The Dangers of Being CertainBy Royce Carlson
In this incredibly complex and chaotic world we have a strong innate desire
to be sure of things. We want a rock to hold onto in the sea of
incomprehensible forces that move us. Because of this fear of uncertainty we
create belief systems that put the world in order so we can feel comfortable.
We become sure of our beliefs. This tendency is limiting at best and dangerous
First of all, we already come into the world with a limited capacity to
perceive what is going on around us. Our eyes only take in a small part of the
spectrum of light. Our ears hear a limited range of sound and our other senses
are limited as well. Add to this the limitation of language and culture.
As we grow, we begin to think in words. Our spoken language limits what can
be thought about and how it can be thought about. Thereís an old adage about
how Eskimos have a hundred different words for snow. They can think about snow
in much greater differentiation because they have more words for it. If there
are no words to describe something, we canít think about it very easily. In
addition, as we assimilate the culture we are raised in, we begin to structure
our perception of the world in accordance with the norms of our particular
culture to the exclusion of other ways of thinking. If you are sick, for
example, it is totally normal to think about seeing a doctor. This is not true
from other cultural perspectives. In some cultures it would be totally normal
to seek out a shaman to exorcise the spirits that are making you sick.
Given that we are experiencing the world through the filters of limited
sensory input, the limited potential of our native language, and the limited
perspective of our native culture, it is amazing that we believe we can think
about the world objectively let alone be sure of anything. But this is what we
want Ė to be certain.
Certainty helps us become passionate. It helps us get wound up to right
injustices or try to convert people to our beliefs. The problem is, we have
incomplete information, maybe even wrong information. And, to top it all off,
we get irate if our tenuous belief systems are challenged.
When we adopt belief systems, they become structures through which we
experience the world. Events and experiences that fit the belief system are
used to reinforce it and experiences that contradict or are outside of the
belief system are either ignored or denied. This makes the belief system
self-reinforcing to the detriment of knowledge and reality. If, for some
reason, a person is bombarded with information and experiences that contradict
their beliefs, this usually creates a crisis. The attachment to beliefs can be
so strong that when a person understands that their beliefs are limited or
wrong, they can have nervous breakdowns or even commit suicide.
We cannot help but try to make sense of our experiences. Our brains are
built to create world views that work for us. This is what humans do. If our
desire to know the truth and expand our range of experience is strong enough,
we must come up with something. How can we create a belief system that is
flexible and corresponds with the greatest diversity of phenomena?
My answer is to embrace uncertainty. The world is a vast mystery, full of
amazing complexity and wondrous phenomena. Why not celebrate it? Adopt a belief
system that works for you but donít hold on too tightly. Accept that you may
be wrong. Make your beliefs preferences rather than necessities. Whenever you
experience something that does not fit your world view, drop your world view,
not the experience. It is only in this way can you truly open yourself to more
of what is really going on out there instead of what you think is going on.
Avoid the dangers of being certain by becoming comfortable with uncertainty,
complexity, and the apparent chaos in which we swim.
You can reprint articles on the Zenzibar web site for free.
I am happy to help provide content for
your publication as long as I get credit.
To use an article in a print
publication you must credit the author and Zenzibar Alternative
Culture as the source, and include the web site address.
To republish a Zenzibar article on
your web site you must credit the author and Zenzibar Alternative
Culture as the source and include a clickable link to Zenzibar at http://zenzibar.com Please tell
me if you are going to
reprint an article by e-mailing me
and mentioning the name of the article and where and when it will be
To link to the article on
Zenzibar's site you can do a text link without any restrictions (you
don't even have to tell me, but it would be nice to know).
If you want to use the image
associated with the article you are welcome to use it as long as you
don't change it or use it in any way other than to link to the article
at Zenzibar. Also, please tell me if you are going to use the graphic. If you have any questions, please