“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka’ but ‘That’s funny.'” – Isaac Asimov

When Sir Alexander Fleming noticed mold destroying his bacteria cultures in 1928 he remarked “that’s funny.” He didn’t get it. By staying embracing this uncertainty he discovered the world’s first antibiotic, Penicillin.

Maintaining an open attitude to uncertainty is not just helpful for Nobel Prize-winning scientists; it benefits the rest of us too.

In one study, participants were put inside a brain scanner to sip water and Kool Aid. The pleasure centers of their brains lit up significantly more when they were not told which drink would be coming next than when they were informed in advance.

Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson have shown that a positive event like finding a silver dollar brings us more pleasure if we know less about it. Similarly, we may be more grateful for things we can’t explain than for things we understand well.

Paradoxically, participants in these studies think they would rather have more information than less. Our brains crave certainty and predictability. Today, we can use Google to resolve uncertainty about facts and can use social media to reduce uncertainty about what others are doing. We do not have to be uncertain much.

What is one area in which you could embrace uncertainty more?


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