Tag Archives: #certianty

Fork in the road

How Certain Are We About Uncertainty?

Certain and Uncertain

They seem to be separate antonymic words, but they are like Siamese twins. Their separate bodies, facing from opposite sides, are fused together, nurtured by the same sanguineous source. Their interdependence is the reason why they survive. If one dies, the other will follow, sooner or later.

There are many anecdotal stories in Indian, American, and global folktales that give a clear message of how we can be misled by confusion between certainty and uncertainty in real life. Heisenberg, a German physicist identified Uncertainty Principles even in Quantum Mechanics. But how do these considerations apply in our practical life?

Our Recent Pandemic:

Let us trace our own circuity of thoughts developing in the short span of this pandemic.

First, we thought it was a hoax.

Then we were certain it would be confined to China.

“It will pass away on its own.”

“No masks are necessary.”

“Masks are mandatory as advised by highly trained scientists.”

“Only old and previously diseased people die in this Pandemic.”

“Children can die too.”

“The virus kills by compromised respiration.”

“It can affect other systems too.”

“We should keep a social distance to prevent it.”

“No, We find distancing and masks to be an insufferable obstruction!” 

In short, we kept on lengthening and shortening our rubber band of the certainty-uncertainty spectrum while our rings were getting sparklingly shiny because of incessant hand washing! Washing hands was the only acceptable way out! The upcoming generation of children will put an end to this Pandemic’s uncertainties because they will know better by then. That will not stop them, however, from generating new uncertainties since the times, circumstances, and the strain of the virus are likely to alter when the next Pandemic strikes us.

Let us also look at our own selves

Some of the commonest phrases that we generously use every day are: ”Wait and watch,” “ I hardly can wait,” “I changed my mind,” “Are you sure?”, “ How can you be so sure?” etc. We always will be engaged in weaving a web of uncertainties as a modus operandi of our reflex habits.

There is a common aphorism in the Sanskrit language, “Tunde Tunde Matirbhinna,” meaning each head thinks differently. But even the same head can think differently at different times! One night we buy an item with absolute certainty, and the next morning it changes its appeal. Even in a vital matter like choosing a life partner, our certainty fluctuates until marriage seals it. In India, we often try to resolve this uncertainty by “matching horoscopes” to finalize our decision.

”Uncertainty is the very essence of romance,” said Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish author.

There are only two points that are certain in our tenaciously tethered life: Birth and Death. These two extreme points are fastened together by life itself, a miscellany of deep disappointments, Joi De  Viver, and  “delicious ambiguities”, a term coined by the famous actress Gilda Redner who succumbed to ovarian cancer at a very young age. 

 Perhaps we need to undertake a perceptive analysis of what constitutes certainty and uncertainty. 

A different approach to certainty-uncertainty complex

It helped me a great deal just by looking at the synonyms of these two enigmatic words:

Certainty: confidence, trust, conviction, faith, validity, dogmatism, clarity, composure, contentment, happiness, peace, security, calmness

Uncertainty: changeability, variability, anxiety, ambiguity, concern, confusion, distrust, suspicion, trouble, worry, dilemma, oscillation, lack of confidence

Although these synonyms depict uncertainty in darker colors, a closer analysis will reveal that certainty too, can have its drawbacks. It can push us to a blinding dogma impairing our vision. It will be judicious to build a bridge between these two extremes and skillfully traverse from one point to the other, navigated by an internal call, and cautiously master the shades between the two. It is true that the cautious seldom err, but it is also true that those who are excessively cautious seldom move. Many shades of grey connect the black and the white.

All uncertainties are likely to be experienced by someone at some time, but maturity is the capacity to endure and outgrow them. No progress or creativity is ever possible without uncertainty casting its alarming shadow on the road ahead. You pause, you ponder, you proceed, and prepare for an inadvertent result. “ Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability,” said William Osler, a mastermind of practicing and teaching medicine in this country. We all have no choice but to learn how to stay afloat in an ocean of uncertainty. 

An “Aha” or “eureka” moment may hatch after an incubation period spent in a meaningful, self-searching meditation. Many leading psychologists support this viewpoint.

In the end, I will quote our visionary poet, Robert Frost: 

I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence,

Two roads diverged in a wood and I– I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a priest, poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at bmajmud1962@gmail.com. 

Uncertainty, The Only Real Certainty…

The country goes to the polls today. The what-if questions keep many of us awake at night. What if we make poor choices? What if healthcare becomes worse? What if we don’t survive this year? 

I can’t recall ever being certain about anything in life. Until July 2020. As long as I can remember, from my first day in grade school (which desk to sit at or to share my lunch) I’ve been plagued by uncertainty. And these were the easy ones. Which college to go to, graduate school or not, meet the man my parents wanted me to, were even greater sources of uncertainty. Yet with my father in a job, that required us to move cities every two years, having to learn a new language each time and making new friends meant I must have learned to cope. Though all I recall is the anxiety that came from all the change and the uncertainty it entailed.

Strangely enough, after more than six months of being quarantined, the COVID-19 pandemic has surprised me with the degree of certainty it has brought into my life. The certainty that we don’t know a whole lot about the virus including when we’ll have a vaccine. If there will ever be a return to a normal—whether the old one or a new one. With aging parents living in India, I don’t know whether and when I’ll be able to visit them. My adult children constantly remind me that they’d rather be ‘home’ and they mean THEIR home! The pandemic’s guaranteed uncertainty, far from causing a panic attack, has had a calming effect on me, by rendering the uncertainty about everything else – the impending elections, the parents’ health, the children’s careers much less scary. 

‘This too will pass.’ My mother’s mantra reverberates loudly now more than before. I remember the first time I heard her say the words. I was too young to understand how significant those words were and what they’d come to mean for difficult situations. When the emergency rule was declared in India, in the seventies, we were living in Hyderabad. The sense of fear that hovered over the homes of family and friends, the hushed conversations, and furtive trunk calls made to relatives living in Delhi are distinct even if only fragments of memory. Yet I recall the day I heard my mom whisper to her friend, ‘This too will pass.’ The mantra became my lodestar. A year later when an accident had me hospitalized for days, I held onto those words even as my aunts sang songs of comfort around me.

From the political to the social and personal, we often go through periods of great uncertainty. The current COVID-19 virus is not the first time we’ve faced a devastating pandemic. The human race has survived the bubonic plague (called the Black Death), the Spanish flu, Ebola, SARS, and other deadly viruses. The upcoming elections with the potential of devastating results are not the first crisis any country has faced. Even though the outcomes that we feel uncertainty over are never in our control, how we choose to respond is completely in our control. When my kids worry about a future that appears bleak, I quickly point out. “When you think you’ve hit rock bottom there’s only one way to go and that’s upwards!” 

A story about the 16th century Mughal emperor Akbar and his advisor Birbal reminds us how to keep things in perspective. Once Akbar was strolling in the royal gardens listening to Birbal when he noticed a bamboo stick lying on the ground. The king picked it up and turned to Birbal with a mischievous smile on his face. “Can you make this stick shorter without chopping it?” Birbal looked around and spotted a gardener holding another stick—a longer one. He took the stick from the gardener and placed it next to the shorter stick that Akbar had given him. “Look, your stick is now shorter!” he declared. Birbal’s solution teaches us that our own problems may not be as bad compared to others.

As we head towards what seems to be a game-changing election, let’s use time-tested techniques, whether personal (meditation, exercise, hobbies) or public (writing, speaking, organizing), to cope with any uncertainty that we face. And continue to spread the word about the only thing that’s certain to make any difference. Vote!


Chitra Srikrishna is a Carnatic musician based in Boston.