“I hope that the experiences of 2020 left you with an attitude not of fearfulness but of confidence. Confidence that we can tackle hard problems, and that hiding from them is rarely the best course. That given a careful examination of the available facts and a thoughtful calculation of relative risks, we can overcome even the biggest obstacles and be the masters of our fates and our futures.
As school started again at her campus, the provost of the University of Kansas sent a message to her students and colleagues that is relevant far beyond the present day or the recent pandemic. “In times of high anxiety,” she wrote, “it is human nature to crave certainty for the safety it provides. The problem with craving certainty is that it is a false hope; it is a craving that can never fully be met.” She quoted the astronomer Carl Sagan: “The history of science teaches us that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes … with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us.”
Maybe the great historian Jacques Barzun summed it up best: “The last degree of caution is cowardice.”
Certainty is an illusion. Perfect safety is a mirage. Zero is always unattainable, except in the case of absolute zero where, as you remember, all motion and life itself stop.”