Certainties and Uncertainties

I’m never certain about anything. I regard everything I know as tentative, provisional. I sometimes wonder whether I know anything at all.

I’ve always regarded this world as a mystery, and everything in it as almost infinitely mysterious. I think hills and mountains are mysterious things. I think lakes and oceans are mysterious things. And clouds and wind and rain. And stars and planets.

And living things are even greater mysteries, and humans the most mysterious of all.

So I always wonder how other people arrive at their certainties. For many of them seem to be quite certain about almost everything.

I tend to be a bit of lone thinker, a lone explorer. Idle Theory is an idea I had 40 or 50 years ago, and which I gradually expanded and extended. And for the past 18 months I’ve been thinking about ice ages, tentatively exploring a new explanation of how they might work. And from time to time as I explore I get stuck, and find my way barred, and I’m forced to turn back, retrace my steps, and try coming at it all from a different direction. If I learn anything new, it always comes as a surprise to me. Emily calls me a freethinker.

But if I’ll explore things like ice ages, thinking for myself about them, I don’t think that way about everything. For the most part, what I think about most things is pretty much the same as what everyone else thinks, because I’m part of a culture in which most people think pretty much the same way about everything.

So, for example, what I know about India is next to nothing. I’ve never been there. I’m not sure I’ve ever even met an Indian, and there are supposed to be about one billion of them on the planet. I know where India is on a world map. But there are a lot of places that I don’t even know where they are on a world map. Djibouti, for example.

What I know about India is pretty much what everybody knows about it: not much. And the same applies to more or less everything else. What do I know about Grimsby: not much. I’ve never been there either.

But the odd thing about everything I know, which everyone else also knows, is that I’m always absolutely certain about it. So I’ve lived a life in which I’ve been absolutely certain about more or less everything, until I’ve started thinking about it for myself, at which point it becomes a mystery.

So the certainties of life may well simply be those things which everybody knows, and everybody has known all their lives, and has never questioned, and furthermore has never seen any reason to question. For as soon as you start questioning anything, the certainty vanishes. As soon as you start looking very closely at anything, it turns into a mystery.

Before I started thinking about ice ages 18 months ago, I thought I knew pretty much everything about them. Or at least quite a lot. It’s only been in the past 18 months that they’ve become a labyrinthine mystery.

So the answer to my question about how other people get to be so certain about things may simply be this: they never think about them. If they did, they’d lose their certainty immediately. Certain knowledge is unthinking knowledge. Certainty is what you start with. And certainty is what everybody thinks. And it’s all the more certain precisely because everybody else thinks it. Certainty gains ready agreement. Everybody knows that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and they have known it all their lives.

And this seems true. In my childhood, the world around me didn’t seem to be a mystery at all. It was all quite simple and straightforward back then. It’s really only the older that I’ve got that the world has become more and more mysterious.

Perhaps that’s like living in one single house all one’s life, with a garden outside, and a road with a car parked in it, and that’s all you ever see, and it becomes familiar and unsurprising. And so it comes as a shock to find out that your house is just one of many in a small town, which has got a school and a church and a park and a town hall. And it’s a further shock to learn that there are towns like this everywhere, with winding roads in between them, that extend all the way to the sea.

The more you find out, the more strange and mysterious it all gets. And conversely, the less you know about anything, the simpler it all seems, and also the more certain.

I’ve been wondering why so many people (e.g. the Prince of Wales, or Alexandria Ocasio=Cortez) seem to be so certain about Global Warming. I may have found the answer: They’re certain about it because they’ve never really thought about it at all. For certainty about something comes from not thinking about it. As soon as you start thinking, the doubts start creeping in. Once you start asking questions, the questions only multiply.

About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to Certainties and Uncertainties

  1. RdM says:

    So, for example, what I know about India is next to nothing. I’ve never been there. I’m not sure I’ve ever even met an Indian

    Plenty of Indians in NZ, owning convenience store or bottle stores (liquor sales).
    The two closest to me are owned by Indians.

    Connections between India and Great Britain?



    & etc

  2. Algernon Struthers says:

    Djibouti isn’t in India, it’s in Africa :)
    The Bible warns about being wise, lol, ignorance is bliss: “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”
    Knowledge, of course, is refined with wisdom but no such afflictions trouble AOC or Prince Charles it seems, heh.

