Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – email@example.com
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It seems that as human beings we crave certainty, we like answers, we seek explanations.
This is, I suppose, what science is about. The quest for knowledge, to discover things, or to offer cohesive theories about them.
Our quest for certainty is reflected in books and films, which for the most part contain some sort of resolution. Classically, in a whodunit, the great detective gathers all the suspects in the library, to reveal not only who the murderer is, but also to explain the clues they found, and how they used them. Everything is neatly explained, everything fits together, there are no loose ends. We can shut the book and get on with our life.
Not all endings are as neat as the whoodunit’s, but there tends to be some sort of resolution. In “Citizen Kane”, we discover the secret of Rosebud, even though nobody in the film does. In Casablanca, Rick makes a momentous decision. Lovers get together or part forever, the hero triumphs over the villain, the crook is caught or gets away.
Imagine what books or films might be like without a resolution. Suppose the great detective gathered everyone in the library and said “I’m sorry but I’m really confused. I have no idea who the murderer is.” THE END!! We might feel a bit cheated by that, I think.
And yet, in real life, we often have to deal with uncertainty. Sometimes we have to wait to find out answers. Will I get the job? Will my mother recover from her illness? The uncertainty isn’t nice to live with, but eventually it will end. But at other times we will never know the answers. Why did my relationship come to an end? Has my partner told me the whole truth about their relationship with their work-mate? We can make guesses, we can construct explanations that may or may not be true but ultimately we cannot be sure, we have to find a way to live with the uncertainty.
Certainty and control are linked, I think. If we have explanations and answers, if we feel we understand things, then we have a measure of control; we feel we know how to influence the present and the future. If we are less sure, if we are uncertain about why things have happened, how can we be certain about the future? Our fear is that bad thing will happen to us, things we have no way of preventing. Maybe this is why the human race has always sought religion. It can provide answers to questions that otherwise we would be uncertain about. It can give us certainty about that great uncertainty – death.
Certainty also has a neatness about it. It has straight sides, it can be wrapped up easily, it can be put in a box and stowed away. Uncertainty keeps moving about, it changes shape, it is a gas rather than a solid. It is impossible to wrap up and impossible to contain. You cannot grasp it, hold onto it, control it.
So how can we cope with uncertainty? As I write that sentence I am aware of a need in me to find an answer to that question; not to leave my readers up in the air; to offer a way forward; to reveal who the murderer is. But perhaps it would be more in keeping with this piece to leave the question unanswered….