The Power of Doubting

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The narrower our view, the more vulnerable we are to deception. When firmly entrenched to unyielding dogma, we avoid open engagement with experience, limiting exposure for positive change. Our ability to help others, even ourselves, is enhanced through a sympathetic understanding of the vast universe of different experience. Doubting what we know to be true may play a significant role in our ability to learn more.

To Gain Wisdom , We Must Doubt

​Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) stated it this way, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” This is a nice quote but Descartes explains further that in childhood we amass “numerous prejudices stand in the way of our arriving at the knowledge of truth; and of these it seems impossible for us to rid ourselves, unless we undertake, once in our lifetime, to doubt of all those things in which we may discover even the smallest suspicion of uncertainty” (2014). Doubt precedes search.

However, those things that we hold as true, even without evidence, seem to take hold. We cling to knowledge as if it is part of ourselves. Emmanuel Kant wrote that we act in shock when other doubt these unsupported truths, we would have them “believe that the doubt here freely expressed as to your argument is a doubting of sacred truth” (2011).

​To gain wisdom, we first must be open to other possibilities. When we entertain the possibilities of mysterious answers, we experience vulnerability; but the openness invites curiosity, spurring a courageous venture into the scary pastures beyond the confining fences of dogmatism.

Following versus Bound

We get stuck in ideas, bound to norms and practices. Dan Garro wrote that “living as a bound spirit means being bound to a certain way of life, a certain way of valuing, because it is the dominant perspective. We are bound by the norms, practices, points of view, and, among other things, the values that are associated with being a member of society” (2021).

There is nothing inherently wrong with following norms that help us function in a society of others. The problem is when we blindly accept the norms, never lifting our view to other possibilities.

We Want Surety

Our minds naturally flow towards conservation of energy. We budget resources. Mental activity requires work, wearying the mind. Thinking saps precious resources; we budget by utilizing firm beliefs to relieve the pressure of grappling with the constant collision with complex alternatives. Many entice us, preying on our natural tendencies of simple-mindedness, delivering limiting doctrine and condemning skeptical examination. Believe or be dammed.

Rollo May warns “people who claim to be absolutely convinced that their stand is the only right one are dangerous. Such conviction is the essence not only of dogmatism, but of its more destructive cousin, fanaticism. It blocks off the user from learning new truth, and it is a dead giveaway of unconscious doubt. The person then has to double his or her protests in order to quiet not only the opposition but his or her own unconscious doubts as well” (1994).

“​When we become mindful of doubt as a thought process, when we simply acknowledge it, ‘‘doubting, doubting,’’ and when we do not become involved in its content, a marvelous transformation occurs: doubt itself becomes the source of understanding.”

~Jack Kornfield

Complexity and Doubt

​They teach, “If it feels good, it must be right.” The simplicity is attractive but fails to provide necessary guidance in the complex world of choice. The “feel good” approach creates conflict; different people feel different things.  When we quickly bond with whatever is comforting, we easily go astray.  Marketers wisely target comfort instead of reality. First impressions become impervious to reason.

​We are afraid of complexity because the uncertainty creates discomfort. Maybe this is what Nietzsche was suggesting when he said, “Madness is the result not of uncertainty but of certainty” (2017).

“Wisdom without doubt has no root; doubt without wisdom has no fruits. They are very closely linked to each other each of the is incomplete without each other.”

~M. C. Baruah & Mumbai Mahalaxmi

Faith and Doubt

Religions praise the righteousness of faith. I agree, faith is important. We do many things on faith with out a surety of knowledge—often out of necessity.

But faith has some problems. First and foremost is that faith is acting without sure knowledge which inherently implies the possibility of ill placed faith. We love when people faithfully follow what we believe. Yet, we want them to doubt if they believe contrary to our ideology.

What we should have faith in and what we should doubt is very subjective. Perhaps, this is why Descartes suggests that “at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” 

Accepting Our Ignorance 

Our intellectual smugness limits wisdom. It is men, such as Socrates, who claim ignorance that truly exhibit wisdom. When entertaining doubt, we remain open to more learning. Uncertainty doesn’t imply stagnation. Doubting and uncertainty are uncomfortable, lacking the stability of pure knowledge; but through them we learn. As Bertrand Russell wrote, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.” I love this. We, however, tend to throw our confidence at those that claim omnificence. We find security in those that pretend to possess more knowledge than humanly possible with the limited capacity of their human brain. We bock at those that say, “I don’t know,” or change their opinion.

We trust our dentist, we trust advertisements, we trust our political party. We forget that they all have human tendencies that sway their beliefs—often not for our benefit. We should doubt a little more. Doubting may motivate a little more honesty from others. Instead of blindly marching to proclamations, we can demand facts from legitimate sources. The Narcissists of the world prefer to discredit all avenues of learning. They don’t want doubt, nor do they want to beholden to the truth. We must allow curiosity, skepticism and doubt. These are healthy characteristics. Accepted truths may not be truths at all. 

Doubting coupled with a gentle temperament and sympathetic listening lifts us from the deep ruts of cultural and family errors. We can move forward without critical judgments. We widen our view and detect many of the silly deceptions that we accepted for most of our lives.

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Descartes, Rene (1644/2014). Principles of Philosophy. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition.

Garro, Dan (2021) Happiness & Authenticity. Vocal Media. Published 9-2021. Accessed 10-11-2021.

Kant, Emanual (1790/2011). Critique of Judgment. ‎ Hackett Publishing Co.; 1st edition.

May, Rollo (1994). The Courage to Create. W. W. Norton & Company; Revised ed. edition.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1908/2017). Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is. Independently published.

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