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Allan Macdougall

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Which is the more powerful in solving the world's biggest problems - Doubt or Certainty?

When confronted with seemingly insurmountable problems, what would be the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?

When doubt or certainty are allied to belief systems and/or conventional wisdom, do they become and more - or less - powerful in their ability to solve such problems?

Is it better to try to view the overall picture of a problem in order to solve it and then work towards the relevant detail, or to be more focused on close-up detail first and then to work outwards to try and find the bigger context?

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    Dec 20 2012: I believe balance is the most powerful my friend Allan:>)

    For best results, we need to view the overall picture, work toward relevant detail, focus on close-up detail and the bigger context. I find certainty in the process is the most powerful....certainty with the belief that we CAN find a solution, and questioning ourselves in seeking all possible information, which leads to solution. If we have too much certainty, it may prevent us from totally exploring, and if we have questioning that leads to doubt, it may prevent exploration.......BALANCE:>)
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      Dec 20 2012: Colleen - great to hear from you as always!

      "If we have too much certainty, it may prevent us from totally exploring, and if we have questioning that leads to doubt, it may prevent exploration..."

      This statement is true, and the need for balance I think is without question. But I do wonder about the order in which we balance doubt and certainty in the face of the most urgent and biggest problems we face. It seems to me that certainty alone plods along laboriously wearing lead boots - and by the time we've gathered enough empirical information to solve it within the confines of certainty, then the disaster will already have happened.

      Doubt opens up new vistas, clarifies context and speeds up the process of making things certain and believable. Doubt is not a negative action - it is entirely positive, especially where ugent action is needed, and where arriving at realistic certainties is its prescribed goal.

      You've probably gathered by now that the urgent problem in question concerns climate change. The empirical evidence (the certainty) that it is actually happening has been established years ago by climate scientists.

      What do you think the barriers now are preventing speedy action, given that we now know what will happen?
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        Dec 20 2012: Hi Allan,
        For me, there doesn't have to be a planned "order in which we balance doubt and certainty". In my perception and life experience, I face what needs to be faced WHEN it needs to be faced:>)

        I do not experience certainty as "laboriously wearing lead boots....". I travel the life experience with certainty in my heart....as I said...certainty of the process. That doesn't mean that I always have the process in some kind of "order". It simply means that I am open to all possibilities.

        You say..."...by the time we've gathered enough empirical information to solve it within the confines of certainty, then the disaster will already have happened."

        Well......do you believe that with our thoughts and feelings we create our own reality? If we carry your statement above, in our heart and mind, how successful do you think/feel our experience will be?

        I believe QUESTIONING with an open mind and heart opens up new vistas, I do not believe doubt opens new vistas. I believe doubt simply shuts the door to more exploration. I do not perceive it as negative or positive....it is what it is. What happens when we start doubting ourselves? For me, it simply limits the process. You believe that doubt takes us to certainty? I don't get that.....and don't agree.

        Doubt, by definition, means fear...lack of confidence...distrust...consider unlikely...uncertainty...interferes with decision-making...hesitation...not to believe or accept...."
        How does that move us to certainty?

        I agree that climate change and the effects are clearly evidenced.

        I believe the "barriers" are people in our world who do not accept the evidence. They have doubt, distrust, they consider it unlikely, and I believe the actions we need to take to create change may interfere with certain lifestyles, so they choose NOT to see, hear or experience the evidence! Like you say, we have had evidence for a long time. Those who choose not to see it, simply don't want to change their lifestyle?
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          Dec 20 2012: It's not often I disagree with you Colleen, but here I have to question some of the things you have said, though I agree with much of your rationale behind it.

          I think we are fooling ourselves that we know it all, The intellectual tools we use to get that knowledge seems one-sided - both psychologically and behaviourally. Certainty is a cul-de-sac of knowledge, never to be questioned. You've said as much in your comment - but I feel that it is DOUBT, along with the questioning that it engenders, that opens the door of wider knowledge - and to the appropriateness of its context within a wider world.

          Doubt really is not synonymous with fear or doom as you seem to think. It is actually an enabler of questions. I know that by looking at your commenting style on TED, that you might just agree with that. You don't come across as fearful, but you do come across as a good questioner - and here's the crux - you question things because you must have had doubt somewhere along the line.

          I should have clarified in my question that having doubt about the world if we are doubtful about ourselves is potentially dangerous, limiting and doom-ridden. However, doubting conventional wisdom from a standpoint of confidence, is different - and is the doubt I wanted to discuss.

          Re your last paragraph - People get very disturbed and angry when their certainties about themselves and their world are questioned. Given that some so-called 'certainties' originate from beliefs, they therefore need to be questioned from a place of neutrality (and by the way, would such neutrality originate from certainty or doubt...?). I wonder if getting stuck in a particular belief is down to a need to avoid such a disturbance, or whether it's rooted in the fear of having that essential doubt?

