The Sin of Certainty

“… let me tell you that the one sin I have come to fear more than any other is certainty. Certainty is the great enemy of unity. Certainty is the deadly enemy of tolerance. … If there was only certainty, and if there was no doubt, there would be no mystery and therefore no need for faith.”

(Cardinal Jacopo Lomeli, in “Conclave”, Robert Harris)

That quote really jumped out at me when I read it on Christmas Day. It seemed to sum up so much of what is wrong with the world today.

Certainty is the great enemy of unity”. That makes sense to me; if one is certain about something, then only that thing can be correct. And all other opinions must be erroneous. Instant division – either right or wrong, nothing in between.

Certainty is the deadly enemy of tolerance.” Same thing – if you’re certain about something, you’re not going to be particularly tolerant of those who don’t share your view.  At best you’re going to pity them, at worst despise them. Again that separation into the right-thinkers and the wrong-thinkers.

The trouble with Certainty is that it’s an absolute; it doesn’t allow for any shades of grey between black and white, between correct and incorrect, between right and wrong. And my experience of the world is that it’s a technicolor dream, with every possible shade available, depending upon your particular perspective.

Remember that Facebook post, where someone got the world arguing about the colour of a dress? Was it black and blue, or white and gold? Each side was completely certain about their view, based on the empirical evidence they experienced. Only later did it come out that because we each process colour differently both views were capable of being correct.

So it’s not just the airy-fairy stuff like opinions, morals and ethics – and dare I say it, religion – that is subject to unreliable perceptions, and therefore doubt. We can’t even rely on what we can see with our own eyes.

And that brings me to the last part of the passage: “… there would be no mystery and therefore no need for faith.” We need to understand that the vast majority of our experience of this reality is based on our own perception.  That means we take pretty much everything on faith. That might be faith in some higher being, or faith in what we are told by scientists, or some combination of the two.  That’s for each of us to choose for ourselves.

Because unless we have observed the behaviour of the quantum particles of an atom for ourselves, and with our own senses (hint: not with an electron microscope – that uses the very things we’re using it to observe!), then we are reliant on what the priests of the science dogma tell us is going on. Just as the churchgoers of the middle ages were reliant on their priesthood for their understanding of the world. And as the warriors of ancient times were reliant on the medicine man to explain the things that they experienced.

We have faith in science. Or in religion. Or in mumbo-jumbo. Whatever works for you.

The problems come when the adherents of one set of priests start to believe that their lot have got it all right. In other words, when they become certain. Because that means they have to tear down the followers of all the others.

History has shown us that there’s always trouble whenever anyone thinks they have all the answers. And especially if they think they’ve found The Answer. Because then they feel they have to defend their Answer, and impose it on those too stupid to see it for themselves.  And some new knowledge or perspective always pops up later, proving them ‘wrong’.  The sensible ones back down, and shuffle, shamefaced, into the canon of ‘people who got it oh so wrong’. The less sensible battle on, desperate to save face, thus taking the world into dangerous schisms, and even into war.

If you ask me, so far at least, only one entity has ever got The Answer right.  The Deep Thought computer (in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) said the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42 – which just happens to be the ASCII code for the asterisk. Which happens to represent, well, whatever the hell you want it to be!

To me, the mystery that pervades all of life, that uncertainty about the world, that doubt that makes faith necessary, that’s what makes the world such fun. If there was one single, certain truth, then there would be one single, certain, inevitable way to get on in the world.  Like robots – or denizens of The Matrix.

And I thank God, Yahweh, Allah, Gaia, Spirit, and the Scientists – that there isn’t.

Because that would be so boring!

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Photo by Léa Dubedout on Unsplash

Step away from the sound-bite, Sir!

Ever since Facebook introduced the ability to make a short status update look more interesting by putting it in big text on a pretty colour background, I have noticed an increasing tendency for people to put up short provocative posts.  And many of these posts provoke quite a lot of discussion – I suspect that’s the aim, to increase FB reach by tricking the algorithm into thinking the original poster has created something of value to the other platform users. After all, loads of them responded, didn’t they?

