The Romance of Doubt

By Jin-yeong Yi

LH 95 stellar nursery in the Large Magellanic Cloud

“Truth is at the bottom of the abyss; and the abyss is bottomless.”

—Democritus

“Nothing can be known, not even this.”

—Carneades

“The problem with certainty is that it is static; it can do little but endlessly reassert itself. Uncertainty, by contrast, is full of unknowns, possibilities, and risks.”

—Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

“It’s the question that drives us…”

—Trinity, The Matrix

What is the God of the skeptic? It’s not science. It’s Mystery.

I don’t know if the world I see in front of me is real or an illusion, but I choose to engage it anyway.

I’m like the protagonist of the biblical parable of the prodigal son, except that I have it together a little better than the son: instead of mindlessly squandering all of my resources and letting myself end up penniless and in a pig farm (in other words, exhausting my energy on indulgence and caprice and letting myself end up in an intellectual ghetto), I am exercising due caution and moderation in my exploration of this strange world, admiring a tree here and a mountain range there as I attempt to map the terrain.

Instead of the safe but small house of the father, my mind is out in the world, with the vastness of the universe before me. There’s always apprehension and fear as to what I might find, but also a kind of freedom that comes from being able to think beyond all imaginary boundaries.

I imagine that it’s like being in the middle of nowhere in outer space: no left or right, up or down–nothing but my own sense of orientation. There’s no destination, only the journey. The journey is the destination.

It’s paradoxical: part of me wants to be found, but another part of me enjoys being lost. For it is the latter whence comes the greatest adventures.

“To pose a question entails that you do not know something. To ask ‘Who is the abbot?’ means that you do not know who the abbot is. To ask ‘What is this?’ means that you do not know what this is. To cultivate doubt, therefore, is to value unknowing. To say ‘I don’t know’ is not an admission of weakness or ignorance, but an act of truthfulness: an honest acceptance of the limits of the human condition when faced with ‘the great matter of birth and death.’ This deep agnosticism is more than the refusal of conventional agnosticism to take a stand on whether God exists or whether the mind survives bodily death. It is the willingness to embrace the fundamental bewilderment of a finite, fallible creature as the basis for leading a life that no longer clings to the superficial consolations of certainty.”

—Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

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