When all the sciences come together around the theme of UNCERTAINTY

© 2021 EPFL

© 2021 EPFL

The College of Humanities is launching a new project: “THEMA”. The idea is to explore a given concept for one year in a spirit of transdisciplinarity, through a range of events directed towards the EPFL community as well as a broader public. For the first round, the concept of “uncertainty” was selected.

Why uncertainty?
First of all because this word has invaded our vocabulary and infested our conversations. Since the beginning of the pandemic, it has become impossible to plan even the most minor activity (“real” and judged “non-essential”) without adding “if all goes well,” “to be confirmed,” or “depending on the public-health situation”. Our social, professional, and academic lives have become conditioned by a virus whose mutation or eventual disappearance no one can anticipate. Uncertainty has come to the fore, forcing us to live in an alarming present and to mistrust anything in the future tense.

Uncertainty at the heart of science
Another reason for our choice is that uncertainty plays a special role in scientific research. On the one hand, it is a motor: we ask the sciences to reduce the realm of uncertainty and increase the realm of understanding. On the other hand, uncertainty is part of scientific production: knowing requires not-knowing. Moreover, if scientists were certain to attain unquestionable truths, there would quite simply be no history of science! The sciences cannot advance without questioning their theories and interrogating regularly their limits when confronted by complex reality.

A timeless philosophical concept
Yet the world’s uncertainty is not a new reality. It is a fact with which our species has always contended, with more or less calm and agility. That is the third reason for the selection of this concept for the first THEMA of the CDH: one cannot reflect up uncertainty and the nebula of concepts ranging from doute to truth, without summoning the aid of the social and human sciences. Of what can one be certain? Can a science attain unquestionable truths? What makes uncertainty so difficult to accept?...These questions are timeless. But 2021 offers us undoubtedly (perhaps certainly) the opportunity to come to terms with them together, blending all sciences and all capacities. The goal? Better understand, grasp, and embrace uncertainty.

Different events on the program
The exploration of uncertainty will continue over the course of the year through transdisciplinary events that are intended for the students of EPFL and in some cases for the general public:

  • A Philosophy Hour: A Zoom encounter between members of the EPFL community and a professor of philosophy. The first round of this Philosophy Hour, intended to continue on a monthly basis, will be held on February 24 and will focus on the lived experience of uncertainty.
  • A podcast intended for all audiences: scientists at EPFL confide on the place of uncertainty and certainty in their trajectory and in their area of current research. (To be released in March 2021)
  • An improvisation workshop, intended for students who are curious to discover this performing art, which offers tools to learn to advance despite, with, and by virtue of uncertainty.
  • A writing workshop during which roughly twenty students will have the priviledge of working on a text on the theme of uncertainty, guided by six professional writers. (Coming soon)
  • The creation of video games: for students in the framework of the international colloquium of GameLab, which will cover the theme, among others, “randomness and uncertainty in gaming.” (Autumn 2021)
  • A series of conferences and roundtables with internationally renowned scientists and philosophers. For all audiences. (Autumn 2021)