2023.07 : Why So Certain
Big Piney, Wyoming U.S.A. Circa 2021
Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
Know me long enough, and eventually you’ll hear me say the following with definitive certainty: ‘Why eat cake when pie exists?! No, really. I’m not joking. Cake tastes awful, made even more unpleasant of an experience with the realization it’s frosted with diabetes.’
My baseline Mr. Nuance is nowhere to be found. The absurd certainty over a triviality is what surprises those who know me as the guy who sails this life on a sea of uncertain nuance.
About everything, I doubt. I ask. Living in constant doubt is not pleasant. Speaking for myself, it’s far more preferable than the alternative – the absurdity of living with a sense of certainty.
Certainty is never assured anywhere in this majestic universe. It doesn’t take much study to learn to compare and contrast the deeply mysterious world of the unseen – quantum fields – to its equal partner in mystery, cosmology, and the awe it inspires with its enormity.
The unpleasantness of doubt is a small price to pay for a life, which is much more interesting to live only knowing possible answers. Even more humbling is the very few possible answers to which I have access, leaving most of life as something I don’t know anything about. It’s been a long journey to learn to live with and eventually come to enjoy saying, ‘I don’t know, let’s look into the possibilities,’ to most everything.
For the possible answers I do hold, they are held to differing degrees of firmness. All of which will be released as quickly as possible in the face of better possible answers.
A life of doubt makes belief harder – belief in literally anything. I don’t feel frightened by uncertainty. I am not afraid of being lost with the acknowledgment this glorious universe has no purpose as far as I can tell, maybe, possibly. Fulfillment, purpose, and satisfaction are all found in this very moment. This one. And this one…
You feel it, yeah? Let’s go ahead and briefly discuss faith in religion.
The Encyclopedia of God chronicles over 2,500 deities of the world since record-keeping began. It’s undeniable. We are all atheists. All that’s left to decide is how many of the several thousand gods does one believe in.
A labeling system I came up with:
Belief in single god; atheist(1).
Belief in more than one god; atheist(+1).
Belief in zero gods and certain about it; atheist(0!).
Belief in zero gods but upon convincing naturalistic evidence, not faith nor belief, would accept the existence of God(s); atheist(0?).
Belief in zero gods weighting hope over evidence, a.k.a. agnostic: atheist(0~).
I agree with atheist (1, +1) that too many atheists(0!) range from annoying to condescending. To my way of thinking, it’s because atheists(0!) certainty rivals the certainty atheist(1, +1) enjoy. Certainty justifies in the minds of the certain all kinds of very unpleasant behavior towards others.
If you have read this far, you can guess that I’m an atheist(0?). However, the word ‘atheist’ is often used dismissively, and it does not describe what one believes in, but only what one does not believe in. Therefore, I prefer to call myself an Evidentialist. I am also a fervent anti-theist, as I oppose the use of religious beliefs to wield power and influence through the law.
How does this atheist(0?) navigate life from a place of uncertainty? A fine question. I use a simple two step formula.
First, I ask myself: does something violate the laws of physics? If yes, I give it no more thought. Which is more likely — that the whole natural order is to be suspended, usually for one’s benefit — or that one is suffering under a great apprehension? David Hume convincingly argues and expands that thought here.
Second. If not a violation of the universe’s laws, then I assign a probability, which is an art, not a science. Formalizing this subjectivity with more Bayesian methods is a life goal. As John Maynard Keynes was quoted as saying, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
Here’s a quick aside: even the laws of physics contain elements of uncertainty. The universal speed limit, also known as the Speed of Causality (colloquially called the speed of light), is as certain as things get. However, there is still some uncertainty associated with this law, since the universe is expanding at a rate faster than the universal speed limit. This doesn’t necessarily violate the first law; rather, it suggests that a second law needs to be defined, as there might be a distinction with a difference.
The first 25 seconds of the companion video, John Wick Chapter 4 movie trailer, found down at the bottom, are a touching expression of love when confronted with the greatest of uncertainty.
Why am I so certain that pie is so superior to cake that it renders cake purposeless? Pie vs. cake is the last bit of certainty in my life. Certainty is a powerful narcotic. It feels so comforting and reassuring to be all-in with Big Pie, and it feels even better being anti-Big Cake. I don’t deny it.
However, if I give the matter even a second of thought, my island of reassurance is submerged by the sea of nuance. My senses have taken flight after eating cake made by French masters in France. In Japan, I have savored cakes crafted by Japanese cake masters, and at La Capita restaurant in Condesa, Mexico City, they make a dessert cornbread cake that transports me to another realm.
My reason knows that cake can be divine, but my emotional side doesn’t care that I’m being absurd. Certainty is a great temptation.
I know one thing: American birthday cake is vile.
That! I am certain of!!!
This week’s photograph struck me as a portrait of Certainty in clay and dirt.
And now … know the photograph.