Risk is the direct result of a random event which has a well-defined and measurable outcome. The chance of an effect – whether it’s tomorrow’s forecast, a card game, or successfully climbing Mount Everest – can be determined by using either the practical observance of past events, or former patterns of behavior when theoretical models are not available or reliable. Uncertainty is more intricate than risk: Whereas risk can be observed and quantified, uncertainty cannot. And it applies to situations in which the world is not well charted.
Twenty-eight years ago, after years of dreaming and months of training, I booked an overnight journey from Long Island, NY to the fringes of the North Atlantic abyss. The purpose was to dive on the famed Andrea Doria – the Italian luxury liner that rests 200-feet deep on her wounded starboard side, greatly beneath the 130-foot limit of recreational diving. I recall wrestling my arms into the harness of a set of double tanks along with multiple tanks of gas and regulators, lift bags, reels, and instrument consoles…all to spend 25 minutes averaging 200 feet and decompressing for 65 minutes at several stopping points along the oceans dank icebox layer.
The risks of the dive were never-ending and included: Disorientation, entanglement, hopeless visibility, formidable currents, hypercapnia, and death. The uncertainties were visible, but unlike the risks, were subtly vague and better recognized upon reflection. What risk(s) would potentially develop if my confidence bordering on arrogance suddenly broke down or, trusting in my logical assessment of my limitations and belief in my decision-making abilities, fully aware that divers of superior skill have possessed those same beliefs and still perished?