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9 June 2015 / erikduval

The irony of certainty

Most of us (I think) feel more comfortable when things are clear and certain. In science, of course we know that very few things are really certain: we use statistics to reason with uncertainty and visualisations to try and understand uncertainty (box plots!). Certainly in science, reducing uncertainty is a Good Thing.

So, it is somewhat ironic that, in an interview I did recently about my Round 1 experience, I said

Als ik herval, zal ik weten dat ik niet genezen ben. Dat is het enige moment waarop ik zeker zal zijn.
If I relapse, I will know for certain that I am not cured. That is the only moment that I will be certain.
Screenshot 2015-06-09 11.42.03
I guess I’m certain now. But I’m working on getting back to uncertainty: I’m at the hospital, waiting for my second dose of Copanlisib, the experimental smart drug that should get me there… Then the title of the interview will be really accurate: “Erik Duval after Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma”!


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  1. JoB / Jun 10 2015 7:50 am

    I don’t know whether I heard this or just imagine I heard this but in an awful experiment 2 animals were exposed to electric current. One regularly, predictably and the other irregularly, unpredictably. The first one learned to cope, the second died of stress. (I hope I just imagined I heard this, it is bad enough as a thought experiment let alone somebody would actually do such stuff in reality!). Just to say I think it’s not so much certainty/uncertainty but predictability/unpredictability that’s the killer. Both are related but not one-to-one, you can’t create a narrative on unpredictability; your mind is literally stuck on it.

    Go Copanlisib!

  2. erikduval / Jun 10 2015 9:35 am

    I think I once read of a similar study, Jo. Like you, I sort of hope I imagined it, for the same reasons. Sounds right to me that unpredictability can be more difficult to cope with. But it can also be the thing that makes life more … interesting …

  3. JoB / Jun 10 2015 1:18 pm

    Somehow I believe uncertainty makes life interesting (makes life life in fact – life is full of probability but probability is also full of life) but unpredictable is, I think, a bitch. The way I understand unpredictable is that you can’t even calculate the odds, you’re at the mercy of. Probably just splitting semantic hairs.

    It’s a good thing we both hope we imagine people being able to conduct such study. Some things are evident: being at the whim of somebody else is stressful. So I’m happy you’re in good hands.

  4. SimonBuckinghamShum (@sbuckshum) / Jun 19 2015 4:33 am

    Erik, sending you warm positive Australian vibes (even though it’s winter here). You’re in my thoughts regularly.

    I wonder if it is possible to thrive despite, or even through, uncertainty? Is it possible to relish it, or is that some other species than human, with which we’ve yet to have a close encounter? Methinks it is only when one paints a very big canvas within which to locate one’s life that this would be possible. Moving into the realms of spirituality, humanistic or otherwise.


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