Ambiguity Anxiety

And Some Ambiguous Advice

Today’s puzzle is to figure out what to do, when we don’t know what to do.                                                 Jamie Holmes in Nonsense, The Power of Not Knowing

In 1989 Richard Saul Wurman published Information Anxiety; he wrote: There is an ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. This was a cause for the title of his book. He also pointed out: But the most essential prerequisite to understanding is to be able to admit when you don’t understand something. Being able to admit that you don’t know is liberating.

I believe today information anxiety is being replaced by ambiguity anxiety for the same reason: The ever-widening gap between what we know and don’t know. Since 1989, more and more information has meant more and more uncertainty. Today what we understand is becoming more and more indefinite, unclear, and vague, which resembles the definition of ambiguous: open to more than one interpretation, doubtful or uncertain.

Recently a lot of writers are writing about the gap in our knowing and the virtues of not knowing — as evidenced by the recent publication of Nonsense. And I have been reading and also writing about uncertainty and doubt, which temps me to propose some ambiguous advice.

Ambiguous Advice: Learn To Learn And To Unlearn

We must continually unlearn much of what we have learned, and learn to learn what we have not been taught.     R D Laing

First a word about anxiety: Anxiety is a normal part of life, but it is different than fear. Fear is triggered by a direct threat; anxiety is triggered by a perceived threat. Therefore, ambiguity produces anxiety only if it is perceived as a threat. Being able to admit that you don’t know is liberating when you don’t see it as a threat.

What you are taught and learn is what is already known. This is obviously a powerful advantage, but when knowledge doubles steadily and becomes obsolete rapidly, unlearning is also an advantage, even a necessity. What you were taught may no longer be true and needs to be unlearned. Learning to unlearn is not usually taught. You need to learn it on your own. Try it you might like it

Seeing ambiguity and uncertainty as a normal part of life today is liberating, beneficial and non-threatening, and it leads to unlearning. Knowledge, understanding and beliefs are learned and can be unlearned; change happens.

To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.          Lao Tse in the Tao Te Ching



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1 Response to Ambiguity Anxiety

  1. Cynthia Schroeder says:

    Oh, I like this blog too! The Lao comment is especially invigorating! And just for interest’s sake, HB, one of Jason Siff’s (Skill Meditation Project/Recollective Awareness Meditation) newer books is titled, UNLEARNING MEDITATION-2010 ( which is what you are writing about but applied in the realms of meditation practice, I think). That is, following simple instructions about gentleness, curiosity and permission (allowing the mind to do just what it does!) what we experience when we sit down to meditation IS meditation and the experience we have in the meditation IS the resulting learning. More recent publication of Jason’s is titled THOUGHTS ARE NOT THE ENEMY-2014 which also explores the more traditional forms of meditation practice and offers ideas to suggest that by allowing thoughts to be present, by not stopping or pushing them away, accepting them just as they are rather than turning them into something else, nor by forcing the flow or meandering of thoughts somewhere else, the full experience of what happens in a meditation IS the experience of learning for oneself. This can be trusted more evidently than an imposed format, formula or ritual one has learned to use for meditation. This also fosters provisional understandings, decreases the grasping for a certain KIND of knowledge and allows for individuals to value their own independent and beneficial learning.

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