Monday, 21 December 2009

The Indubitable Value of Doubt

The mark of a fool is his unwillingness to change his mind, so they say. The willingly ignorant exchange what is the birthright of humanity - the ability to reason - for a sham security. It is a sham because it is built on arrogance and buttressed by fear and a disregard for truth.

Many of us have, like the fool, found ourselves at one time or another bound in a set of mind less-than-convincing, and mortally afraid of the questions that would shake our paradigms. We have built fortresses against the assaults of doubt, and locked ourselves inside. Doubt is a fearsome thing to the one who is more concerned with security than truth. We'd rather become our own prisoners than expose ourselves to the possibility that we might be wrong. But questions, once asked, are insidious things. They find the unevenness along the walls of our thought-fortresses, and once wedges have been inserted into the cracks, it is only a matter of time until the walls crumble. This is a frightening experience indeed, but some of us have so been unloosed from our self-imposed prisons.

Doubt, then, is a liberator.

So often, recently, I have read and heard people extolling the virtue of doubt and scoffing at the human desire for surety, truth, knowledge; and there is a part of me that agrees. But very many of the treatises I have come across have lauded doubt while denying the very thing that makes it so valuable. What is the use of doubt if it tears down the knock-kneed walls of our beliefs and then leaves us there, dizzied and exposed? Did we fare worse trapped in false belief than we do as wanderers unable to move beyond the doubt, and cut off from the hope of knowing reality?

Doubt is useful because it exposes falsity - but it is a poor replacement for truth. We are wrong to hide from questions, but we are not wrong to seek and rest in the knowledge that isn't shaken out by questions, however incomplete it may be. The problem is not contentment, but complacency. When arrogance and fearful ignorance and imposter faith have been put to doubt's test and their inherent weaknesses revealed, they must be replaced by knowledge, not the placebo-philosophy that doubt is all we are capable of.

Let us embrace doubt, even if it shakes what we hold most dear. But we are doubly fools if we allow our delusions to be destroyed,and then dupe ourselves with an empty chant about there being no truth.