Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find a phrase below, in one ancient language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.
For other examples, visit HERE:
Ἐγγύα πάρα δ’ Ἄτα
η βεβαιότητα φέρνει παραφροσύνη
Certainty brings insanity, or alternatively
Surety brings ruin.
This is a phrase for our own time.
Among the three maxims inscribed on a column in the pronaos (entrance) to Temple of Apollo at Delphi, one reads both “know thyself” and “certainty brings insanity.” These two in combination might seem somewhat paradoxical. The union of the two thoughts, and perhaps their underlying wisdom, lies in the combination of humility and curiosity. One should search, but never assume that one has all the answers.
Specifically, as to the maxim in question in this post, the Greeks understood that certainty is dangerous. We are seeing a modern callback to that wisdom today, from the ranks of the psychology world. See HERE from Psychology Today with excerpt below:
Certainty is an emotional state, not an intellectual one. To create a feeling of certainty, the brain must filter out more information than it processes, which, of course, increases its already high error rate during emotional arousal. In other words, the more certain we feel, the more likely we’re oversimplifying, if not downright wrong.
Confirmation Bias. The more certain we feel, the more vulnerable we are to noticing only the evidence that supports our beliefs while ignoring or discounting contradictory evidence. Confirmation bias fuels the painful polarization we currently experience in this country, with different factions focusing on what the others overlook or discount.
The ancient Greeks warned us about certainty more than 2,500 years ago. Inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: “Surety brings ruin.”
Focus. Mental focus contributes to feelings of certainty in less than obvious ways. Focus amplifies, magnifies, and usually decontextualizes the object of focus. What we focus on becomes more important than what we don’t focus on. We like to think that we focus on those aspects of reality that are most important, when, more often, those aspects seem most important because we focus on them.
Wherever we shine the light of focus, we create shadows around it.
Social Media Effects. To some extent, our brains have been trained to think within the character limits of social media, which preclude consideration of complex variables. What you can’t put in a tweet must be wrong or irrelevant.
The algorithms skillfully implemented in social media and search engines provide validation for any opinion on anything. The hunger for validation itself reveals the paradox of certainty. The more certain many people feel, the more validation they seem to require. Validation seems necessary when we’re insecure about our beliefs, opinions, and prejudices. Self-doubt is typically covered up with anger and attempts to devalue others.
I recommend reading the entire article. All of this leads me to think of another phrase:
“Truth does not mind being questioned, and a lie does not like to be challenged.” Certainty, or too much of it at least, might differentiate people into those two camps. A healthy certainty can patiently discuss, answer questions, self-reflect, and change if facts warrant. An unhealthy certainty might exist within a status of emotional unrest, and mental rigidity, when challeged from the outside.