What Can We Do in an Uncertain World?

People have said to me that without certainty and truth then all is anarchy.

But in previous blogs I have outlined why we can’t know any 100% truths, or have certainty. In my book Modelling Mind I argue this is an unavoidable part of our existence, and we should drop the whole idea of truth and consider our ideas and notions, our cognitive Models, on the basis of credibility. So, what can we now do about this reality of our existence?

As I argue in Modelling Mind, far from being a problem, the idea that we can’t know any 100% truth is liberating, helpful and in the end the reality of our situation. Let’s consider some of what we can know:

  • We can know that preposterous Models are highly incredible, for example: “the moon is made of blue cheese.”
  • We can also know a Model is 100% credible by definition, like “my dog is a canine”. Perhaps most of mathematics falls into this category.
  • We can never know with anywhere near 100% certainty our Models of another person’s motivations.
  • We can know, with high credibility some of our Models, such as this Universe exists.

The sole reason for justifying high credibility (or low) is because of the weight and nature of the evidence we have in support of our Models.

By acknowledging our inescapable inability to know the “absolute truth”, and accept we can only assess the credibility of our Models, we can more sensibly order our life.

We will be less likely to leap to wrong conclusions in our personal life, as we relate to others.

We will be sceptical about anyone (especially politicians, sales people and religious believers) who claims 100% certainty about anything.

We will avoid actions that are not reversible. For example we will accept that any legal verdict is at best a “best efforts” at determining the most likely truth so we will not adopt any death penalties as such an outcome would be truly irreversible.

This is not to say anything goes. We would not survive very long if we truly doubted the presence of the Universe and all its contents. Moreover we would adopt those parts of morality and ethics that are essential for humans to live together.

In the Christian canon this would be ” Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” But either reject or be much more sceptical of the other parts. Again in the Christian cannon: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength”.

The reason for this is that the societal morals and ethics are essential for humans to live and thrive together and have been shown to work in the past (the evidence), however we would be open to changes.

We will also be sceptical about any claims that are not supported by evidence of a convincing nature. We would accept most of established science as there is a large amount of evidence, from a variety of sources, in the form of experiments to support it. But we would reject any unsubstantiated claims of those out to influence us for their sole benefit.

However we would maintain in all matters a level of scepticism about all our knowledge. That level will vary from subject to subject. Perhaps very low scepticism (but some) for established science with quite high for non-humanist ethics and morality for example.

The moral is to be sceptical about anything you believe until you are comfortable with the evidence that supports it, then only provisionally accept it pending further evidence.

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