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Our Brains Do Not Like Uncertainty

Discover why our brains do not like uncertainty.
© CQUniversity 2021

Beau Lotto is a professor of Neuroscience at University of London. In this Big Think video from 2017 he explains how we humans have evolved to do nearly anything to avoid uncertainty.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Our brains do not like uncertainty. It can make us worry, anxious, and very stressed. We therefore use assumptions to guide our daily lives. Assumptions help us to reduce uncertainties.

We assume certain things will happen, or that certain things will lead to certain outcomes. We assume that the world will work the same way it did yesterday. This is why we like routines but, as we learnt in a previous step, routines are not good for creativity.

When we avoid uncertainty in our daily lives we often end up having what is called confirmation bias, the idea that we try to actively look for evidence of things that we assume to be true (whether or not this is the case).

Lotto says that because of this, the brain can only take small steps and these steps are within your space of possibilities. This ‘space’ is then determined by what you know, your experiences, and your attitude. Our brain can only use the knowledge that exists within itself.

If you have never traveled and have very little knowledge about the world, your ‘space’ will be smaller than someone who has traveled the world and acquired great knowledge about lots of different cultures and people. This is why very creative people often have many different interests and are very curious about the world. It can be argued that it is this curiosity that enables creativity.

When we are creative, we can only take small steps within our space of possibilities. It may appear to someone from the outside that the creative person is linking things that are far apart, in some kind of giant leap of their imagination. However, for the person being creative, it is not a giant leap. Instead, they have different assumptions and fewer biases compared to other people (potentially because of interdisciplinary experience, travel, varied experiences, etc).

Some things that we can take from Lotto’s insights are that if we want to be more creative or foster creativity in others, we should encourage:

  • Identifying our own biases and assumptions
  • Keeping an open mind and a sense of curiosity about the world around us
  • Continuing to learn and educate others

This is the path to creating a larger space of possibilities and thus being more creative.

Let’s talk

What are some ways you can think of to expand your space of possibilities? How may you be able to help others to do the same?

© CQUniversity 2021
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