The living doubt

I see all these people with strong opinions. As if they were experts in medicine, virology, immunology, biochemistry, statistics, politics, law, economy and football. I guess strong opinions give them some sense of control over the ever changing reality. A sense that they ‘know’ what is going on around them and hence they can predict the outcome. Well, isn’t that why we all acquire knowledge? To have a minimal chance of foreseeing what is around the corner so that we can be prepared?

However, the more knowledge I acquire, the less certain I am about everything. My opinions grow weaker and I watch them dissolve. Surprisingly, it doesn’t sadden me to see them go. As much as I used to like them, the truth is that they had become a burden I was no longer willing to carry.

Still, I look at these people and wonder what would happen if I had no doubts. If I had all the answers, if I were certain about absolutely everything. If I had nothing else to find. If my search was over.

Would I be dead? If I knew every answer, if I had reached absolute wisdom, would there be any purpose left in life? Is death the end of my search? If I did reach the end of the rainbow, would I still be alive? Do I want to reach it? If I knew that by answering all the questions there would be nothing else to retain me here, would I keep searching? Is wisdom incompatible with life?

Doubt is the crown of life because truth and error come together. Doubt is living, truth is sometimes death and stagnation. When you are in doubt, you have the greatest chance to unite the dark and light sides of life.

Carl G. Jung, Dream Analysis, Vol 1

Is the purpose of life, if indeed there is any, other than the survival of the species, to answer the fundamental questions? In that case, each time I gain some (minor) wisdom, am I a step closer to death? Well, I am closer to death chronologically speaking, but am I also closer from a psychological point of view? We need to live long enough to gain some wisdom, but when we get enough of it we die because we defeated the actual purpose of life?

Bertrand Russell had a point, let’s focus on those question we can actually answer and ignore the rest. They are a source of frustration and, ultimately, a waste of time. This is a very logical attitude, but human kind has never been able to ignore these questions. They are essential to us. They corrode us.

Doubt is painful, hollow, solitary, but it keeps me alive. Would I rather have ALL the answers? No, I wouldn’t. By wondering why I am alive, I am keeping myself alive. A bit like Descartes, really. Is that the purpose of these unfathomable questions, the survival of the individual? The dissatisfaction keeps us searching and, therefore, alive. The very fact that we cannot answer these questions is what keeps us pushing. Not necessarily forward, just ‘not here’. Too many questions. Too many doubts. Too much life?

And what is death, anyway? Those people with strong opinions and no doubts, are they dead?

But you grow if you stand still in the greatest doubt, and therefore steadfastness in great doubt is a veritable flower of life. He who cannot bear doubt does not bear himself. Such a one is doubtful; he does not grow and hence he does not live. Doubt is the sign of the strongest and the weakest. The strong have doubt, but doubt has the weak. Therefore the weakest is close to the strongest, and if he can say to his doubt: “I have you,” then he is the strongest. But no one can say yes to his doubt, unless he endures wide-open chaos. Because there are so many among us who can talk about anything, pay heed to what they live. What someone says can be very much or very little. Thus examine his life. My speech is neither light nor dark, since it is the speech of someone who is growing.
Carl G. Jung, The Red Book

I find questions much more interesting than answers and, this being a post about the virtue of doubt, it doesn’t seem entirely unfair to leave many of them unanswered. My intuition tells me that peace is not found in answering these questions, but in accepting doubt as a fundamental human condition. She has been wrong before though, occasionally.

Well… I don’t know.