“Why do we feel certain of the ideas or beliefs we hold as true or false?” Jorge threw out that question seemingly from nowhere during our stroll around the neighborhood. He quickly added, “Why do some people believe the Earth is flat?” I had the feeling my pal wasn’t simply asking rhetorical questions. Jorge was in the mood to play amateur philosopher, a game we both enjoy.
Jorge said he has been pondering the dilemma as to when folks are incapable of doubting a particular belief. There might even be good and obvious reasons to doubt the belief. Plus, there might not be good, logical reasons to not doubt the belief. Whether or not the belief is unquestionable, what makes a person so certain of it?
I said, “So your questions are more psychological and not about accepted knowledge. It’s as if someone disputes the conventional fact that 2 plus 2 equals the same result as 2 times 2. She will argue her disagreement until the cows come home.
Jorge agreed. He further said that the problem is that the person cannot realize there are no logical reasons to hold onto that belief. In the case of someone doubting the Earth is spherical, the reason is not always her adherance to religious doctrine. You can show her photographs of our planet taken from Outer Space, yet she will continue to believe in the flatness of Earth.
Some of them claim the images are the result of trick photography and that there is a conspiracy to foist fictional knowledge onto the public. Some of the people have looked out of airplane windows during flight and attribute the curvature of the Earth to a flaw in their eyesight. There is a very deep attachment and certainty to their opinion.
Years ago, my guru stated, “A mind that is completely certain is a dead mind.” He meant that if hard, testable evidence contradicts a certainty about a cherished belief, we should exercise honesty and question that belief.
Jorge said he thinks that a mind that clings to certainty is a mind that is uncomfortable with uncertainty or ambiguity. There seems to be an underlying fear of being proven wrong. Some people go to great lengths to quote authorities who agree with their views.
The person might feel that a particular belief or opinion regarding a “necessary” truth cannot be false. This is true even if that person holds onto that belief for an invalid reason…maybe wishful thinking or a wild hunch. In her mind, the shaky reason makes her belief absolutely certain. There seems to be at least a reason to think the belief is certain than there are reasons to be skeptical about it. In other words, her standards for certainty are very low.
I noted that some people think that because a majority of the population holds a particular concept or a belief to be true, then that belief is certain. Of course, it has been proven time and again that certainty is not a popularity contest.
Jorge went on to say that a belief held with certainty must be absolutely immune to doubt or skepticism. He wonders if actual, real-world certainty can ever exist. So far, it appears that every so-called certainty is capable of containing some amount of doubt. We might say that the only thing we can be certain of is that we can be certain about nothing.
I added that what we think is certainty is more or less the confidence about a belief or conviction will turn out to be favorable to us.