Certainty — The Crutch of ‘Knowing it Can Be Done’

Certainty: FA-18 Hornet, breaking sound barrier.
FA-18 Hornet, breaking sound barrier. Photo: Ensign John Gay, U.S. Navy, PD, via Wikipedia.org

Is certainty a crutch? Sometimes it can be. It depends on how that certainty is formed.

When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, many of his fellow pilots were decidedly uncertain it could be done. Some suggested that he should be fully insured. A few of his peers had already died trying. There was little certainty that such a physical barrier could be pierced. Yeager is said to have been very certain that it could be broken. “What barrier?”

A more arbitrary barrier—the four-minute mile—was broken by Roger Bannister in 1954. What makes this more subjective is the nature of both the mile and the minute. Both are arbitrary units of measure that have no direct relation to one’s ability to run.

Certainty: Chuck Yeager in his Bell X-1.
Chuck Yeager, the man credited with breaking the sound barrier, standing in front of the Bell X-1. Photo: US Military, PD-USGOV-MILITARY, via Wikipedia.org

Yeager’s “sound barrier,” on the other hand, was a very real and physical obstacle; it involved a tangible change of state between subsonic and supersonic travel. That boundary is marked by the rather noisy “sonic boom.” In fact, the crack of a whip is just such a “sonic boom.”

And yet Bannister’s breakthrough on the track suddenly unleashed a flurry of copycats, just as did Yeager’s performance in the air. Suddenly, everyone was certain it could be done, because someone else had already done it.

Something about the fact that it had already been done gave others the crutch of certainty they needed to duplicate the feat. You might want to re-read that last sentence again. There is a world of wisdom and inspiration in it.

This distinction gives us an advantage. How? Breakthroughs are all around us waiting to happen for the first time. All it takes is someone with the right accident or the right, brazen certainty to find them.

Now, if you want to go through life accidentally, as so many on this planet seemed destined to do, have at it. On the other hand, if you want to accomplish something no one else has done, simply write it down in detail and imagine yourself already there. Don’t just think it—feel it.

Certainty of the Children of Atlantis and the Start of Civilization

Certainty: Pizzaro takes the Inca
Pizzaro attacking the Inca leader, Atahualpa, in Peru, with inferior numbers. Painting: Sir John Everett Millais, PD, via Wikipedia.org

Jared Diamond, in his best-selling book, Guns, Germs and Steel, proposed the idea that passive elements of geography increased the likelihood of civilization getting a start. He developed some compelling arguments to support that thesis. In Eurasia, humans had the latitude to expand and mix ideas—from one longitude to another. Humans resist changes in latitude, because of the changes in climate, temperature, and available food. Crops that grow at mid-latitudes likely won’t do well at low or high latitudes.

Starting civilization is not something that is preordained. Most people would likely view such an undertaking as impossible, if they were starting out as simple hunter-gatherers.

But what if someone knew that civilization was already possible? What if the children of Atlantis—descendants of the refugees of that lost island empire—showed the primitives of Eurasia how to plant wheat or rice, how to hew stone and how to bury their dead?

Certainty at Göbekli Tepe, carving stone structure
The certainty that civilization could be created may have helped the people of Göbekli Tepe to create these structures, some 11,500 years ago. Photo: PD, via Wikipedia.org

Don’t believe in Atlantis? That’s okay. Atlantis doesn’t believe in you, either. For decades, skeptics of Atlantis said that there is no evidence of civilization existing that far back. Little did they realize that their skepticism is based on an “argument-to-ignorance” type logical fallacy. All it takes is one piece of evidence to shatter their argument. And, in 1995, scientists began digging at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, unearthing large stone structures decorated with intricate carvings. The estimated date: 9500 BC—merely a hundred years after Plato’s date for the end of Atlantis. And you have to ask, what other evidence is out there yet to be dug up?

Scientists characterize the site as the oldest known religious structure in the world. They speculate that the builders were hunter-gatherers who may have lived at least part of the year in nearby villages. What if the builders were hunter-gatherers by necessity, rather than by choice?

The site contains 20 round structures. Only 4 of them have been excavated. Wikipedia tells us, “Recent DNA analysis of modern domesticated wheat compared with wild wheat has shown that its DNA is closest in sequence to wild wheat found on Mount Karaca Dağ 20 miles (32 km) away from the site, suggesting that this is where modern wheat was first domesticated.”

For more information on evidence that supports the past possible reality of Atlantis, check out Mission: Atlantis.

Certainty for Building Your Own Future

Certainty doesn’t have to wait for someone else. As with any emotion, you create your own confidence. Sure, you can use conditions in your environment or experience to justify your emotions and confidence, or you can decide to create confidence despite what goes on in your environment.

Realize this: civilization was not built by reasonable people. Reason has its place, but it acts as a double-edged sword. You can be just as confident that something won’t work as you can be that it will work. Either way, you frequently prove yourself right.

This article was originally published 2013:0320 on AndthePursuitOfHappiness.com.


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