November 20, 2020

Certainty and Understanding

The circus of 2020 continues to roll on and demonstrate that with a complete lack of certainty – some people react by becoming dangerously certain of things, just to make sense of the world. 

The United States is a fine example of this weird paradox where you have one of the few countries on earth that peacefully became a republic – by declaration and not by war or revolution – on the brink of civil unrest because there is a disastrous mix of people who are too certain of things, and a background of uncertainty.

The alchemy for this, the ingredient to bring uncertainty and hyper-certainty to calm is understanding. Understanding is a scarce resource in today’s world – an active ingredient to thought that is under-cultivated. 

To understand really means to ‘stand under’ something bigger than ourselves, which we cannot do if we only stand with our own thoughts and opinions. By not crossing a middle line in thought to consider those we disagree with, certainty is reinforced and understanding cannot occur. 

The resistance to understanding is rooted in how we ‘consume opinion’. The algorithms that drive our news feeds on social media are designed to reinforce what we ‘like’. Our opinions and the opinions of people like us are reinforced and we ‘like’ it. 

Abandoning the middle line and walking away from understanding is a uniquely modern choice. A modern phenomenon that has abandoned philosophy, in favour of information. With the democratisation of knowledge through the internet and the ability to ‘learn’ almost anything in our pockets, I say philosophy has been abandoned because philosophy is not about ‘having’ knowledge – it is about LOVING knowledge.

Knowing is different from understanding.

The middle ground has been so important to humanity that our ancient civilisations had gods dedicated to acting as interpreters. Thot was a messenger god of the ancient Egyptians and his role was to deliver understanding from the gods to the people. Hermes was the messenger god of Mt. Olympus in the Greek tradition with the same function and hermeneutics is an academic tradition dedicated to the art of understanding.

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. – Marie Curie

It has been said by many that the biggest pandemic on the planet right now is not a virus, but rather a pandemic of fear. The love of knowledge and a hunger for understanding could be the antidote to that fear – understanding robs fear of its power. 

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