7 Reasons Why Doubt Is the Origin of Wisdom
“Doubt is the origin of wisdom.” ~Rene Descartes
1.) Doubt transforms answers into questions:
“Doubt is essential. It is the vehicle that transports us from one certainty to another.” ~Eric Weiner
The right question is always more important than the right answer. Why? Because there is a higher probability of getting lost in answers. Also, there is a higher probability of discovering something beyond the “answers” by questioning them.
Answers are more likely to become golden idols. Questions are more likely to melt those golden idols into something more malleable, more open, and more adaptable to change.
As Ken Kesey said, “The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”
Accepting answers without questioning them is a problem of certainty. You might think that you want to be certain, but certainty is almost always a hangup. The cure for certainty is curiosity. Don’t believe what you think; be curious about why you think it instead.
2.) Doubt teaches you how to recondition cultural conditioning:
“Only once he has endured the necessary doubt and despair within himself can the individual play an exemplary role in standing firm amidst the world’s pandemonium.” ~Stefan Zweig
Doubt makes you vulnerable, open, and honest with being a fallible creature. It forces you to confront the raw reality that we’re all just imperfect mammals vainly attempting to pigeonhole godhood into wormwood.
As Ernest Becker said, “The essence of normality is the refusal of reality.”
This is the comfortable burden forced upon you by Mother Culture. But you cannot afford to refuse reality. You must embrace it. Refuse the cultural illusion instead. Doubt the comfort zone.
Employ your mind as a mirror. Reflect the illusion. Receive but do not keep. Absorb but do not cling. Learn but do not dwell. Question but remember to never settle on an answer. Settling for an answer is giving up on your goal of knowing something that has never been known before. Never settle. Even if the answer seems convincing. Question it. Always question it. Especially if it is presented by culture as something you must believe in.
Asking difficult questions and challenging culture will always be more important than receiving simple answers and accepting culture.
3.) Doubt plants mind-opening seeds in the hard ground of blind belief:
“Trust those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it.” ~Andre Gide
Doubt teaches you how to, as Aristotle advised, “entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Blind belief is the epitome of accepting a thought without entertaining it. Whether due to cultural conditioning, religious indoctrination, or political programming, blind belief leads to willful ignorance. And the only remedy for willful ignorance is doubt.
The willful ignorance inherent in blind belief is the bane of any Truth Quest. Doubt reprograms the Truth Quest. And once the Truth Quest is reprogrammed, you are liberated. You are free to always question, to always be open, to always be flexible, and to never again fall into the trap of blind belief.
As the Buddha said, “Doubt everything. Find your own light.”
Doubt keeps all things in perspective. And especially this: The Truth Quest must go on for the sake of Truth itself. Indeed. It is the hallmark of doubt to always keep the Truth Quest ahead of the “truth.”
4.) Doubt expands the self:
“If you would be a real seeker of truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” ~Descartes
Doubt teaches clarity through iteration. The self is an endless ocean. The more you know yourself, the more you realize how much you don’t know. But a clarity comes from this. The waters are still endlessly deep, but you gain better visibility.
You realize that self-knowledge has no end. You realize that it’s not about coming to an identity, or ending up with a personality, or forming an opinion, or coming to a conclusion, or ending up with a belief. Not at all.
It’s about swimming into deeper clarity. You swim through identity, through personality, through opinion, through belief. You do so because the alternative is becoming stuck. The alternative is becoming fixed and conditioned, placated and trapped, bamboozled and brainwashed.
Doubt teaches you how to iterate through the self like a snake sheds its skin. Always moving forward. Always adapting. Always overcoming.
Growth, expansion, and greater clarity are always in the depths of a greater ocean. Swim!
5.) Doubt keeps you ahead of the curve:
“To be aware of limitations is already to be beyond them.” ~Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Doubt teaches uncertainty and uncertainty teaches aplomb.
Aplomb drops a bomb in the bomb shelter of your certainty. It sees the way out of the trap of certainty from the inside out. It’s embracing the fact that doubt is a crashing wave, but rather than fight against it, you act with aplomb and surf it out.
Acting with aplomb is being proactive despite self-doubt. It’s honoring doubt, detaching from it, and then focusing on what makes you curious and inspired instead. Acting with aplomb takes nerve, nonchalance, and self-confidence. It’s realizing that the ends don’t have to justify the means.
So, the universe is fundamentally uncertain? So be it. Might as well join forces with it. Might as well take that uncertainty and transform it into astonishment and awe. Might as well stay ahead of the curve by not clinging to any aspect of the curve. Let the chips fall where they may.
Stepping into the unknown can be harrowing. Self-doubt is a given. Acting with aplomb is simply accepting it as a gift that keeps on giving you the power to consistently flatten the box, turn the tables, flip the script, and push the envelope of certainty that threatens to envelope you in one-dimensional thinking.
6.) Doubt transforms hubris into humor:
“Humor is not a mood but a way of looking at the world.” ~Ludwig Wittgenstein
There is nothing more powerful than a good sense of humor, not even power. In the throes of good humor, the entire universe is inside you, vibrating through you, howling at all moons, singing a language older than words, and most importantly reminding you that although you are but a speck in the cosmos you are also the entire cosmos within a speck.
When you’re in the throes of good humor, you are in tune with higher frequencies. You’re a fountainhead tapped into the higher order of disordered order. You’re a beacon of hope in a field of despair. You’re a beacon of darkness in the blinding light of cultural conditioning. You’re a devil-may-care cosmonaut in the whirlwind slipping all knots.
Cultivated humor is an inverted mirror that flips the universe. It puts seriousness and pettiness into perspective. It keeps humor ahead of hubris, laughter ahead of longing, Amor Fati ahead of Fate. It puts the ego on a leash.
As Camus said, “The greatness of man lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition.”
In order to build new knowledge, you must first be able to destroy untruth and stop taking yourself too seriously. Take a leap of courage out of belief and into faith. Be curious, not certain. Be creative, not convinced. Be eccentric, not conformist. Be humorous, not full of hubris.
Doubt! Free yourself to unlearn what you have been deceived into learning.
7.) Doubt teaches you the power of the Middle Way:
“The middle path does not go from here to there. It goes from there to here.” ~Jack Kornfield
Doubt keeps you in alignment with the Great Mystery; what some call God. The more aligned you are with this Mystery, the more disciplined your imagination will be. The more likely you will act with awe and transcendence rather than belief and closemindedness.
You can’t know the future. You can’t control how things will turn out. You can only control how you react to how things turn out. Even then, it’s not about control. It’s about being adaptable. It’s about being flexible and resilient. It’s about being prepared for the worst, even as you hope for the best. It’s about pulling your fragile past toward your antifragile future.
In that speck of hope is all the courage you’ll ever need. A dash of courage trumps an ocean of doubt. Use that courage like a sword. Or, even better, a scythe. Cut through the storm of the unknown. Shred the shroud of not knowing. Slice and dice the thickness of uncertainty. Not for the goal of invulnerability but for the transcendence of absolute vulnerability.
The Middle Way is where absolute vulnerability comes to fruition. The Middle Way is the sword of truth splitting all “truths”. The Middle Way is the scythe of justice breaking all “crowns”.
Cut with your soul. Meet the danger on the road to adventure. Greet Glory in the field. Confront the albatross on the path. Encounter the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Cut! Cut the obstacle until it becomes the path.
And if “God Himself” should stand in your way, cut that bastard down and become one with all things.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.