Doubt? Or Certainty?

We’ve been going at this, and around it, in two previous posts, In Praise of Doubt, and Enlightenment. We’ve heard from Sir Francis Bacon from the early 17th century, and Roshi Robert Kennedy of our own 21st. Now here’s an opinion from a quintessential Romantic poet of the 19th century:

I am certain of nothing but the 

        holiness of the heart’s affections and

        the truth of imagination.

                                 – John Keats

The holiness of the heart’s affections —

The truth of imagination —

Dead far too young, Keats nonetheless was certain of these. Are you certain of something? If so, what?

(Your comments are invited and welcomed — and you are also invited to read the many comments that have already been made on these two posts. Just check the end of the post, where you’ll find “categories” and “tags”: click on “comments” and join in the conversation.)

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20 Responses to Doubt? Or Certainty?

  1. fb says:

    I will take my cue from one of the of the significant physicists of the 20th century, Werner Heisenberg, who spearheaded our understanding of quantum physics with his Principle of Uncertainty. To put that Theory in a simplistic nutshell, on the quantum level one can either tell the direction of an object, or locate it..but you cannot do both. We have to deal in probabilities. To me this is enlightened doubt.

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  2. Christine Grote says:

    I am certain of my love for the special people in my life. There may be other things, but right now that is the only thing I am certain I am certain of.

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  3. Stef says:

    I try to avoid using words like “always”, “never”, “100%” , “0%” – and “certain” feels like it falls in that same category of vernacular I prefer to not express. However, if I were forced to answer your question, my response would be “impermanence” (i.e., change).

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  4. David Elpern says:

    Certain of many things, doubting, too. Wasn’t it Keats who wrote, “When I have fears that I may cease to be/Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain” — Dead at 26, but what he left behind! — one whose name is NOT writ in water. So, I am certain that there is an Academy of the Immortals and Keats is there, and Shakespeare, and Homer and Lao Tzu — and I am also certain that we spend far too little time with them in favor of Danielle Steele etc.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Like Keats, I think: you too are certain of the truth of the imagination.
      (Do you think in this Academy Mozart has written musical settings for Keats’s poems? And Coleridge’s, there’s something I would like to hear.)

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      • Pauline says:

        Yes, I am certain of the truth of imagination, even when it’s speaking of things that appear false. That Amy Lowell poem was beautifully wrought. I’ve forgotten the name of the form it is written in though I remember trying it and finding it difficult. The last stanza is indeed immediate and poses a question we all should contemplate now and then. At first thought my reaction is that when our cherished patterns are broken by death or deviousness or even accident, we suffer until a new pattern emerges.

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  5. Pauline says:

    When we lived in northern Vermont we adopted the local saying that there is nothing so permanent as something temporary. We jury-rigged some porch steps and they stayed that way until they collapsed years later under a load of snow that fell off the roof. We hastily constructed an outhouse just until we got power and running water and four years later, we were still using that flimsy outhouse. On the other hand, we were certain we’d placed our enormous vegetable garden in the perfect spot, only to have an early frost cut a swath of destruction squarely through the middle of it. We moved the location slightly south the next year and a July snowstorm took out the whole thing! Things do change – of that you can be certain. Perhaps our fears surrounding changes stem from the certainty that most things happen too slowly or too quickly for our pattern-seeking minds. We don’t want our patterns disturbed. I think “enlightened doubt” is a good state of mind to be in.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Had to laugh at your “temporary” adventures! I can relate big-time —
      At this point if I really feel strongly about something I refuse to do a temporary — because I know it’ll be permanent! Better to wait, and let the annoyance spur something creative — if possible.

      I like the concept of “pattern-seeking minds”. It rings true. Did you ever read Amy Lowell’s poem Patterns? I went back to it after forty years — didn’t hold up well, except for the last stanza, which retained all its shocking immediacy: here’s a link to the whole poem.

      And here’s a shout-out for “enlightened doubt”!

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  6. suitablefish says:

    I feel certain that nothing is certain, as Keats said, “certain of nothing”. I’m a dictionary and thesaurus hound, looking at the nuances of words. It’s interesting to look up “certain”. There are so many words we use to say ‘the plan is foolproof’. I do my fallible best to practice a teaching from a Zen teacher: “Meet whatever comes with an open heart”. I think these words are about as certain as I can get.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      I like that Zen teaching a lot myself. It isn’t easy though.
      Because I like slogans to aid my mindfulness, and the shorter the slogan the better, I condense it into the quick reminder, Perhaps.
      (BTW, the older I get, the less certain I am of anything 🙂 and I’m okay with that!

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  7. tms says:

    If nothing is certain, how can you be certain that nothing is certain? Radical doubt would have to include the fact that you doubt. That’s why I am skeptical about skepticism, much as I like to question things.
    Philosophers (like Sartre) teach that the one thing that’s certain is our own finiteness, the fact that we have to die. Does this make the fact that we are alive a certainty as well? And if it were so, where would this lead us?

    And if we assume that there is a perception more basic and more immediate than our “thematic”, possibly rational perception (like, I guess, the perception of rhythm, light, or balance), something beneath the threshold of our awareness – would this perception be more certain than the things we admit to our thoughts?

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      Tobias, I am really happy that you stopped by, saw, and commented —
      Even if your comment reminds me why the study of philosophy always gave me a rash!

      The first thing I thought of was the paradox, or seeming paradox: All Cretans are liars.
      But then I found on Wikipedia something that was closer, called the “liar’s paradox”, although I was surprised that it was St. Jerome who had put it in a sermon:
      “The paradox was once discussed by St. Jerome in a sermon:
      “‘I said in my alarm, ‘Every man is a liar!’ (Psalm. 116:11) Is David telling the truth or is he lying? If it is true that every man is a liar, and David’s statement, “Every man is a liar” is true, then David also is lying; he, too, is a man. But if he, too, is lying, his statement: “Every man is a liar,” consequently is not true. Whatever way you turn the proposition, the conclusion is a contradiction. Since David himself is a man, it follows that he also is lying; but if he is lying because every man is a liar, his lying is of a different sort.'”

      It might not really have anything to do with your close argument — but then again, I could never follow the argument! And this, I think, my friend — is why philosophers and storytellers seem to me to come at truth from opposite ends of the earth!!!!!

      Again, I do thank you for taking time from your wonderful, moody, interestingly abstract black and white photos to come and visit here where most everything is gray!

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      • tms says:

        Philosophers and storytellers … You raise an issue that’s most interesting for me at the moment. I had almost lost sight of philosophy over the last couple of years. Also, I was never quite sure what to really think of the Romantic belief that art can offer insight – of course I would have agreed with this position but now I doubt that I ever fully understood the consequences. However, making pictures teaches me a lot. I am beginning to think that art – and storytelling – answers a lot of questions, qestions that philosophers are so good at asking. And all of sudden, I find myself fascinated by philosophy again.

        In this context, the second question I tried to write down here is far less abstract for me. All the more so since rationally, doubting seems so easy and being certain so difficult.

        I hope this makes any sense. Thanks anyway for being so nice about my blog … And: There is not too much gray here!

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        • Touch2Touch says:

          As far as I can determine, your second paragraph is opposing “rational” perceptions to sensory perceptions. But to me sensory perceptions are not below the threshold of my awareness. They arise perhaps from a different place, but then enter my awareness.
          Hmmm. I bet that doesn’t advance the discussion one little bit.
          What I am certain of is …. I am delighted with your comments, and everyone’s on this blog! It’s the CONVERSATION I’m in it for, and this is certainly a spectacular conversation, taking place, as it does, in virtual space.
          (Now, does the conversation exist, or not? 😀

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