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Jesus saith, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”  Pilate saith unto him, “Truth? What is truth?”  John 18: 37-38 KJV

/ The Plague

With the current plague, the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg’s shadowy quantum realm has risen up into our brick and mortar world. Yet, belay. Has not uncertainty been revealed already to us by Buddha who taught the noble truth of impermanence? 

There are at least two types of people in the world: those who seek certainty and those who can live with uncertainty and even doubt. On the one side, there are the seekers of the “changeless being,” truth, the absolute, idealism, irrevocable knowledge. On the other side, there are those who see reality as “becoming,” coming into being and passing away, the relative, material, entropic reality, realism, qualified-relative knowledge.

The argument goes back to the classical Greeks: the Parmenidean philosophy which emphasizes a conception of reality as absolute eternal, in contrast to the Heraclitean conception of eternal change.

The Heracliteans in modern garb would be our scientists, who don’t throw around the term “proof.” They look for very good evidence that has been systematically and ethically curated over a long time. In contrast, the certainty wonks may be more of a mind to go with “lots of things I do know, and no proof is necessary, and in some cases no proof is possible. I just know.”

Would a certainty seeker be comfortable with Aristotle’s meme? “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Or with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s? “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Not likely.

I admit I am painting here with a very broad brush, so I recommend, dear reader, that you undertake to nuance my words to your own level of comfort. 

Often neither side will give way. Extremists of both sides say to Solomon, “Cleave the infant.” These stances arise from deep instinctual needs that are extremely importunate. The two sides often give no quarter.  

I am going to make a conceptual jump. I am letting you know this, dear reader right away. I am using the psychological profiles and personality types of conservatives and liberals to characterize our two sides.

“Psychologists have found that conservatives are fundamentally more anxious than liberals, which may be why they typically desire stability, structure and clear answers even to complicated questions [our seekers of certainty]. ‘Conservatism, apparently, helps to protect people against some of the natural difficulties of living,’ says social psychologist Paul Nail of the University of Central Arkansas. ‘The fact is we don’t live in a completely safe world. Things can and do go wrong. But if I can impose this order on it by my worldview, I can keep my anxiety to a manageable level.’ . . . . Conservatives also emphasize loyalty and authority, values helpful for maintaining a stable society.”


So far I hope I have made the case that the search for certainty serves the very basic human instinctual needs of some of us.

Now as for those who tolerate ambiguity, you no doubt suspect, I will basket them with the liberals:

Generally, the left-wing is characterized by an emphasis on “ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism” while the right-wing is characterized by an emphasis on “notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism.”

SOURCE: Left–right political spectrum Wikipedia.

This Wikipedia quote seems to be plausible. It comes to, in my opinion, that those who can live with ambiguity are a little more laid back than those who seek certitude.

To the extent that the battle lines are drawn, what of peace can be expected?


Besides deep, gut level instincts contributing to and driving whether one drifts toward certainty or ambiguity, the two sides can justify their predicament by appeal to the logic games they play that suit their purposes.

One logic game leads sweetly to the conclusion that certainty is philosophically justified and as plain as the nose on your face. This would be the law of excluded middle, a vaunted principle since the time of Aristotle. It purports that either a proposition is true, or its negation is true — a clear set of alternatives that offers a powerful mode of inference. 

This Aristotelian law of excluded middle means that an existent thing or observation either is or is not, either is true or is false—and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between. 

The world runs on this principle. People on trial go free or to the gas chamber on this principle. I reach for a goblet. It either comes to my hand, or it does not. Samuel Johnson would have none of Bishop Berkeley’s immaterialist philosophy (that there are no material objects, only minds and ideas in those minds). Johnson kicked a large stone and asserted, “I refute it thus.’” SOURCE: Appeal to the stone. Wikipedia

Common sense realism is how the world goes around—even for skeptics and cynics. What’s wrong with certainty? Nothing.

Ah, but the game is not over. The philosophical post-modernist logic game will complain or joke that certainty is a circumscribed, choked and pinched conception of reality, especially in light of the high functions of science, the world according to quantum mechanics, and the unreliability of the senses—flat-earthers beware. A philosophical post-modernist has kicked out the jams,*** and eschewed dogma, doctrine, truth, authority, and maybe has shifted toward surrealism, dada, and cynicism. A philosophical post-modernist might have to cope with everyday reality by settling for common sense realism of the moment as he bumps into the world of solid things. He might be a pragmatist to get through the day. But he or she is not deeply troubled by impermanence or ambiguity.   

A philosophical post-modernist could also be in agreement with the Buddhist tetralemma, the fourfold negation. (Curious that negation is what it all ends up being? Why “negation”? Maybe because impermanence is such a major factor for Buddhists.) The tetralemma goes like this: the statement might be true, or false, but also both true and false, and at last, weirdly, neither true nor false. It’s a little more confusing than our familiar horns of a dilemma—a situation with only two alternatives. Tetralemma has four alternatives. It flies in the face of Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle. It is a tribute to the magnificent inventiveness of the human mind. Tetralemma is on the face of it, baffling, for what is the state of anything that is neither true nor false. It leaves one caught like a deer in headlights. But it armors a person to tolerate the troublesome experiences of change and decay.

The indeterminism of the Buddhist and philosophical post-modernist seems to dovetail with quantum mechanics which asserts “In every meaningful sense, the universe is not deterministic.” SOURCE:


Aristotle, with his “either / or”, suggests determinism. Einstein in his theories held out against quantum “surrealism.” He joked (?) at Niels Bohr: “God does not play at dice.” Bohr responded: “Stop telling God what to do with his dice.” Also holding the determinist worldview are theists, who stand for two absolute indispensable essents (that which is): God and the immortal soul. Moral absolutists are committed to the idea that truth is real and capable of being discovered. Nietzsche is absolutely disdainful: “What are man’s truths ultimately? Merely his irrefutable errors.” There are no certainties, only myriad perspectives. 


There are two types of people in the world: those who seek certainty and likely must have it, and those who see change and can live with uncertainty and doubt. What of peace can be expected?

Were this another day, perhaps for solace, the perspectivists could frolic with Dionysus, and the determinists could retreat to the silence and peace at the temple of Apollo.

*** “Reality, knowledge, and value are constructed by discourses; hence they can vary with them. This means that the discourse of modern science, when considered apart from the evidential standards internal to it, has no greater purchase on the truth than do alternative perspectives, including (for example) astrology and witchcraft. Postmodernists sometimes characterize the evidential standards of science, including the use of reason and logic, as ‘Enlightenment rationality.’ ” SOURCE:

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