And Partly Open-Minded

Its no good being absolutely certain unless you happen to be right.   Ashleigh Brilliant

My theme song has been positive uncertainty. The definition of words has frequently been an issue. In writing, different interpretations of language often interferes. This blog is my attempt to utilize the dictionary to help in promoting my concept of positive uncertainty.

For example, in my writing, the definition of the word certain is important. Here is a dictionary definition, with a user note: Certain: Definite, fixed; inevitable, beyond doubt or question; indisputable. User note: Although certain appears to be an absolute term, it is frequently qualified by adverbs, as in fairly certain. (The majority of the User Panel accepted this construction.) The user panel gives us some insight into the concept of uncertainty by saying it is ok to be a little uncertain. And maybe it suggests that being definite, fixed and beyond doubt is being too rigid and needs an adverb qualifier.

For me, to be fairly certain means also to be fairly uncertain, which means to have some doubt. My belief is that we should always be at least fairly uncertain and partly open-minded. This means we are receptive to new and different ideas and capable of changing our minds. To be dogmatic and closed-minded means to have no doubts and to be unable to change. To expect total open-mindedness and total uncertainty is probably not reasonable. But a little bit of open-mindedness and no dogma sounds a lot like positive uncertainty.

My Positive Uncertainty has been characterized as: “The benefit of doubt and the danger of dogma.” The dictionary describes: Doubt, to be skeptical or undecided; Dogma, a fixed belief or set of beliefs that people are expected to accept without any doubts. By definition uncertainty is the opposite of dogma; and this is my reason for promoting it.

To repeat my Positive Uncertainty rationale:

Decision making is about the future. The future doesn’t exist, it is uncertain and not predictable. If the future were certain, there is nothing you can do about it. Its uncertainty provides you with some possibilities. When you are making decisions about the future, doesn’t it seem wise to be fairly certain and partly open-minded?

The best way to predict the future is to create it.  Peter Drucker

Keeping the mind open in the face of uncertainty is the single most powerful                    secret of unleashing your creative potential.   Michael Gelb







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Is There Such A Thing?

 The power of science lies in its skeptical, rational, evidenced-based approach to understanding the world.  David J. Helford

On Saturday, April 22 the American people put on a demonstration about respecting science in today’s politics. This is in response to the Donald Trump and GOP current practice of dismantling and defunding environmental laws and slashing funds for scientific research. The scientific community, and now the American public, are urging precisely the opposite approach. Today there does seem to be alternative facts, false knowledge, fake news, and truthiness. Could it be we are now having alternative science?

The economy, not the environment, seems to be the focus of the alternative science approach of the current administration. Scientists are watching all this in horror, along with the demonstrators. Putting environmental efforts on hold for four or eight years of a Trump presidency is unthinkable for many scientists. Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, co author of the 2014 book National Climate Assessment, compared Washington’s approach to climate change to a person diagnosed with lung cancer continuing to smoke.

The scientific method involves hypotheses and evidence testing. The power of “political alternative science” is that they don’t have to follow the scientific method. Political laws, unlike scientific laws, are not hypotheses. They are not automatically open to scientific review. At this point in our evolution, there is no alternative to science because today there is no other rational, evidenced-based approach to understanding the world.

Republicans seem to not only be fighting democrats, they also seem to be fighting science. We need a government that respects and relies on science. The turnout at the April 22d marches demonstrates the amount of need in the voting public.

In this bewildering world we have to decide what to believe and how to act on that. In principle that’s what science is for. Science is not a body of facts. Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.      Geophysicist Marcia McNutt,

Our government today, fighting against science, doesn’t use it as a method for deciding whether what they choose to believe is true or not. They ignore the laws of science and nature. Government can’t overcome science with legislation. No one can win in the contest against science. Science always bats last.

After I finished writing this blog, President Trump, supported by republicans in congress, separated the U S from the world of science by removing this country from the Paris climate accord. Alternative science?



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A Beginners Mind

“Genuine ignorance is profitable because it leads to humility, curiosity and open-mindedness.”   John Dewey

A lot is being written lately about the virtues of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Not many people are even discussing Genuine Ignorance (GI). I believe ignorance has been getting a bad rap. Perhaps that is because in our culture we believe that intelligence is a good thing to have, even if it’s artificial, and ignorance is a bad thing to have, even if it’s genuine. But if we could promote genuine ignorance as being profitable, it might catch on. In America, being profitable is probably more popular than being intelligent. The goal of artificial intelligence is to produce intelligent computers. The goal of genuine ignorance is to produce intelligent humans.

I want to join John Dewey in promoting genuine ignorance. Of course we aren’t the only ones. Will Durant once exclaimed, “Education is the progressive discovery of our ignorance.” And Will Rogers explained that, “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.”

