Not Knowing Disturbs Us Deeply

We human beings seem to hate many things; but we adventure to guess that, across cultures and ages, there are two things that make it high on our list: we hate uncertainty, not being able to have some idea about the future, and we hate not having an explanation to why things happened the way they happened. We hate these two things so much that we are willing to accept mediocre interpretations and rationalisations, wrong theories, and even conspiracy theories, rather than admit that we have no idea about which course events will take in the future or that some dramatic events of the past happened for rather random reasons. It is more so the case when such events relate to us in deeply emotional manners (e.g. events of death, sickness, social crisis, or conflicts and wars). Not knowing everything, or at least not having some idea of the causal chain of events, disturbs us deeply, so deeply that many false theories, interpretations, and speculations continue to stubbornly infest our general reasoning despite scientific proofs of the contrary. Moreover, many vocal individuals continue to take advantage of our longing to have answers to everything around us in order to promote and sustain false theories and speculations.

Here is what we are not inferring from the above: we are not inferring that everything is uncertain; we are not inferring that there are no conspiracies in the world; we are not inferring that we do not possess the rational power to understand and interpret most events around us successfully; we are not inferring that some interpretations, despite them being imperfect, can not constitute a practical basis for some action; and we are not inferring that we should hold an attitude of complete scepticism and paralysis. What we are rather inferring is that our deep psychological need for answers and interpretations can often turn us blind to the objective merits or limitations of many of the theories we hold. Let us take an example: why are we all set to die and what happens after we die? This type of interrogation is important and hotly debated – we find in human history, across all of its cultures, abundance of soothing theories and interpretations to answer such an interrogation. The question is understandably important to any living being; and it is because we refuse to be satisfied with answers of the type “we simply do not know” or “death is an integral part of the living process” that we came up in history with an enormous amount of different (and many times contradicting) interpretations. And while there is nothing wrong in having interpretations (while admitting that we may possibly be wrong about them), we find many cultures that hold so tight and so blindly to their particular interpretations that they refuse to leave any room for possible negation. It is exactly this that we condemn.

Knowledge comes with varying degrees of certainty, and Science has some fair idea of the degree of certainty of each piece of knowledge it holds. Science also knows that some things can and do happen for random (or purely circumstantial) reasons. And Science has also shown many questions to be simply false or invalid ones. There are also many things to which we do not have answers today even with a minimal degree of certainty; all reasonable people should be willing to admit this fact and not rush towards soothing but wrong interpretations for the sake of just ‘feeling better’.

JHTF

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