The Challenge of Uncertainty

I think to varying degrees, many of us have been taught the challenge is to arrive at a firm opinion or belief.  And, of course, it helps if that’s also a true belief.

At times, it seems as if we think the human mind somehow finds it difficult to harbor a conviction.  Yet, after seven or eight years of reading debates and discussions posted on popular internet forums,  I suspect most of us might be too certain of our beliefs and opinions.

That is, it does not seem we humans have as much of a problem being certain as we have a problem being uncertain.

At the root of this problem I think is the human desire for permanence.  That desire manifests itself in many ways, but one way seems to be how it manifests itself as a fetish for convictions.  I think the sense is, if our beliefs last, so do we.

It might be that the real challenge is — not to have a firm opinion or belief — but to be open to learning something new.

20 thoughts on “The Challenge of Uncertainty

  1. Are you acquainted with (the poet) Keats’ concept of Negative Capability? It sounds very much like what you’re talking about here: the capacity to live comfortably with doubt and uncertainty and apparent contradiction.

  2. I like what Michael said.

    I am ‘guilty’ of uncertainty. There are damned few absolutes in this world and contradictions abound and that’s okay. I try to keep my mind open to new ideas and concepts. Frankly, I don’t trust anyone who is too sure that he/she is right or sees the world in black and white with no gray areas,

  3. Love the phrase “fetish for convictions.” I’ll treasure that one for a while. You know how I feel, embracing uncertainty the pathway to love. In “The Wisdom of Uncertainty,” American Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts provides a wonderfully eloquent explanation for why “belief” (and particularly the certain belief that is the cornerstone of religion) is actually the opposite of a life of faith (‘pistis’ or “trust”). Belief is too often the insistence on putting “God” in a manageable and predictable package with certain values and actions, or manifesting within a particular cultural or historical framework – which never actually works because “God” is much to big for any our containers to hold. Faith is letting go of the need for this illusion of certainty, says Watts, and it is the key to unlock ourselves from the images to which we are attached. I agree with him.

    • Thanks for the kind words. I completely agree that embracing uncertainty is the pathway to love — if there is a pathway at all. About that, I’m uncertain. I often think of love as pretty much like a breeze. It cannot be brought about by any means available to us. It comes and goes of it’s own accord. Yet, we can open the windows and doors to it by embracing uncertainty, so that — if and when it arises — it is not prevented from coming in.

  4. Having gone from a pretty black and white worldview to one of uncertainty about…well…pretty much everything I have no choice but to keep an open mind now. I’m embracing the uncertainty even though I’m afraid of it.

  5. I’ve always been amazed at the sneering both theists and atheists vent on agnostics. You would think that an atheist, at least, would be able to see the value in the perspective “I’m not convinced a human being is capable of assessing whether or not there is a ‘spiritual’ aspect to existence.” Good grief, we can only perceive a very narrow range of the EM spectrum and we’re supposed to be able to draw absolute conclusions about the universe?

    But agnostics regularly get excoriated as cowards who can’t make up their minds, or bashed as atheist camp-followers by the other side. I do love the story about Bertrand Russell telling a friendly jailer (he had been banged up for civil disobedience) that he was an agnostic and being told gravely “Well, however many religions there are I suppose we all worship the same God.”

  6. I think my perspective is a little different from yours as expressed here? I don’t believe in objective reality. I do however believe in subjective truths. Uncertainty is, to my mind, a marker that whatever I’m considering doesn’t ‘sit’ right with me. Uncertainty drives me towards that which does ‘sit’ right. I do not know if that road has an end. But I am certain that uncertainty makes me feel like I’m making progress.

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  8. I don’t dare sneer at agnostics. To do so is hypocritical and I am many things but I try hard not to be that. My dear departed Daddy’s favorite quote from the Bible was “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Those words haunt me and help keep me from shooting off my mouth too much about others’ choices/beliefs.

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