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Can You Live Without Certainty? December 28, 2009

Posted by jetson in Personal.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I was reading a forum discussion here, and was struck by a message posted by forum member Deus ex Machina, regarding certainty and uncertainty. He was responding to another forum member about a link to this site, where the website author makes some interesting assertions.

This is an excerpt from the discussion that inspired me to quote part of it, and to write this particular blog, written by Deus ex Machina:

I understand that people would like there to be some sort of overarching purpose. That they’d like to have certainty, that they’d like to be able to say “look, we know that this is true/false/right/wrong and it’s all settled”. Some people crave certainty. But truth be told, the Universe doesn’t seem particularly keen on providing any such certainty, or evidence of deities, divine purpose or design, absolute truths, moral laws – or, for that matter, the true underlying nature of physical reality. Uncertainty is one of those things we have to live with; and much as it may be comforting to fill those uncertainties with notions of divine purpose, to believe that there’s really a Big Picture™, believing in them doesn’t make them true – and latching onto a particular belief and then asserting that others must believe the same as you do (or they’re somehow less human, less deserving of life, doomed to suffer some terrible fate, etc. etc.) is positively dangerous.

Deus ex Machina put things in words that are hard to make better, or more clear. Why is it that some humans cling so tightly to certain beliefs? Why is uncertainty, a plain and simple fact of life, so frightening, or so unpalatable? Well, I’m a human, so dare me to take my own guesses!

As a human, I actually do crave some level of certainty. As I was growing up, that craving has been shed to some extent, and possibly turned in different directions, or towards things that replaced my childhood views. Most humans go from what we describe as “immature” to “mature” in their thinking. Obviously, maturity in thinking is very subjective, but for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to say that immature thinking is thinking that begins to be based not on evidence, but on beliefs, faith, or any other form of thinking that one must accept, apparently without much consideration. But I also know that uncertainty, while scary to think about at times, is far more certain!

We just do not know the future. We have no way of moving beyond a specific moment to see what will happen to us next. The known laws of the universe do not allow something to go beyond time, or to disconnect itself from time. This is where phrases like “life is precious” come from. We have no way of knowing that the engine from a 747 won’t fall from the sky and land on our car, killing us instantly. We can say with very high probability that it will never happen, but we can’t know for sure. So we live on, as though our lives will follow some path of certainty – which makes us happier, I think.

Of course, some humans get very unsettled thinking that there is any certainty at all – it seems they prefer to “live on the edge”, “take chances”, “just do it”, and so on. These people may introduce a little more uncertainty in their lives by doing things that are less predictable. And so it is, all humans go about their daily lives with a certain amount of certainty – none of which they can depend on 100%. But that works for most of us.

If humans put too much focus on uncertainty, there would be too much fear and anxiety for people to accomplish anything. What if we could not find a single human willing to man the rocket that landed on the moon? If ever there was uncertainty, that was it! But those men knew they would be successful, not from arrogance or wishful thinking, or pure bravery (some would call it stupidity!), but from the knowledge and confidence that all of the mechanics, engineering, math, and technology were carefully measured, tested and re-tested so that as much of the uncertainty of the flight plan was eliminated. And so it is with everything we humans do in order to mature and grow, as individuals and as groups.

However, if we put too much focus on certainty, how can we grow as individuals, or as societies? How do we get beyond some of the superstitions and beliefs that support bigotry and hatred towards other humans? If it is not clear by now, make no mistake, humans will NEVER come to an agreement on things such as gods, religions, or religious beliefs. We are more divided on that single issue than any other as far as I have seen. There is little reason to think that will change at all. I think the best hope is to put religions and their ideologies back into the churches and homes of those who feel they need it, and keep it out of societal laws and sciences that seek to learn using logic, reason, clear thinking, and proper methodologies that do not discriminate at all. Science will always correct itself – religion NEVER will.

So, live with a certain amount of certainty, but never make the mistake of thinking that you have some absolute truth or knowledge that is indisputable. No god, no scientist, no human can make such a claim – isn’t that quite certain!




1. zebulonthered - December 28, 2009

Just last night I was reading something from Keith Blackwell. He touched on the whole uncertainty thing with out pulling any punches, and with a bit of humor. “Frightened Bunnies!”… Good stuff.
I have seen many people unable to deal realistically with life because of its uncertainty. It is sad to see them hide under the paper mache rock of their faith, pretending that it somehow makes a difference in the end.

jetson - December 28, 2009

Nice! That was a refreshing read, and an excellent point of view. Imagine if all humans followed those guidelines!

Here is a link : Zen Atheism

zebulonthered - December 28, 2009

Wouldn’t that be something!

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