What Does It Mean To Be Certain?

 Although certain appears to be an absolute term, it is frequently

qualified by adverbs, as in fairly certain.  Dictionary

Being uncertain and open-minded have been the key strategies in my last 30 years of writing. Apparently I haven’t been thinking of certainty, uncertainty, open-minded and closed-minded as being on a continuum, as in shades of gray.  

 Let me be clear: I believe that uncertainty and open-mindedness are essential factors in wise decision making. I will confess that I believe it is better to be fairly certain than absolutely certain and somewhat closed-minded rather than totally closed-minded. But I think the ambiguity is unnecessary and confusing. For me, to be uncertain means NOT to be certain.

When someone is fairly certain, or somewhat certain, this means they are not totally sure, which means they are a little uncertain. So a little uncertainty leaves the mind a little open, somewhat receptive to new ideas. But we don’t know how much. Maybe we should ask someone who is fairly certain to be specific: 60% certain or 30% certain? That would help us know how likely one is to ask questions and to be receptive to different opinions.

Because of my constant promotion of uncertainty, these shades of gray in our language make it difficult to discuss the issue and to communicate accurately. I think this is a problem because I believe open-mindedness is an essential mental resource for the future of the world, and needs clear communication.

Do you think it is a problem? If so, is there a solution?



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  1. Eugene Unger says:

    If you don’t know where you are going, you will surely get there . I am certain of this. God willing and the creek don’t rise, we are going to Spring Training!!



  2. Carl Thoresen says:

    HB, Let’s get together. Really enjoy your recent posts on PU! peace and more–carl–

  3. says:

    Your blog about not being able to be “a little certain or a little closed-mindedness” reminds me of the impossibility of being “a little bit pregnant” 🙂


  4. Robert Leon says:

    Partner, I think that scientists, by their training and nature, are probably never certain of anything. I think we mere mortals are certain about some things or we would become paralyzed. We are certain we will all die. We are certain about what happens after that. Some people,however, are certain about what happens next. In fact, I think you know someone like that. We have talked before about being so open minded that nothing stays in your head. I agree with you that using qualifiers with”certainty”does not make sense. Let’s talk about how to live life with uncertainty as our main modus operandi. Bob

    Sent from my iPad


  5. John Krumboltz says:

    HB– I am fairly certain you are right. John

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