The Comfort of Certainty

When I was younger, I would do whatever I could to miss school. I’m guilty of faking a few stomach aches or head aches for a day home. However, the older I get, the more I do to avoid missing school. Sure I still get exhausted and bored with school, but I would rather push through that exhaustion than miss a class and have to wonder what I missed. That is, there’s a lot I would risk to avoid uncertainty.

One of the first things I asked my mom when she was planning this trip is if I would miss any school. As grateful as I was for this opportunity, I panicked at the thought of missing two days of classes, and the semester hadn’t even started. I was so worried about it that I looked up plane tickets to fly back early separate from my family. I eventually concluded that missing a couple of days of classes is worth the experience and time with my family. Yet even after that conclusion, I have struggled with the uncertainty of what I will miss, and have been dreading it.
Discomfort from being uncertain about my classwork is not something specific to myself. Descartes explores certainty, or the lack of, in his Discourse on Method. He explains how since he was a child, “[he had] been nourished on letters from which he was “convinced that by the means of them one could acquire a clear and assured knowledge of everything that is useful in life” or in other words, certainty. He craved certainty so much that he mastered them. However, after doing so he was exposed to the fact that this caused him to “discover [his] ignorance” instead of certainty. He was so sure that these letters were truth that he ignored all other explanations. He needed a new way to discover certainty. This led to Descartes’ mission to create a method, and his desire for certainty.
Descartes’ journey leads me to question whether true certainty is possible, and if so, at what cost? Descartes memorized the letters, which would be like memorizing a textbook. I too am much more satisfied when I am certain, but I don’t think I would be willing to memorize a textbook; if I did, it would still be a limited source of information. Sitting here trying to come up with a way to have total certainty is enough to make my head spin. I see how this turned into a life’s work for Rene Descartes.

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