Varying probabilities for events to happen, and ranges of error in human reasoned judgements, make outcomes uncertain. In science, all critical conditions must be fulfilled for certainty, presupposing exact and demonstrable knowledge of causes.
Uncertainty and unpredictability have become significant factors in international economic relations. It is often uncertainty, together with insecurity, that engenders international conflict.
The 'uncertainty principle' or 'principle of indeterminacy' discovered by W Heisenberg states that the position and velocity of an object cannot be measured accurately at the same time. Only for the exceedingly small masses of atoms and subatomic particles does the product of the uncertainties become significant for research purposes. Nevertheless, for practical purposes the uncertain coordinate of velocity with position for the atom does not prevent its splitting to release nuclear energy. The uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics has nothing to do with knowledge or action on the human level. However insofar as this principle illustrates the meaninglessness in nature of a concept of theoretical exact simultaneous knowledge of object position and location, it raises epistemological questions as to the basis for action which also were discussed by Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers. Chief amongst these are the idealists who fall into solipsistic and other subjectivist errors of divorcing philosophy from life with the view that all knowledge is uncertain, therefore the only logical action is to think and refrain from action, or more logically, to refrain from acting and thinking. The problem can perhaps be restated. Knowledge is certain in terms of its eventuality. Complete knowledge is unachievable. The level of knowledge must be determined that is appropriate to specific actions. For example, relief operations need not be delayed until a count of casualties is made; and justice need not require all the evidence, only a sufficiency. There are also signs which may not be certain but are indicative: for example, when dark clouds gather rain is expected; or when a country militarizes aggression may be anticipated. Thus action may be based on uncertain but probable knowledge; reasonable certainty.
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a collaboration between UIA and Mankind 2000, started in 1972. It is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems with which humanity is confronted, as well as the challenges such problems pose to concept formation, values and development strategies. Problems included are those identified in international periodicals but especially in the documents of some 60,000 international non-profit organizations, profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations.
The Encyclopedia includes problems which such groups choose to perceive and act upon, whether or not their existence is denied by others claiming greater expertise. Indeed such claims and counter-claims figure in many of the problem descriptions in order to reflect the often paralyzing dynamics of international debate. In the light of the interdependence demonstrated among world problems in every sector, emphasis is placed on the need for approaches which are sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and rival worldviews that undermine collective initiative towards a promising future.
Non-profit, apolitical, independent, and non-governmental in nature, the UIA has been a pioneer in the research, monitoring and provision of information on international organizations, international associations and their global challenges since 1907.