Doubting: The Pathway to Wisdom
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 2018
Doubting leads to a curious search for more. We often pass on learning in exchange for the security.
The narrower our view, the more vulnerable we are to deception. When firmly entrenched to unyielding dogma, we avoid open engagement with experience, limiting exposure for positive change. Our ability to help others, even ourselves, is enhanced through a sympathetic understanding of the vast universe of different experience.
To Gain Wisdom , We Must Doubt
Philosopher Rene Descartes stated it this way, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Doubt precedes search.
To gain wisdom, we first must be open to other possibilities. When we entertain the possibilities of mysterious answers, we experience vulnerability; but the openness invites curiosity, spurring a courageous venture into the scary pastures beyond the confining fences of dogmatism.
Our ability to help others, even ourselves, is enhanced through a sympathetic understanding of the vast universe of different experience.
We Want Surety
Our minds naturally flow towards conservation of energy. We budget resources. Mental activity requires work, wearing the mind. Thinking saps precious resources; we budget by utilizing firm beliefs to relieve the pressure of grappling with the constant collision with complex alternatives. Many entice us, preying on our natural tendencies of simple-mindedness, delivering limiting doctrine and condemning skeptical examination. Believe or be dammed.
Complexity and Doubt
They teach, “If it feels good, it must be right.” The simplicity is attractive but fails to provide necessary guidance in the complex world of choice. The “feel good” approach creates conflict; different people feel different things. When we quickly bond with whatever is comforting, we easily go astray. Marketers wisely target comfort instead of reality. First impressions become impervious to reason.
We are afraid of complexity because the uncertainty creates discomfort. Maybe this is what Nietzsche was suggesting when he said, “Madness is the result not of uncertainty but of certainty.”
Faith and Doubt
Religions praise the righteousness of faith. I agree, faith is important. We do many things on faith with out a surety of knowledge—often out of necessity.
But faith has some problems. First and foremost is faith is acting without sure knowledge which inherently implies the possibility of ill placed faith. We love when people faithfully follow what we believe. Yet, we want them to doubt if they believe contrary to our ideology.
What we should have faith in and what we should doubt is very subjective. Perhaps, this is why Descartes suggests that "at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
Accepting Our Ignorance
Our intellectual smugness limits wisdom. It is men, such as Socrates, who claim ignorance that truly exhibit wisdom. When entertaining doubt, we remain open to more learning. Uncertainty doesn’t imply stagnation. Doubting and uncertainty are uncomfortable, lacking the stability of pure knowledge; but through them we learn.
As Bertrand Russell wrote, “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are so confident while the intelligent are full of doubt.” I love this. We, however, tend to throw our confidence at those that claim omnificence. We find security in those that pretend to possess more knowledge than humanly possible with the limited capacity of their human brain. We bock at those that say, "I don't know," or change their opinion.
We trust our dentist, we trust advertisements, we trust our political party. We forget that they all have human tendencies that sway their beliefs—often not for our benefit. We should doubt a little more. Doubting may motivate a little more honesty from others. Instead of blindly marching to proclamations, we can demand facts from legitimate sources. The Narcissists of the world prefer to discredit all avenues of learning. They don't want doubt, nor do they want to beholden to the truth.
We must allow curiosity, skepticism and doubt. These are healthy characteristics. Accepted truths may not be truths at all. Doubting coupled with a gentle temperament and sympathetic listening lifts us from the deep ruts of cultural and family errors. We can move forward without critical judgments. We widen our view and detect many of the silly deceptions that we accepted for most of our lives.
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