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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Uncertainty is back

My new theory.

The search for certainty is an illness. Or, rather, acceptance of uncertainty is health.

The other day I listened to Carlo Rovelli and Philip Pullman in conversation and this issue came up. Pullman talked about John Keats' concept of 'negative capability' - that one can be in a place of uncertainty without the irritable grasping for fact and reason. Rovelli said that he cannot speak in front of an audience unless he has gone out and kissed a tree. The tree makes him feel calm. He said he is a complete rationalist, scientist, materialist and atheist but sees no contradiction between that and kissing a tree and believing that it makes him feel calm. He does not have to justify tree-hugging. He can accept the experience.

Rovelli went on to say that science is the place of uncertainty between what we know and what we do not know. To do science, you have to go to where uncertainty lies. Now, of course, the scientist does want to explain it, but she is must be open to the awareness that that uncertain space could be filled by anything. She can't decide a priori what the answer is.

And language itself is uncertain, imprecise - words have variegated and disparate meanings. They cover a range, a family... they come with a penumbra of uncertainty around them.

Philosophy tries to pin words down: we start by clarifying concepts. So, when I say 'resolve' I mean precisely this, not that. But this certainty could be an illusion and this grasping after certainty could be a delusion.

Consider: the person with OCD seeks definite certainty that she has locked the door. Apart from in the action of locking, she cannot be certain that the door is locked. The person who hears voices feels certain that the voice is truthful, certain, a statement of fact about the world: she does not see it as uncertain, metaphorical, contingent. The narcissist or psychopath is certain only of his wants, needs and desires. those of other people are uncertain and therefore illusory and ignorable.

And the depressive... lives in a space where uncertainty is all there is and is unbearable.

I seem to recall that the 'hearing voices' community has the capacity to accept the voices as both self and not-self simultaneously. Not to need to believe them, but just to accept them. They need not be true and therefore accepted or false and therefore fought. They just are. And that is OK.

Essentially, everything could be p and not-p, and we can seldom be certain. But that may be OK.

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