And, to a large extend, the algorithm is right.  More responses does mean the audience think the post was worth commenting on. Even if, as is often the case, to say it’s utter bollocks.

I would love to be able to say that the problem is that both the algorithm and the people commenting are rewarding behaviour they don’t really value. Because no-one sees value in truncated click-bait provocation with no thinking behind it, do they?

Except that’s not the case. As far as Facebook is concerned, pretty much ANY interaction with the platform is good. Unless it’s a baby with a nipple in its mouth, but that’s a whole other issue. Because people doing stuff on FB are people it can show ads to. WE are the product folks, never forget that!

That the algorithm rewards crap posts is bad enough. But the worse thing is that the people who respond are ALSO rewarding crap posts BECAUSE THEY LIKE THEM.  Posting sound-bite nonsense is serving a certain part of the FB community by giving them something to pontificate about.

Facebook is a great place to have a go at people, and to demonstrate our superior intellect/financial position/business acumen/spirituality/consciousness/general worthiness (select all that apply). So people posting poorly-thought-out click-bait are providing us with an opportunity to make ourselves look good.  And the fact that we get to do it at the expense of someone a bit dim – well, that’s even better, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had a lot of very good conversations on Facebook (and other social media), where we‘ve been able to fully explore a controversial subject in quite some depth.  Most of those discussions have led to me understanding more about the world, and the shallowness of my previous grasp of the topic.  So I’m not saying there’s no value to arguing on Facebook (though it must be said that Mrs H disagrees – frequently).

But very few of those meaningful conversations have started from a brightly-coloured sound-bite click-bait post.

When the opening post has some depth (even if it’s deeply erroneous, in my world-view), those who bother to read it tend also to have sufficient depth of appreciation of the topic to bring cogent arguments to the discussion.  There’s less ‘yah-boo’ and ad hominem, and more reasoned and courteous argument – which is, in the end, what changes minds and informs debate.

The danger is that we become so used to the click-bait stuff, and get so much fun out of scoring silly points in a shallow and divisive argument, that we leave ourselves insufficient time to think deeply about anything.  And that harms the whole of society.

So please think before you respond to a click-bait provocation: would my time be better spent finding someone to engage with who can actually be bothered to develop a cogent thought?

I suggest that we all start right now to boycott all posts that seek to distract us with psychedelic  backgrounds and pithy, but essentially empty, sound-bites.

Maybe time really is flying?

Do you remember when you were a child and sometimes a day felt like a week and a week felt like a year, because the possibilities felt so endless, and the adventures you could have were so vast and varied?

During my morning meditation the other day it occurred to me that what if, as infinite beings having a human experience, what we see as a lifetime is really, in the context of the existence of an infinite being, just a day or so of grand and glorious adventures?

What if for our real selves, the things we allow to upset and frustrate our human selves are like those little tears and tantrums we experienced as human toddlers? And instantly forgot when the cookie jar opened, or we found something else to explore.

What if, to our infinite selves, the world is one big cookie jar, open and ready to sustain us as we venture out into this brief reality with gleeful curiosity?

How much joy could we spread then?

Living the dream?

I just read The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly – it’s a nice little tale of a business that wakes up to its role in helping the people who work for it to be the best version of themselves they can be.

The way they do that is by appointing a “Dream Manager” whose job is to help employees to first dream up, and then realise the things they really want from life.  In the story, that’s everything from owning their own home to simply having a proper Christmas.

It got me thinking – maybe the real reason organisations exist is not, as I have thought up until now, to help people bring their talent to the world, but simply to help them be happy.  Of course, they can probably be happier if the work they do is intrinsically meaningful, but perhaps this ‘dream manager’ approach is a good way to deal with those who find themselves having to do mundane work.

