The mind and its need for certainty – a tendency toward black-and-white thinking


All Writings, Observations, Psychology / Monday, January 1st, 2018
Certainty is the light to the ships out in the open sea
Certainty is the light to the ships out in the open sea

Time goes by and a human mind is able to persist despite a lack of certainty.  It requires a simplicity and an exercise of patience, but it is possible.  Keeping a sense of contentment is very important during times of uncertainty.  It is quite like a ship out in the open sea.  A ship can stay out with its crew for months on end, provided it has all its necessary supplies with it.  However, it must on some day return to the shore.  It must find its dock.  This would be required to replenish itself, to provide rest to the seafaring men and women.  There would again be a time to return to sea, but for now, the certainty of the docks is what the ship needs.  It is the same with the human mind.  No matter how long and how far the mind may travel, it must find its conclusions.  Those conclusions provide certainty.  This is a need of the mind, to finally find an end to suspense and anxiety.

The peculiar uncertainty of our times

The times we are living in are truly peculiar.  Why?  It would be difficult to say this just in the manner of being on one hand or the other.  There are a few different factors involved.

  • The personal certainty we thought had been achieved turned out to be different from what we wanted.
  • The way things were done in society were the reason for questions and dislike but, had largely remained separated until the Internet started bringing them together.
  • So many nations and societies have realized that they want a different reality for themselves in view of many changes but, not everyone is on board with the vision of the leaders.  The US 2016 elections, the Brexit referendum, the UN vote on Israel, and now the Iran protests are outstanding examples.
  • There continues to be the struggle for individual rights and freedoms on the one hand and attempts to maintain social and institutional norms on the other hand.

The re-emergence of cults

It would have been said a few years ago that only certain groups of people qualify as cults.  Those were seen as extreme groups with eccentric beliefs.  As the world has opened up before our eyes through the Internet, every human community in comparison with another seems like it could more-or-less qualify as a cult.

Political convictions, religious beliefs, worldviews, and objectives so sharply separate even those who have lived together for a long time that unity seems nearly impossible.  One would be tempted to argue that if unity were possible, it would have been achieved by now.  What we find instead are cult-like communities clashing against each other.  The more they clash, individuals and communities tend toward a black-and-white thinking.

Black-and-white thinking in persons and societies

Extremism begets extremism.  We form our thoughts and live our lives either based on our own goals and desires, or we are thinking and living largely in response to the external factors.  When reason suffers at the hands of determined opposers, then any continued engagement among humans ends up in total unreasonableness.  Chaos surely follows!

In a way, it is good that at this time there is the ability to talk things out on social networks rather than through violent conflicts.  Even so, the possibility of violence is always standing as a possibility.  With the stirring of human emotions, these feelings rise and fall each day through these online interactions.

The persisting of such divisiveness, even if it results in tiredness or suppression would not be the end of these matters.  In fact, this only delays the pursuit of certainty till the next person or the next generation of persons.  The only other options then left are utter apathy or a final resolution.

The troubles, for a certainty, are self-created

Mankind seems to have not been able to settle on a set of unifying ideas.  Even though such ideas exist in the form of universal human rights and the idea of a universal brotherhood, the practical application of these is short-lived.  Aside from being able to wish for such ideas to be true, it is seldom seen that these have any longevity.

It is actually seen that longevity of an idea also does not establish its merit or legitimacy.  For example, the idea of Christianity turned from being a collection of individuals chosen by God to a mass movement spanning many nations and societies.  Instead of its teachings being the true reason for its growth, it turned into an instrument for manipulators of state, religious, and commercial leaders.

So the big question that arises about the human mind is this: Are humans able to find the truth out of their own thinking?  This is important, for truth is the ultimate certainty.  Once it has been found, it could be understood better with the passage of time but, it must be found first.  Aside from revelation, there is not any possibility of discovering such truth; and yet, not all revelations are the same!

In this time, the troubles upon all of us – climate change, social inequality, economic differences, political corruption – are of human making.  No other creature on earth is capable of as much harm or of as much good as human beings are.  The new solutions arising out of haste and frustration are not lasting.  One must seriously question if there are lasting solutions possible for humans, or is it that human beings must keep working through their problems all life long.

The hope for a solution, the desire for certainty

The story of Mahabharata presents the victory of one set of brothers over another set based on divine backing and complex moral issues.  The story of Job from the Bible shows a time of great testing and then ending in blessings.  In other words, it is the hope of humans and shown in religious texts, that all problems must come to an end.  The hope is, the end will be the fulfillment of desires and finding of satisfaction.

Where we stand today, at the start of 2018, as far as it depends upon human endeavors shows the times of struggle to continue.  There is satisfaction from work for some, while struggles continue for many.  The dream of peace and security for all is simply not fulfillable.  No human leader has such power, even though many may have such intentions.

Remember, at the start, we considered the example of a ship at sea.  We are ships at sea and keeping contentment is our safety.  The fortunate ones among us have our needs met every day.  May we not be the kind who are never satisfied and create discord among others.  We can work for peace by choosing not to be trouble-makers.  This is a choice we all have regardless of our position in life.  Our conditions may be likened to being in a vast sea of circumstances where puny men have found powers to create storms, but no way yet to calm the storms that arise out of the natural course of events.  May we not stir up storms.  Rather, let us calm the storms within and thus, help to calm the storms without.

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