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The ability/inability to tolerate ambiguity

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posted on Oct, 14 2009 @ 08:01 PM
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I once read in a psych textbook or somewhere similar that the inability to tolerate ambiguity is generally associated with low intelligence. Not being a psychologist myself, I can't say for sure but it seems to make some sort of intuitive sense to me.

People who cannot handle open-ended questions, who think solely in black and white, and who MUST have a "certain" answer to thorny problems "NOW" are, in my book, lacking in patience and wisdom...even if they happen to have high IQs.

The people with the ability to mull things over and "live with a question" for a while concerning any given issue strike me as the wisest and most intelligent. We live in a complex world. Complexity often defies reductionist answers and demands slow, patient, nuanced thought.

Sadly, the inability to tolerate ambiguity seems to have been on the rise in society for some time. Many people mistakenly identify simple, firm answers to complex questions as "strength." Conversely, such people have no patience for the kind of slow, detailed pondering that often results in real breakthroughs, solutions, and understanding. To them, this is "dithering" or "weakness."

Sometimes, it is true, quick and decisive answers are called for. I will not deny this. But I think more and more people are taking this to extremes, whether in terms of politics, economics, personal life, psychological issues, spirituality, science, or what have you.

Thoughts?



[edit on 10/14/09 by silent thunder]




posted on Oct, 14 2009 @ 08:35 PM
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Originally posted by silent thunder




People who cannot handle open-ended questions, who think solely in black and white, and who MUST have a "certain" answer to thorny problems "NOW" are, in my book, lacking in patience and wisdom...even if they happen to have high IQs.

I also find that to be true, people with high IQs often live in their field of endevor, try to bring them away from that field and they are lost.



The people with the ability to mull things over and "live with a question" for a while concerning any given issue strike me as the wisest and most intelligent. We live in a complex world. Complexity often defies reductionist answers and demands slow, patient, nuanced thought.

That is usually what I do, but on the other hand there are times I know the answer and when that is the case I will answer right away, if I don't know the answer I have no problem with saying I'll get back to you on that if it's alright.



Sadly, the inability to tolerate ambiguity seems to have been on the rise in society for some time. Many people mistakenly identify simple, firm answers to complex questions as "strength." Conversely, such people have no patience for the kind of slow, detailed pondering that often results in real breakthroughs, solutions, and understanding. To them, this is "dithering" or "weakness."


Agreed, we live in a society that wants everything now, maybe we change with age, I no longer want everything now, I am content to sometimes wait and see what happens.

Silent Thunder one of all time favorite words is "dithering'





[edit on 14-10-2009 by Aquarius1]



posted on Oct, 14 2009 @ 08:36 PM
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I agree with you - one thing I might add is that it is helpful to consider the "incapability" of tolerating ambiguity is just that, not necessarily "stubbornness" on the part of an individual. Many heated arguments on ATS would fizzle out a lot quicker if we recognized certain people are lacking the hardware for nuanced consideration of an issue. This is not difficult to detect. I don't find debate as pleasurable as discussion, so I rarely assert a point of view in opposition to anyone. It feels like wasted energy to me, but I enjoy reading lively, intelligent debates among others.

There is plenty of that around here, intelligent and otherwise.



posted on Oct, 14 2009 @ 08:59 PM
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Ambiguity should be avoided when a alternate/misreading of a problem is not accepted as an equivalent answer.

If your response depends upon your meaning being clear, then it is your responsibility to make sure that you specify your question in an unambiguous way.

There are certain places where ambiguity is not welcome.

When it comes down to it, ambiguity causes a lot of problems.



posted on Oct, 14 2009 @ 10:42 PM
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The ability (or otherwise) to tolerate ambiguity has little to do with intelligence. It is an emotional response to uncertainty. I would expect that a person of low so-called "intelligence" would likely miss the ambiguity altogether, and simply grasp at one of the possible meanings.

I would further argue that ambiguity is not a virtue, but a defect in many cases. It is especially a problem when precision of language or meaning is important. This happens most often in science and technology (including computer programming and IT in general). All too often, ambiguity is a result of careless thinking.

In literature, poetry, etc., ambiguity can be highly effective.

Ambiguity in reality is unavoidable. You want ambiguous, look at quantum theory. That's about as ambiguous as you get. Something that is sort of like a particle, or a bit like a wave, is perhaps here, or maybe it's there, and we have some idea that it's moving, too. Maybe. This ambiguity is a result of trying to translate mathematical results into natural language. It becomes quite confusing.

But no, I don't see intolerance of ambiguity as any sort of flaw or defect of intelligence. I see it as an emotional response that has its place, but that can be a hindrance if it is excessive. Like just about everything else in the world.




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