Some people are more certain of everything than I am of anything.
–Robert Rubin, In an Uncertain World
Susan Cain used this quote at the start of one of her chapters in the very engaging Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I am loving this book for so many reasons, but this quote captures a primal distinction that becomes starkly evident whenever I spend time in Utah. Because of its religious history, this is a place full of people who embrace certainty with extraordinary zeal. That is not necessarily a criticism so much as it is an issue of temperament, a concept Cain also spends time delineating in her book.
We went clamming today in Duxbury. Walking out on the beds in the morning light, we have to go with guesswork about where to rake and dig. But that is part of what I love—finding those treasure troves of bivalves quite by accident. Living outside the predictable is delicious.
A few thinkers agree with me.
What we overlook is that underneath the ground of our beliefs, opinions, and concepts is a boundless sea of uncertainty. The concepts we cling to are like tiny boats tossed about in the middle of the vast ocean. We stand on our beliefs and ideas thinking they’re solid, but in fact, they (and we) are on shifting seas.
I always work out of uncertainty but when a painting’s finished it becomes a fixed idea, apparently a final statement. In time though, uncertainty returns… your thought process goes on.
An image is a stop the mind makes between uncertainties.
The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.
–Ursula K. Le Guin
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