Narratives Enable Us to Act Decisively in Conditions of Uncertainty

Far from being deceptive, narratives in fact are an important tool in our decision-making processes. Narratives help us make decisions in which probability judgments are not feasible due to uncertainty. We use metaphor, analogy, and other linguistic tools to better understand and make sense of a situation, and to make what is abstract more concrete. It helps us answer the question of "what is going on here?" We need narratives to help us make sense of facts—even (or perhaps especially) when we there is quantitative or mathematical data available.

But, it is dangerous to think that one narrative can be applied universally. Rather, our reference narratives must undergo continual revision as we ingest new information. People often want an overarching grand narrative that they can apply to any complex situation, but domains of radical uncertainty are both non-stationary and complex. They themselves are in constant flux, and may change in response to the narratives we create about them.

Narratives mean more than just stories; narratives include models other tools for thought that suppose fictional agents acting under hypothetical conditions.

To effectively make sense of a situation, a narrative must be both credible and coherent.


Related

Citations

Kay, John, and Mervyn King. Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers. New York, NY: WW Norton, 2020.


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