What do you think?

What are organisations really for?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while – I think modern organisations – especially corporate ones – have forgotten what they are really for.

History of organisations

Back when people started to organise into collaborative groups, aka tribes, the purpose was initially strength in numbers. Over time, individuals gravitated to the tasks they were best at; and the tribe came to rely on them to get that task done. Whatever someone had a penchant for doing, so long as the tribe found that activity useful in some way – including pure entertainment value – the tribe would adjust itself to allow ways for each person’s special talent (or Genius, in my lexicon) to be used as fully as possible.

As tribes became cultures, and then societies, and then economies, they became too large to operate as a homogeneous whole, and they split into smaller units, each with a need for certain tasks too be carried out, and opportunities for those with a penchant for those tasks to provide value by doing them.

The first real commercial organisations were the crafts guilds, providing a way for talented people to learn a trade and bring their value to the world. From these came small businesses, with a Master taking on Journeymen and Apprentices – still with the purpose of making it possible for the individuals to bring their genius and value to others.

Rise of the Company

Then, at a certain point in history, mechanisation meant that if someone made a large investment in machinery, it was possible to generate more value from the same number of workers. And that was when the focus shifted from collaboration aimed at helping the individual’s talent reach the customer, to organisation aimed at getting the most from the machines in which the owners had invested their capital. Getting a return on capital took over as the primary concern; capitalism had arrived.

For a long time, capitalism played a valuable role in fuelling human development, and made significant contributions to improving mankind’s lot. The returns expected by the owners of the capital seemed justified, given the contribution they were funding to a better life. People stopped dying of preventable disease (in the developed world at least), and life-spans grew longer.

Shareholder Focus

Somewhere along the way, some bright spark had the idea of getting lots of people with money to each put in a bit of capital to buy machinery, build factories, develop new products, all in exchange for a share in the company – in the form of share certificates. So now, instead of one beneficial owner with a clear vision of what the business is there to do, there are multiple owners, who may or may not agree on its purpose.

Add to that the fact that these multiple owners then worked out that if you could get a nice return from a share in one business, you could probably do even better with shares in several. So each owner’s focus became less clear too – a recipe for confusion about what each business was supposed to be achieving.

Trading away purpose

And then another bright spark came up with the idea of an “exchange” where you could sell your shares, so now investors could easily get away from their involvement with the companies if they became irksome to them, or if things started going a bit pear-shaped. And yet another bright spark came up with the idea of putting your spare money (capital) into a “fund” that someone else would run, investing your money for you, in lots of different companies. And finally, a whole bunch of bright sparks came up with the idea of “derivative” investments, so they weren’t even investing in companies at all!

At every stage, ownership and control moved further away from any connection with what the business was actually for. Investors are no longer nobly contributing to something they want to see getting out into the world, they are just too far removed from what’s actually going on inside the companies. The only way they can know if their money is being used effectively is by the amount of profit they see getting paid out as dividends. The profit motive has now usurped the proper purpose of a business.

Real purpose

I believe if you go back to the origins of organisations, the proper purpose of any organisation, whether commercial, public sector or charitable, is to enable those who work in it to use their skills, talents and unique genius to make the world a better place for some group of other people – whether that’s by designing and building smart motor cars, by putting on amazing and amusing entertainment, or by providing the wherewithal to bring clean water to communities in the developing world.

And my question is: how can this true purpose retake the primacy that the profit motive usurped?

Has technology been holding us back?

I was participating today in an Access Consciousness vision body process class, and we were discussing how maybe being issued with glasses was making our eyes lazy, relying on the corrective lenses rather than strengthening their own ability to correct weakness.  That got me thinking about all the other tech we have come to rely on, to help us do stuff we don’t think we can do without it.

What if all this tech as actually just getting in the way of us finding more natural, innate ways to do what we have turned to tech for?

Continue reading “Has technology been holding us back?”