. People who believe in our ability and people who love us protect our rational bent of mind.

When we talk about love, we need to understand a more humanitarian connotation of the word and of the feeling. Universal caregiving. Love, as has been shown innumerable times in the past, transcends the boundaries of home, states, nations, and common understanding.

Yes, we love people close to us but in uncertain and abnormal times, not only do we need to extend our rationality to others who are unable to discern, we also need to care for those reeling in doubt and misinformation — at the same time we need to take care of ourselves by observing regulations (and common sense) sincerely.

In the Vedic tradition, the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutambakam has been propagated for a long time. It envisions the world as one family. Although today, we are far away from actualizing that age-old concept, if we really think about it, it seems too narrow for rationality to recognize invisible (or visible) boundaries especially when the global circumstances change in unison due to uncertainty, unseen and unpredictable events.

And when such events do not recognize boundaries (never have), isn’t it time for us to ask ourselves this question — aren’t the only rational actions the ones that are aimed at global good and that transcend boundaries? Food for thought.

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