The Futility of Certainty

I’d rather live being perceived as stupid, dumb, wrong or foolhardy than give into the shallow, tepid, anemic temptation of being certain and right.Giving up certainty allows us to be open to the unknown.


Is it really all that disturbing to be uncertain? To live adrift in the tireless flux of the unknown? To no more understand the depths of our own self than the expansiveness of the universe? I think we underestimate our desire for the unknown — for the mind-expanding sense of a universe and a self without end. For the sublime rewards of a world of no clear and definitive answers.

Among the rewards I experienced backpacking the Appalachian Trail were the constant surprises and reveals that came with every turn. Struggling up a mountain weighted down by a 50 pound pack was hard on the knees and lungs, but to rest at the top was sublime — listening to nothing… breathing hard freshness.

“If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.”
— Henry David Thoreau

Within the unknown, within uncertainty, lies our freedom. The freedom to think, to breathe, live, love and experience whatever we desire — without limitations. Arguably, desire can be taken to extremes, but desire can also drives us in positive ways. Our desire to explore, to create and to be challenged are among our most fundamental drives.

Certainty’s main purpose, it can be argued, is the satisfaction of being ‘right’, and particularly the sense of superiority that our self-righteousness lords over others. Rightness at the expense of someone else is an incestuous virus that we barely notice. It’s become a normalized behavior. But for me, I’d rather live a life of being perceived as stupid, dumb, wrong or foolhardy than give into the shallow, tepid, anemic temptation of being certain and right.

If every time you go right it’s wrong, try going left.

Righteousness is not full living. Righteousness slams the door on exploration and the joys of an uninhibited heart and mind. Righteousness is a shallow, stagnant, mold-filled pond. Righteousness disdains full-bodied laughter, including being able to mock ourselves. That’s not for me. No, instead let me experience wrongness, along with success, failure, answers, questions, pain, misery, frustration, longing and, yes, desire — as I muddle my way through the endless fascination of uncertainty.

What great adventure or challenge will the next bend in the River of Uncertainty yield? I’ll carve out a campsite for you downriver.