Some people are more certain of everything than I am of anything.
In the spirit of “everything is autobiographical,” this blog is a map of the ideas that matter most to me. A quick search here for “uncertainty” brought up hundreds of posts. Clearly it is a primal life theme. And that makes sense. My attraction to the Zen concept of the “don’t know mind” is a reaction to growing up in a culture that considers unwavering religious certainty the highest achievement.
From time to time I get too much of the “I’m right and here’s why” folks in my life. The antidote to that particularly toxin is to revisit the evidence that makes certainty absurd. (I have referenced many writers over the years who unmask that folly, but my most recent find is The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt. Highly recommended.)
Here are a few quotes that keep me sane, both in the studio and in my life.
Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
—John K. Galbraith
The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.
The universe rearranges itself to accommodate your picture of reality.
The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.
The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. The way real science goes is that you come up with lots of ideas, and most of them will be wrong.
Our tendency to narrate our “not knowing” in a way that confuses it with knowing. Our instinct is towards narrative in general.
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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.
The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.
—Ursula K. Le Guin
Everyone is totally just winging it, all the time.