Writing Prompts: Striving for Certainty

Gah. I had a few false starts with this post. I was struggling to figure out how best to frame my thoughts. I wanted to tackle the idea that if a theory or explanation is not one-hundred perfect, it should be rejected.

Now, please note, I am not saying this is what we should do. For the record, I believe this sort of mentality is flawed, and it would lead us to ignorance if ever implemented. However, there are those out there who believe that without absolute assurance, an idea should be rejected. This approach is not entirely without merit, but it is also akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

For example, if we held to this attitude with scientific theories and studies, we’d have made virtually no progress. If we waited to have absolute certainty on everything, we would hesitate to reach any conclusions, conduct any experiments based on those conclusions, and never learn a thing. Sometimes, we can only base our conclusions and decisions on the available information, and yes, it’s possible that information would lead us to an incorrect conclusion, but never, ever being willing to reach a conclusion would be paralysing.

It is a matter of considering probabilities. If there are a couple of possible explanations for say, an archaeological find, and there is more evidence to support one option over the other, do we sit on the fence indefinitely, or do we reach a conclusion based on the evidence? Some might assert that the conclusion could be wrong, and it could be, but it is better than never reaching a conclusion at all. If we failed to conclude anything, on the basis of what ifs and maybes, then that would only make us look indecisive, and we’d never advance on any goal.

There are those who believe the pursuit of the best answer and the truth are two separate things. They are not. Those who are trying to piece together history are looking for the best explanation to explain the available evidence, freely aware that there may be details missing or corrupted, but what are they supposed to do? Never reach a conclusion? Never made a decision? Should they throw out the evidence they do have, in favour of what if? People can only reach conclusions based on the evidence. That is logical. Of course new evidence might prove older theories or ideas wrong, but that is not embarrassing or a sign of weakness; the history of human endeavour is built upon dismantling old theories and replacing them with better ones. Indeed, sometimes we only develop new theories because of testing older ones, and finding out something new with new technologies.

If you wait for absolute certainty before saying anything, you’ll be forever silent.

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