Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Uncertainty

One of the things that I find annoying - really annoying - is arrogance. In truth, I don't encounter it very often, but I suspect its presence around me like the dust and pollen that fills the space between nearly all things.

You might think that by "arrogance" I refer to the arms-folded-over-chest sneering disdain that some people have for others (or other things). Well, no, not really. But yes, that is pretty annoying too.

Actually, I just mean the arrogance people display when they speak confidently of truths.

To me, this is an annoying form of arrogance. It implies that the person knows something absolutely even when, if pressed, they might have to admit that their "truth" is actually just a likelihood. Certainly a very likely likelihood; but certainly not a certainty.

The spring semester tends to stir up my feelings more so than other times because of the class that I teach (Psychology of Paranormal Beliefs). In this class we come into contact with a LOT of people who hold certainty close to their chests, yet still have enough in excess to trumpet it from their mouths. Very annoying.

I've surely mentioned this in an earlier blog-entry, but when I was much younger, I remember a comment my mother made to me about her view of people who have faith in God. (Which one? Take your pick!) She simply envied their ability to be certain.

At the time I agreed; but now, I do not.

By no means am I trying to rag on religion. There are plenty of other places on the web that you can visit for that. And I can't really say that I only noticed this in persistent arrogance among those who confidently claim that aliens are among us, the towers were collapsed by pre-placed explosive charges rather than jets crashing into them, or even (still!) that the moon landings were a hoax. That stuff (and so much more) just brought it into focus for me.

As I drive from here to there, I watch other drivers talking on cell phones, TEXTING, and daydreaming, all while speeding confidently down the street or highway. They seem quite certain that THEY can handle it and everyone else who died when a deer crossed their path, or another driver veered, or a rock hit their windshield, or the road turned and they didn't… that all those accidents were stupid mistakes that they THEMSELVES could never make.

In one intersection waiting for a light to change, I observe cars blowing through the red light as well as others driving confidently through their green light without even a glance left or right to make sure the coast is clear. If the light is green, it must be safe! Don't question it!

These people speed through parking lots, past parked cars that because they are "parked" are viewed as non-threats that can be ignored. I've seen kids dart out between these non-threats, I've seen people throw their cars into gear and pull out before even looking to see if the coast is clear. I've seen people speed around a car stopped to politely let someone out of their parking spot only to almost smash into the backing-out car! The speedy idiot honks and yells at the "stupid jerk" who was pulling out.

It's scary to think how little thought goes into people's heads when they blithely zip through the streets in these 4,000 pounds of plastic and rubber shells on wheels.

But it looks like I am drifting away from my focus... Let me make one other quick observation before I re-focus.

When I was in grad-school, my area of study was language processing. In particular, I did a lot of research with words that have multiple interpretations (ambiguity). Within less than one year of working with ambiguity in language, my mind was irreparably damaged. I had become sensitized to ambiguity to the point that I was no longer able to hear (or read) what people meant.

The simple question, "Did you remember to go to the bank today?" would give me pause.

I would hesitate, wondering if the person thought I was supposed to have stopped near a river for some reason. I'm a little better nowadays, but I still find myself over-analyzing practically everything I hear or read. Once you start looking for ambiguity, you'll be surprised how widespread it really is. But let me warn you, once you take that walk down that path, you may never find your way back.

Ok, so back to my focus (such that it is), which is just that as smug as I may sometimes feel that uncertainty and a general lack of trust is the only sane perspective, I find that it has a down side.

The arrogance of thinking that YOU "know" something makes me want to prove that you really don't. But I won't ever do that, because there's a part of me that questions whether I really know that you don't really know. So, my confidence in uncertainty undermines my own certainty that you should not be confident to the point that I can't be sure that you aren't right to be so sure.

So is it better to live a life of confidence (caught by surprise every time you turn out to be wrong about something), or, live a life of hesitance due to uncertainty (but rarely get caught being "wrong" since you hardly ever allow yourself to commit to a path of certainty)?

I hate being in car accidents (i.e., being wrong), but I also hate not being able to have the unquestioning faith in a belief.

Maybe I should just take to flipping coins?

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