THE WAY I SEE THINGS: What 50 Years Has Taught Me

I want to describe, in my future blogs, what my experience has led me to believe about the way I see things and do things. For over 50 years as a counseling psychologist, I have been reading, writing and speaking about how people interpret reality and make up their minds. This journey has led me through believing in rational decision making (“by the book”), creative decision making (“positive uncertainty”) and investigating perceptions (“the process of illumination”).  *

During my journey, I have witnessed many changes in theory and practice, and in the environment. Change continues to be more rapid, more unpredictable and apparently inevitable. Therefore, change and uncertainty will continue to be themes of my future way of seeing.

Although my previous writing and speaking has been for the purpose of illuminating and expanding the way others see things, these future blogs are for the purpose of illuminating and expanding the way I see things. Trying to explain and expose my changing beliefs to others may help me better understand them, especially if I get feedback about how others interpret my explanations. This may help us both become more enlightened and expand our worldviews. Here is my first new blog.

Certainty is Not Truth

Certainty sometimes creates an illusion of knowledge, a feeling of knowing the truth.

In 1989 I adopted my “Positive Uncertainty” decision making philosophy because it became apparent that rational decision making was not how most decisions are made. And quantum physics was showing that our observations of reality depended on how we choose to view reality and that total objectivity of the observer may not be possible.

In more recent years, my reading ** in brain, mind and consciousness research has provided significant evidence about the unreliability of how individuals interpret reality and make up their minds. This has increased my belief in the wisdom of being positive about uncertainty. And yet certainty remains popular in spite of evidence of its uncertainty.

Here is where I need help. Is my well established “uncertainty bias’ and selective reading distorting my view? Can you see some distortion in my beliefs and interpretation of reality?  I believe uncertainty is unpopular because it doesn’t make us confident; it feels uncomfortable, while certainty feels good. To me a disadvantage of certainty is it leads to closed-mindedness — which inhibits flexibility, versatility, and change. The advantage of uncertainty is it keeps me open-minded — receptive to new learning and new knowing. Recent research has shown that when people are most confident of their perceptions, they are most likely to be wrong, and least likely to change.

Why is this important? I believe some of the biggest problems today in USA exist when politicians, voters, educational reformers, and decision makers feel certain about something and it makes that something feel true. Examples of this in current politics are easy to find. This illusion of truth prevents reasonable, rational, sensible choice, which is much needed in political and social decision making.

“The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth was

 not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.   Daniel J. Boorstin

Do you believe that certainty is not truth? Explain.

How have the changes of reality affected your views of certainty and uncertainty?

What is your current understanding of the role of uncertainty in how political, social and personal decisions are made?

* For more about my history and recent writing, see my website:

** Here is a short sample of my recent reading:

A Mind of its Own, Cornelia Fine, 2008: How your brain distorts and deceives

Why We Believe What We Believe, Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, 2006: How deep convictions emerge and influence our lives

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, 20011: Challenges the rational model of decision making

The Blind Spot, William Byers, 20011: Science and the crisis of uncertainty

On Being Certain, Robert Burton, 2008: Believing you are right even when you’re wrong

Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely, 2009: The hidden forces that shape our decisions

Subliminal, Leonard Mlodinow, 2012: How your unconscious mind rules your behavior

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3 Responses to THE WAY I SEE THINGS: What 50 Years Has Taught Me

  1. Eugene Unger says:

    Good job,and I’m certain,I think. What is truth? Is it always conditional? Honesty should be unconditional . We can control our own. But truth, I can’t be certain about yours. Mine are fine. I’m certain of that. Certainly kidding. One truth is . Or, there is no is.

    Sent from my iPad

  2. carl e thoresen says:

    Perspectives such as ” Positive Uncertainty” and ” Certainty is not Truth” should logically and yes reasonably be accepted by rational folks, especially those deemed the well educated. Regretfully they are not. Why? I suspect it has something to do with how our mammalian brain has evolved, especially over the last 500 thousand years. The narrative of the so-called “new” executive brain (mostly left prefrontal cortex area) where decisions, plans, and logic abound collides with older parts of the brain, with its strongly entrenched fear dominated narratives. Turns out that how we think, feel, and act are intimately involved literally in all beliefs, choices and actions. Getting folks to move toward lifestyles based more on wholesome uncertainty, delightful doubts and welcomed changes than always being right, always being certain and always perfect will requires a huge cultural shift. One initial step could be to educate folks about the role of chronic negativity and its devastating effects on the quality and quantitive of our lives. The neglected power of positivity also deserves prime time in helping become more positive about uncertainty and doubt.

  3. Beth Lyon says:

    I’ll try to be more uncertain in a positive way. But is ok to be certain that Obama, not Romney, would be the best president for the next four years?

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