          Are we pushed into beliefs, or are we pulled into them?
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        Dec 20 2012: Allan,
        I'm not "fooling" myself that I "know it all".

        The definition I gave, was found in the dictionary. If you do not believe it to include fear....so be it.
        "Doubt, by definition, means fear...lack of confidence...distrust...consider unlikely...uncertainty...interferes with decision-making...hesitation...not to believe or accept...."

        No, I didn't say..."I feel that it is DOUBT, along with the questioning that it engenders, that opens the door of wider knowledge..."

        I said that for me, questioning is good, and with "the belief that we CAN find a solution... questioning ourselves in seeking all possible information... leads to solution. If we have too much certainty, it may prevent us from totally exploring, and if we have questioning that leads to doubt, it may prevent exploration....."

        I said..."I believe QUESTIONING with an open mind and heart opens up new vistas, I do not believe doubt opens new vistas. I believe doubt simply shuts the door to more exploration. I do not perceive it as negative or positive....it is what it is. What happens when we start doubting ourselves? For me, it simply limits the process."

        If you believe that doubt takes us to certainty, I respect your perception, and I do not agree.

        I question, because I like to learn and grow. I don't think/feel my questioning ever (or very rarely) has ANYTHING to do with doubt. As I said in previous comments, I like to open the mind and heart to exploration, and I am "certain" that the process of question and exploration brings me knowledge and learning.

        I believe that if one is doubtful about ourselves, it projects into the world, and what projects "out" also projects "in" our "self".....yes?

        I agree that folks sometimes get angry or disturbed when certainties about themselves and their world are questioned. Have you noticed that I've said a couple times, the only thing I am certain about is the "process" of questioning and exploration. Neutrality originates from certainty...IMHO:>)
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          Dec 21 2012: Colleen, that comment was not pointed at you personally - or indeed anyone who is willing and able to question effectively, as you do. Maybe we're disagreeing on semantics - what appears to me as something that has its origins in doubt, you see as originating in questions and exploration (equally valid and absolutely necessary).

          I'm suggesting that there is probably a stage before we question something, and that we have to doubt before we question, even only for a millisecond of cognition - easily overlooked. As an example, someone first has to doubt their formerly UNquestioned faith in a religion before actually questioning it, as a prelude to moving towards a more secular way of life.

          I can't accept that neutrality originates from certainty. For me, certainty stops things dead in their tracks and is therefore more related to a stagnation of ideas, and masquerades as unquestionable 'truth'. Furthermore, certainties become even less questionable when they move into 'beliefs' - and that's precisely the point at which we really should be doubting/questioning them.
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        Dec 21 2012: Dear Allan,
        I did not take your comment personally. You wrote..."I think we are fooling ourselves that we know it all". I assumed you meant we humans? I wanted to clarify that I am NOT feeling that I "know it all". In fact, in the whole scheme of things, I know very little.

        Perhaps it is semantics.... that may be it:>) You believe something has origins in doubt, and I see origins in questions/exploration. I still think/feel that doubt, as defined, gets in the way of exploration/questioning. I agree with the dictionary that doubt has an element of fear.

        Ok....you say... "someone first has to doubt their formerly UNquestioned faith in a religion before actually questioning it, as a prelude to moving towards a more secular way of life.".
        I agree.
        What if, a person is regularly questioning the belief? Does there need to be doubt to move? Or could a person say.....that belief worked for me at a certain time in my life because I wholeheartedly believed in the dogma. With questioning, I discovered something different and I will move on. With this scenario, there is no "doubt" of the belief, nor any "doubt" in the person him/herself.

        That's how I function...good, bad or neutral as it may be:>) My exploration is of the life adventure....of that I am certain:>) Many thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, and beliefs move through that exploration all the time. I personally do not doubt that process in myself. You don't have to accept the process....it is a choice:>)

        You had a couple questions I did not have room for in my last comment...
        "I wonder if getting stuck in a... belief is... a need to avoid... disturbance, or whether it's rooted in the fear of having... essential doubt?"

        I believe getting stuck in a certain belief is sometimes based on a need, fear and doubt.

        "Are we pushed into beliefs, or are we pulled into them? "
        Can be both or either can it not? We can also make a choice based on relevant information, which does not require either pushing or pulling:>)
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          Dec 21 2012: Thanks for your stimulating thoughts Colleen.

          I have to leave for Christmas earlier than expected, so won't have the time to discuss further - as much as I'd really like to!

          Hope you have a great Christmas! ;-)

          Allan
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        Dec 22 2012: Safe journey Allan:>)

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