Learning and Uncertainty
Narrowing of Thought from Convictions of Rightness
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2018 (edit January 17, 2022)
We gain knowledge by wandering in uncertainty. Firm convictions of rightness blind us to the wealth of information available, narrowing our wisdom, and blinding our vision.
The older I get, the more settled I become with uncertainty. Living in morass of complexity, we only grasp a sliver of available knowledge. The vulnerability of the unknown frightens the courageous and confounds the ignorant. Many in a wild chase to create stability where none exist boil down life to a meager selection of right and wrong, missing out on the richness of life, and limiting knowledge to the existing and confining biases that currently rule their mind.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
When I observe the recent workings of the government—Congress, Supreme Court, and especially the White House—I shudder that so many ignorant men (and women) appear blind to their own tribal biases. “The democrats,” the republican scoff; “the Republicans,” the democrats jeer, once aligned with their political perspective, the elected official gives way to anger and self-righteousness, bolstering their conviction of their rightness and the other’s wrongness. Ambiguity and compromise are out of the question. Instead of intelligent discussions, we hear the same hollow dogma.
“I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.”
We resolve our fear by splitting complex issues into simplified and opposing parts, and then align with one while rejecting the other. The splitting and rejecting gives the comfort of certainty where certainty doesn’t exist. While comforted in the ignorance, we sacrifice wisdom, and invite the hate of self-righteous indignation, robbing issues of complexity, richness and vitality. The splitting halts learning and prevents resolutions (Burgo, 2012).
Learning, gaining knowledge, only emerges from uncertainty. Learning reduces ambivalence, filling in the gaps. In the process, we must tolerate the uncertainty to allow ideas to germinate. With a careful balance of search and acceptance, we move forward without simpleminded acceptance, or constant doubt. (Claxton, 1999, Pg. 6)
People that claim to have absolute certainty are dangerous. The certainty gives rise to dogmatism and fanaticism, demanding blind acceptance. These mindsets invite violence. Upon righteous convictions, many ills have stained mother earth. We see the blatant acts of the fools in our own country. These claims to certainty don't allow for any political deviation from the narrow-minded view without igniting hatred, spawning threatening letters, and violent confrontations.
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
Commitment and Uncertainty
We can be committed to a cause without certainty. Rollo May states, “commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubts, but in spite of doubts” (May, 1994). Commitment to a cause while still able to entertain doubts and listen to opposing arguments isn’t a contradiction. Our willingness to listen shows respect for the complexity of truth. Other morals remain active and can intervene when we see the harm of our cause. Lies by the leaders still appear as lies instead of contested with foolish arguments.
Come join me in the pools of uncertainty and open your minds for more than the same worn out arguments expected to be received without skepticism. Those whose views differ may not be as stupid as we think, to be dismissed as unenlightened, for hidden in their thoughts may be knowledge we refuse to see.
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Burgo, J. (2012). Why Do I Do That?: Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives. New Rise Press. Kindle Edition
Claxton, G. (1999). Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less. Ecco. Kindle Edition
May, R. (1994) The Courage to Create. W. W. Norton & Company; Revised ed. edition (March 17, 1994). Kindle Edition.