Comparing (un)known (un)knowns

I am a big fan of figures that show how various ideas relate to each other.

I use the “2×2 of goods” to explain how water should be managed by economic or social/political means.

I have set out how social sciences relate to each other and how underlying “truth” changes as you move from sciences to humanities. I summarised that difference in this post:

The humanities (language, history, philosophy) illustrate the diversity of human existence just as the sciences (biology, physics, etc.) illustrate our similarities. This explains how scientists can collaborate and agree on the “big picture” while failing to see the point of humanities studies that don’t seem to draw any conclusions (and sometimes seem locked in eternal battles over the “right” element drawn from a pile of subjective perspectives)

…and now I am back with a new figure that maps risk and uncertainty into a 2×2 that overlaps with objective (science) and subjective (humanities) views:

The reason for this figure, as with all my figures, is to highlight how “we” are often talking past each other when we make comments based on unstated assumptions.

Thus: “This cake is good” (lower left) is not the same as “this cake is fresh” (upper left), “this cake uses a secret recipe” (upper right) or “I’m not sure if we’re gonna get cake out of the oven” (lower right).

My one-handed suggestion is that every discussions and debate begin by establishing how each participant “sees” the topic at hand (subjective/objective? humanities/social science/science, etc.), as that reduces confusion related to mismatched baselines.


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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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