  3. roobeedoo2 says:

    I got an email through asking if I want to participate in a consultation:


  4. jaxthefirst says:

    “I got an email through asking if I want to participate in a consultation”

    Wow, RBD – how come you’ve come into the range of their radar??! They must be keeping an eye on you!

    Mind you, from the look of this consultation, this seems to be a set of questions which are impossible to answer any way other than the way they want you to. It’s a bit like that old lawyers’ favourite: “when did you stop beating your wife?” It’s simply impossible to answer any of them in a way that doesn’t somehow work to their advantage, and I’m sure that’s probably the object of the whole exercise.

    If you give an answer that says that the display ban (for example), has had zero effect on the numbers of people starting, or continuing, to smoke, then they will take that as an indication that “tougher legislation” is required in order to achieve their stated aims. Answer, on the other hand, that there are lots and lots of people who have given up smoking, or not started, because of the display ban and they’ll take that as a red light that “display bans and similar forms of legislation” have been enormously successful (which they will of course at the same time interpret as being “enormously popular”) and will trumpet the success of these regulations from the rooftops – and, of course, suggest that these “successes” illustrate that more of the same will achieve even “better” results. For them, it’s a win-win situation which, I guess, is precisely why they’ve designed this consultation the way they have.

    It’s all clearly done from an initial standpoint that forcing people into giving up (or not starting) is, per se, a Universally Good Thing, and they have worded their questions accordingly – as if there are no downsides at all state-sponsored bullying and coercion of this type. There simply isn’t any way of indicating in any answer to any of these questions just how tired – indeed wary – people (including, if the responses to Vine’s recent Twitter rant are anything to go by, many non-smokers) have become with this relentless smoker-bashing and heavy-handed harshness against a minority group. I think that many people are finally starting to see the State’s attacks on smokers for the social equivalent of eugenics that it truly is. There are also glimmers of awareness just now starting to show, even amongst hitherto-unaffected non-smokers, that what’s happened to smokers can perfectly easily – and probably will – happen to any other group that the State decides that it disapproves of, and that’s something which concerns far more people than just us smokers, now that we are quite clearly slaloming gaily down the Slippery Slope that the anti-smoking machine assured us didn’t really exist.

    And isn’t it interesting that they’ve conveniently timed this “consultation” to miss out the year which saw the implementation of the Bullies’ Charter that started this whole ball of nastiness rolling in the first place – the smoking ban itself? Now, I wonder why that is …

    • roobeedoo2 says:

      I think it’s because I submitted answers to the Plain Packaging consultation a few years ago. Agree with you their questions, Jax.

  5. RdM says:

    Yes yes I’ve been reading this in more detail with interest –


    Because here in NZ TC have pushed enough (minimum resistance) to push through this:


    So I’m going to attempt a submission in 14 days.

    It’s worth looking at the Hansard to see how weak National MP’s are in their speeches…

  6. Mark Jarratt, Canberra, Australia says:

    The fight continues, the latest being the nanny state bourgeois prohibitionists of North Sydney Council, crowing gleefully about removing more rights and freedom from smokers already “exiled to the outdoors”, without even a pretense of stating the dose or duration of exposure to the dreaded 2nd hand smoke determined to cause not contribute to adverse health in the oh so pure innocent bystanders struggling through clouds of diesel exhaust. These bullies have no respect for the choices of others, and if the proposed additional bans were so popular why does every level of government pass yet more and more legislation to prohibit a legal product. As a matter of jurisprudence, or impudence, how can a consumer product simultaneously be illegal yet legal to purchase and consume… https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/north-sydney-brings-in-a-total-smoking-ban/ar-AAEGNwe?li=AAgfIYZ

    • RdM says:

      “Exposure to second hand smoke, even if you’re not a smoker yourself, increases the risk by up to 30 per cent,” she said.

      Of the 18 per cent who didn’t support the ban, some believed “smokers need somewhere to go”, while others argued “government shouldn’t be regulating behaviour”.

      The absurdity of the first paragraph, just nonsense.

      And re “smokers need somewhere to go” – recently still developing Auckland City Council were considering something like that, banning them from the CDB (because children – who either infants unable to appreciate adult behaviour or should be in school) – thinking maybe create a smoker space marked with red dots on a map …

      I thought, call them
      Government Havens Enabling Taking Tobacco Outdoors.


      Has a nice ring to it?

  7. RdM says:

    Boris vote in an hour or so, or a half?

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