My goal of blog writing has been to promote a collective worldview that is open and inclusive. We will need our curiosity, humility, and open-mindedness to do this. It is well known that humans have a need to know. One definition of intelligence is the capacity to acquire knowledge. Ignorance is defined as lacking in knowledge. But here comes the paradox.  Old knowledge blocks new knowing. Nietzsche. That’s because what you already know often prevents you from learning something new. Genuine ignorance will help.

Humans not only have a need to know, we want things to be perfectly clear. We want to know that this is this and that is that. It is so much easier and comfortable to be certain. However, today, the “new sciences” are based on things like the uncertainty principle, chaos theory, relativity, and complexity.  Being certain may have become a thing of the past. In today’s world; to know for sure may not be intelligent behavior.  How can genuine ignorance help?

Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind                                                       A beginner’s mind is a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time. Zen saying

The beginner’s mind is what Zen practitioners use when describing the notion that learning requires an empty cup. When full of what you already know it is hard to acquire new knowledge. A beginner’s mind is trying to discover its ignorance, not to disguise it. This empty cup, beginner’s mind idea is like genuine ignorance, and being child-like. Children don’t know a lot so they learn a lot. They have a beginner’s mind.

You might try thinking like a child. A child hasn’t yet learned rational, adult thinking. Almost all creative thinking techniques, brainstorming for example, involve the abandonment of rational, intelligent thinking processes. Sometimes, not always, you need to think and act playfully and foolishly (unintelligently). It is interesting to note that playfulness and foolishness are considered childlike traits. Try it, you might like it.

An open, beginner’s mind allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does.  Jon Kabat Zinn


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What You Don’t Pay Attention To

Attention is our currency, and it’s precious. Florence Williams

Without it we don’t see, hear, taste.  Paul Atchley

We only experience what we pay attention to. Attention has two basic types:                 1) voluntary, active, directed attention and 2) involuntary, reflex action. Voluntary attention is clearly a very significant human commodity. But it is limited; there is only so much at our disposal, and it isn’t free. When you spend it on one thing, it costs you the ability to focus on something else. Paying attention to one thing necessarily comes at the expense of another thing.

The reason you can’t see the forest for the trees is that you are paying attention to the trees. You can’t pay attention to the trees and the forest. Attention is a finite source. Acknowledging that you can’t see everything helps you “see” your inattentional blindness, acknowledging being blind to what you don’t pay attention to.

For example, when you look at the trees, try to imagine and visualize the forest. You know more trees are there; you know much is hidden underground. And you realize past experience of hundreds of years has had an effect on the present. None of this you can see. Try to place your mind’s eye on what you don’t see. And ask yourself, “What am I not paying attention to?”  Can you do this with other hidden “forests” (the hidden wholeness) in your observable world?

Compared to living in the past, modern life presents challenges with overwhelming attention loads. Even paying attention to what you are selectively, voluntarily, actively paying attention to, is not easy. You need to learn how to be aware of your voluntary attention and your involuntary attention.  And of course this is probably not possible.

What is possible is knowing that there is voluntary and involuntary attention and that inattentional blindness exists. Encouraging you to be more consciously aware of what you are paying attention to and not paying attention to is the purpose of this blog.

Here is some helpful comments and advice:

“Out of necessity we learn to run on ‘auto-pilot, paying attention mechanically and passively most of the time. This underscores the need to pay attention deliberately and voluntarily, thereby liberating our awareness from robotic activity.”  Daniel Goleman

The eye sees in things what it looks for and t looks for what is already in the mind. Scientific School of Police, Paris  (Notice what is already in your mind.)

In all visible things there is a hidden wholeness. Thomas Merton. (Visualize the hidden.)

* The term inattentional blindness was introduced in the 1998 book of that name by psychologists Arien Mack and the late Irvin Rock.


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And The Donkey In A Different Room

Never the twain shall meet.

“The elephant in the room” is a metaphorical idiom describing a major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so. “Never the twain shall meet” is an idiom used to suggest that two things are too different to coexist. The elephant and the donkey in different rooms implies metaphorically that the republicans and democrats will never be able to coexist in the same room discussing a major problem or controversial issue.

Today’s political parties can’t solve today’s political problems. That is because today’s political problems are caused by today’s political parties. It is better to blame the other party rather than become part of the solution. Therefore, the solution needs to come from the voting public.

This is not the first time this suggestion has been made. Much has been written lately, since the public demonstrations and marches, about the growing need and evidence that public involvement is required. The major political problem and controversial issue today cannot be avoided. Our current political system cannot fix itself. If the elephant and the donkey can’t get their political act together, the public needs to and can.

Since the elephant and donkey can’t get out of their “political silos,” some one or some thing needs to point us toward a common truth and common reality. Instead of left and right thinking, we need some “common good” thinking (for the benefit or interests of all).Of course we could think: “This is simply another typical stage in American politics; wait and we will get over it.”  To me, that sounds like “elephant in the room” thinking.

“Common good thinking” in the political room or even in the voting public is probably considered “pie-in-the-sky” thinking. But if not the people, the 1% rich people, the middle class people and the poor people, then who?  If not now, when?

