Past Understanding

So we’ve talked about the Paradox of Understanding: how understanding (really uncertainty mitigation) plays into identity formation, and now we need a tool that can help us with this conundrum.

As review, the principle of understanding is that as soon as we explain (and thus make something understandable to ourselves and others), we’ve lost a true understanding of what we’ve just explained. But, as humans, we need to explain things, otherwise we end up dealing with a painful infinity of uncertainty, which is painful, as human actions are bound to a single digit: 1.

To be uncertain is to be forced into inaction, and so we mitigate this by providing a false certainty. But perhaps there is a way to retain understanding while still mitigating uncertainty? Faith. Yes, Faith.

I realize the concept of faith has a lot of religious connotations to blind belief, there’s some Truth there, but ultimately not what I’m going for. Faith is going to be a mental tool we use to mitigate uncertainty when it’s called for. Also, Faith shouldn’t be confused with male #3 in the identity formation post: “signs from God/meaning/fate” is also not the proper definition of Faith we’ll be using.

Here’s the definition — Faith: to acknowledge the thing you cannot see as existing will be seen as existing after the fact. In other words, it’s when you place a bet that something is true, but this cannot be proved until it is proven, the proof isn’t given until after the fact. This implies that we must act as if something were true.

To use a religious example: We can’t know if God exists until after we die, so we must assume that he exists currently. That’s the religious mentality, I don’t necessarily agree with that statement itself, but that concept can be taken and applied to other non-religious matters. So let’s do that.

Example 1:

My girlfriend disappeared, and I don’t know why… what do I do? There are a few considerations we should make before jumping to faith, we may want to make sure she wasn’t kidnapped, that there wasn’t anything we did that could have spurred this, and should attempt to narrow it to a conclusion: I don’t know why she has disappeared, but I know she’ll be back. That is Faith.

It’s Faith precisely because I have no reason or proof that she will be back, it doesn’t make logical sense to jump to a conclusion (she’ll be back) if the unknown (why she disappeared) could roughly amount to infinity. But I make this jump to mitigate uncertainty (she’ll be back) while retaining the truth (I don’t know why she’s gone).

I’m making a wager… saying despite the unknowns, she will be back, and when she is back, I will have my proof that she is back… because she’s back. Given, she may not be back, I could be wrong, but then I decided to use faith in this scenario instead of a different explanation… that’s a reflection of my ability to correctly understand the appropriate response (in relation to whatever) to different situations.

Example 2:

Faith becomes especially important in terms of making long-term decisions that at first will negatively affect yourself, and only in time pay off. Looks like this:


To get something of value (subjective), there needs to be effort (work) to get it. If there’s no faith, then it’s very likely a person won’t put in the effort to get past the negative bump.


Working out is a good example because there’s established research that proves exercise is beneficial, but before that research existed, how could anyone know for certain that exercise was beneficial? Exercise in the immediate short-term can be seen as detrimental, as it tires the body and creates exhaustion, but ultimately we see it as a long-term beneficial activity because we have science guiding us (and perhaps intuition).

No faith is required in this instance since science has provided a certainty where there was an uncertainty, but science doesn’t cover all domains and can’t always take the place of faith.

Example 3:

Let’s say you want to change yourself or situation. Perhaps you feel depressed, sad, unlovable, or simply want to benefit other people instead of only yourself: regardless of the reason, there’s a lot of uncertainty that comes with change.

Infinity to one. To change means to revert back to the infinity state and to rethink what you’re doing. Maybe you’re used to drinking every Saturday night by yourself while playing latin music because you’re stressed, that’s a one. So to change means to take that drinking and replace it with… and only the individual can decide this, but whatever is decided, this is where Faith plays the next integral role.

Regardless of what you’ve decided, you won’t be able to see the results of your change until you’ve changed. Maybe you’ve decided to spend Saturdays with your family instead, great: but how will you know that this will be any better from drinking on Saturdays? In fact, at the start, it will probably be worse. You’ll probably run into some conflicts since you’ve never been there before at Saturday family board-game night, and it will probably feel terribly uncomfortable… uncertain. 

To replace drinking (a certainty) requires a period of intense uncertainty (what am I going to do Saturdays if not drink? And even if I know what else I can do, how will that turn out?) and effort within that uncertainty to reach a future certainty of something unknown (maybe you’ll like what you’ve changed to, maybe it’ll be better, but it totally could be worse).

Given this, the obstacles around change are relatively high. It makes no logical sense to place bets into something that seems completely uncertain in both the middle and end phase: there’s too much risk (uncertainty), so people will tend to stick with the drinking.

But again, this is where Faith comes in. It’s a tool to mitigate uncertainty without providing false certainty, but is dependent on the proper usage of what to have Faith towards. If I stop drinking, what will happen? To alleviate this question I can use Faith, I don’t know what will happen, but it will be better than this. The last statement may not be true, but if I’m really trying to change something, there is a high likelihood that it will be better than this (because this is bad enough that I want to change it), but that requires an upfront investment in effort without knowing that things will be better. I only get proof that it’s true after the fact.

So… have Faith.

One thought on “Past Understanding

  1. Pingback: Uncertainty of Self | Think and Do

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