The Power of Uncertainty Synopsis:
A Case for the Liberal Arts
The new book by Dr. John Loase, The Power of Uncertainty – A Case for the Liberal Arts, demonstrates the positive effects of recognizing and appreciating the illumination we could experience in recognizing and admitting uncertainty in all human endeavors. This valuable new book illuminates uncertainty in many areas, including a variety of mathematical and scientific ideas and extends to the recognition of the human advantage implicit in questioning our certitude regarding, for example, our religious beliefs (or total non-beliefs), the dangerousness of our many prejudices and convictions concerning free will or the capacity for redemption or progress of those “other” human beings or nations that we often conclude are so really “different” from ourselves. The richness of his examples and arguments inevitably leads to a discussion of the meaning, power and all-encompassing humanity of philosophy, literature, film, as well as all the arts, because respecting and understanding the expressions of all mankind truly unfastens the binding chains of our often unchallenged assurances and prejudices. (Louis Rotando) – Sunbury Press
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BOOK REVIEW by Tony Ziemek
Chapter One of The Power of Uncertainty is headed by a Bertrand Russell quotation:
The whole problem is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts.
But before that is Chapter Zero, containing a short quiz called the Uncertainty Quotient Test. I scored 50 out of a possible maximum of 75, which is probably a ‘B-‘. The purpose of the test is to demonstrate that where we may believe that certainty exists, uncertainty abounds. The author’s ‘mission’ (his word) is to create further uncertainty to the benefit of the reader’s humanity.
It is a slim volume but wide-ranging and rich with ideas across pure mathematics, science, statistics, psychology, linguistics and the liberal arts. Aimed, I think at the educated general reader or student, it effectively challenges preconceptions that many hold, even specialists in some areas of study.
Doctor Loase, wrote The Power of Uncertainty whilst on a sabbatical from Concordia College, NY and (for this general reader at least) displays a depth of understanding of his subject matter without being in thrall to the shibboleths of any particular discipline. Certainly in my experience, many of the best practitioners of academic disciplines are modest in their claims and understand the limitations of their specialisation. Throughout my reading, some lines from W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming kept chiming in my memory:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And yet we generally respond well to clear statements. As voters, investors and employees we appear to like strong assertions that are easily digested so that we can move on with our complex lives, knowing that we have leaders who can handle the boring and difficult stuff. Hence, the media stream of slogans, sound-bites, simplified stories and messages. Perhaps this reflects a comforting need for quick assimilation and simplicity that helps us navigate a world of rapid, mass communication that is far removed from the slow, small communities that we have always inhabited, apart from the last century or so.
Similarly, parents often state that they want their children to be confident. At worst, this becomes the passion of the talent show competitor who “can do this!” despite any apparent talent.
The trick is to be able to identify uncertainty and the limitation of knowledge. It is fine to be confident in stating those limitations but we need to be wary of the dogmatists and ‘the false paradise of uncertainty’.
To counteract this, the author’s declared bias is that the liberal arts are capable of ‘a universal potential for positive transformation’. They give us ‘vital tools for self-examination, reflection, and continuous growth.’ This directly contradicts our general bias towards more vocational learning, understandable in a world of high student debt and limited employment opportunities for graduates. The purpose of the arts is to ‘incrementally help us to develop a sense of meaning and purpose’ and this can lead to Doctor Loase’s ‘sigfluence’. This coinage is a way of summarising an essential human need for ‘significant, long-term positive influence’. He has researched and written extensively on this subject and it can be further explored at http://sigfluence.com.
Put in more clichéd terms, it is well understood that if people feel they are ‘making a difference’ in their careers and personal lives, they are generally happier. No doubt this can be seen as idealistic and removed from the economic realities that most people face. However, as an arts graduate and a commercial and finance specialist, I understand and appreciate the argument. Bluntly, the arts help you to think and to better understand people and we can never get enough of that.
Now, does 1+1=2? Discuss.
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~ Tony Ziemek is the lead editor of Ed Fresh Editorial Services.
Author Information: John Loase serves as Professor and Chair of Mathematics at Concordia College-NY. He earned the only doctorate Columbia University Teachers College has ever awarded in mathematics (mentor Dr. Bruce Vogeli) and Psychology (mentor the late Dr. Richard Wolf). John is equally at home in Mathematics or the Arts. His eighth book, The Sigfluence Generation: Our Young People’s Potential to Transform America, won a Silver Medal in the Benjamin Franklin National Contest and is free at sigfluence.com. John directed the National Science Foundation sponsored initiative Mathematical Modeling from 1992-1996. His text Statistical Modeling with SPSS was an outgrowth of this NSF grant and has been accepted for 2015 publication by COMAP – the world leader in Mathematical Modeling. The Power of Uncertainty was written for us to add a healthy dose of uncertainty to myriad dimensions of our lives.
* Receiving this ebook from the author did not impact the expression of honest opinions in the review above.Updated
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