… and that government of the people, by the people, for the people,                                        shall not perish from the earth.  A. Lincoln



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No New Tricks

You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks. Dorothy Parker

The reason you can’t teach an old dogma new tricks is because dogma feels so good. Why change when being certain feels so comfortable? Dogma is truly man’s best friend, Swami Beyondananda. Dogma is defined as a fixed belief or set of beliefs that people are expected to accept without any doubts, (Cambridge English Dictionary). If believing is seeing and your beliefs are fixed, then your seeing is fixed, permanent, stuck. You can’t change your mind and you can’t change what you see. The biggest problem with dogma is that change is impossible. Dogma leaves one closed-minded, unable to change. If you can’t change you can’t learn.

Beliefs are not all the same; there is a continuum of beliefs; they vary in certainty. At one end of the continuum are the dogmatic beliefs and at the other end are the tentative beliefs. Actually by dictionary definition all beliefs are tentative; they are not facts or the truth but more like opinions, assumptions, and thoughts. But that isn’t always true in “human definitions.” Some people believe that what they believe is the absolute truth and not open to questioning (dogmatic). Some people believe their beliefs are hypotheses, open to questioning and examining (tentative). Some other people don’t think much about what they believe and don’t want to bother questioning (the passive believer). Passive beliefs are somewhere in the middle of the continuum.

Dogmatic beliefs matter most because of their inability to change. In today’s complex, rapidly changing world, nations with opposing dogmatic beliefs resort to bombing each other. I think you could argue that if all human beliefs were “tentative hypotheses,” the world would be heading in a different direction. Of course all of your beliefs or my beliefs are probably not hypotheses. We all have our beliefs that blind us and bind us. The first step toward illumination is admitting that we have them. Such awareness is the objective of this blog.

Since dogma can’t learn new tricks, I will not propose any new tricks. But I do point out the problem and I will suggest a solution. The cure for dogma of course is doubt, uncertainty, open-mindedness, inquiry, examination, investigation. Doubt leads to questions; certainty doesn’t. The surest way to lose the truth is to pretend you already posses it, Gordon Allport. Because all of our beliefs are probably not hypotheses, we might want to ask ourselves questions about some important beliefs. And we might even ask others questions about our beliefs. How do we know that what we believe is true?

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s                                                             what you know for sure that ain’t so.    Mark Twain

Drive Your Karma, Curb Your Dogma.  Swami Beyondananda

My karma just ran over my dogma. Barbara Johnson



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 They Determine What We Do

We prefer to believe what we prefer to be true. Francis Bacon

It seems to me that beliefs are the biggest problem in the world today. Our beliefs become behavior; what we decide to do is the result of what we believe. That’s what makes beliefs matter; believing is seeing and doing.

And why beliefs are the problem is explained by the Francis Bacon quote above. Obviously preferred beliefs aren’t always true beliefs, but might often be the preferred truth. Beliefs, preferred or true, have consequences.

If you believe it will rain, you will decide to carry an umbrella. If you believe climate change is dangerous, you will decide to do something about it. There is a lot of scientific evidence to support your belief in rain and the dangers of climate change. If you don’t believe it will rain and don’t carry an umbrella, you will likely get wet. If you don’t believe climate change is dangerous and don’t do anything about it, to may get more than wet. And maybe it won’t rain and maybe climate change isn’t dangerous.

Today, political beliefs may be more dangerous than environmental beliefs. If you believe Donald Trump and republican beliefs about immigration, the environment, the economy and the way to make America great again you will continue to be supportive.

Although there is scientific evidence available about these beliefs, other evidence will be coming to you from all directions, some reliable, some totally false and some with information trying to persuade you one way or the other. Today, social media is aimed at influencing personal beliefs. They focus on one’s preferred truths.

Preferred beliefs, unsupported by scientific evidence, are the result of the subjectivity of human consciousness, which is full of cognitive belief biases. These biases focus on personal preferences and support propaganda and indoctrination efforts. Here are four of the 71 cognitive biases identified.

Confirmation Bias: Our tendency to emphasize information that supports our beliefs      while unconsciously ignoring or rejecting information that contradicts them.

Perceptual Bias: Our brain automatically assumes that our perceptions and beliefsreflect objective truths about ourselves and the world. (“Seeing is believing.”)

Self-Serving Bias: A tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their own interests.

Bandwagon Bias: This reflects our tendency to go along with the belief systems of whatever group we are involved with. The more people we are surrounded by, the more likely we’ll be to modify our beliefs to fit theirs.

 A simple belief awareness exercise would be to use these four cognitive biases to analyze some of your preferred beliefs about the environment, the economy, politics and about America’s role in the world. Do you prefer to believe what you prefer to be true?

What matters more than beliefs?  Dogmatic beliefs matter more. I think it is possible to say that many of the major problems of the world today are the result of dogmatic beliefs. This will be the topic of my next blog.  Stay tuned.



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