“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
— Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965
I can’t shake this quote. I read this on my weekly email blast I received from Tim Ferriss a few weeks back (“Quotes I’m Currently Pondering”) and I’ve been pondering it a lot ever since. With that, enjoy my brain dumping some thoughts out of my head and into my journal, and now, onto this blog post...
Searching for Certainty
Yes, 1 + 1 = 2. I’m not questioning that. But, in general, if you hold a belief or “truth” too close and believe it is irrefutable beyond measure, well then I am skeptical of it immediately. I’m not skeptical of everything but I question the validity of a lot of things, especially when people take hard lines. Richard Feynman also said, “People search for certainty. But there is no certainty.”
Indeed, we do search for certainty. For instance, when I get asked things like, “Are you ever going to drink again?”, I simply say “I don’t know, but I’m not going to drink now”. That’s the truth because I don’t know what the future holds, no one does. So why should I be so bold as to predict it and be disappointed if it doesn’t happen the way I declared it or envisioned it in my head?
Some people may say “I’ll never drink again” as an affirmation of their resolve and truly mean it. I applaud them for it and will support them wholeheartedly. I just don’t like the black and white of most things though, and that’s just me. The gray is where I like to be and I think being here means I also accept the “black and white thinkers” as well, after all, gray wouldn’t exist without a little black and white. The more I take time to think on my own, to meet different people and talk with them, the more open I become to not knowing things and questioning more beliefs I have had and held. I’m not perfect at it but that’s the point. When I dip too far to one end or another, how can I step back and think about my actions?
I think the gray area is where all the good stuff is located. The black and white is where people take stands and believe in things no matter what. No matter how much evidence tells you this person is “wrong” or this action was “right”, you have to stick to your unwavering beliefs. You can still believe strongly in things in the gray area, it just leaves you the opportunity to learn and change with new and compelling information. I’d rather live in the gray and change sides once I know (or feel) that something doesn’t sync up with my internal compass.
What does my, personal gray area thinking look like? Well, what’s the most black and white question you can come up with?
I got one!
Is there a God? Good question and here’s my answer... I don’t know. I’m ok with that. Again, I would rather think of the question and ponder it, read about it, and ponder it some more. I would rather have that than believe in something no one can know. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God, just that I’m thinking about the concept in my own way. In my own time. Content never to get an answer and to find out for myself once I draw my last breath. Or not.
Ok, maybe that isn't a totally black and white question but a vast majority of people land on the black or white spectrum with their answers on it. But that's just how I think about a lot of things. I'm ok with not knowing some answers, no matter how big the question. I'm just trying to be content with more things in life because we can hold tightly to thoughts and feelings that may only be hurting one person in the end... Us. Can I be stuck in traffic and not be annoyed because I know it's not going to help or make it go faster? Can I recognize that a perceived slight wasn't a personal attack on me but just something that happened for reasons that have nothing to do with me? Can I be content doing less because it is better for me even though the world constantly tells me I need to do more? All I can say is I'm working on it!
Heraclitus said, “No man steps in the same river twice.” Every second that goes by a person changes and is not the same as the second before. Just like a river and it’s steady flow of water we are constantly changing, absorbing new inputs and information. We like to label things “good” and “bad” and make snap decisions. Each of these decisions we make can help inform the next which is a necessary part of evolution: adaptation and learning. But we also use that evolution, that learning, to form our outlook on life. Our brain evolved to simplify tasks and actions as much as possible to save energy and to help us survive. After all, we wouldn’t be here today if a long time ago we didn’t learn to immediately run from or turn and fight a saber-tooth tiger when it was ready to pounce on us.
OK, side note, 1 + 1 = 2 AND I’m running for cover from a saber-toothed tiger if I see one. There are now two things I won’t question! Although now I’m questioning my ability to make it 5 feet without being eaten in this scenario.
Simplification, adaptation, and survival can also harm us as well. If one drink for stress is good, well then two must be better. If everyone around me is drinking then it must not be that bad. I couldn'’t possibly just stop drinking because people will think I have... **gasp**... a "problem"! I’ll be cast out of the herd. If I’m cast out of the herd I can’t survive.
This is where the gray area helps. Everyone needs to realize that alcohol use is a spectrum, it isn't black and white (although it can be, this is the fringe). You don't have a problem OR you can tolerate it and "drink responsibly". Alcohol impacts everyone in the same general way physiologically, but then our genetic make-up, chemical make-up, personalities, environment, past, and more take over from there. Each one of those could impact us on their own or in combination with the other variables. The gray area is where we can make decisions for ourselves instead of following along with these accepted social norms without question. It’s where we allow ourselves to take a peek outside of the herd.
So... after the long fall down this rabbit hole in my brain I come back to this question, "Will I ever drink again?"
I’m happy to still report that, you guessed it, I don’t know. I’m ok with that. I would rather focus on more important things like continuing to work on myself everyday to get better. I would rather deal with heartache, stress, sadness, worry, and joy right now with a clear head and looking for ways to learn to handle them better. But how much heartache can I bear without a drink? How much worry? How much stress? I don’t know. I am only human after all. I guess I won’t ever know those limits until I meet them with those eyes (and sabered teeth) looking back at me. You can check back in later for the answer which I guess you'll have once I either have a drink or I draw my last breath, whichever happens first.
But, I know I’m not drinking right now. That is pretty black and white and I’m definitely ok with that since it is happening in this moment. If you want to join me, I’ll be over here hanging out with my alcohol-free, sober-curious, soberish herd. Feel free to come on over and survive (and thrive) with us if you want. We’re growing by the day.