The Value of Doubt

In a 1963 lecture at the University of Washington Richard Feynman said:

“The government of the United States was developed under the idea that nobody knew how to make a government, or how to govern.  The result is to invent a system to govern when you don’t know how.  And the way to arrange it is to permit a system, like we have, wherein new ideas can be developed and tried out and thrown away.  The writers of the Constitution knew of the value of doubt.”

Richard FeynmanFeynman goes on:

“Doubt and discussion are essential to progress.”

One of the most frustrating conclusions we can draw from almost daily citations in the media covering lawmaking at the federal and state (and local- to be sure) level is the certainty to which our legislatures ascribe their positions on everything from the mundane (gas taxes in Virginia) to world-changing (acts of war, or their surrogate resolutions).

And so I find it oddly refreshing that the current cluster of monologues (I can’t find any real dialogue – yet) about gun violence is lacking few real polarizing sets of opposing certainties on just what should be done about it.

There is doubt about the likely efficacy of some of the changes proposed by the most strident gun control advocates.

There is a level of uncertainty, even disregard, for some of the more adventuresome suggestions from the gun rights folks, even among their own.

And there are the seeds of discussion beyond the Office of the Vice President.

But we just don’t know what to do.

We can mentally navigate around any of the proposed controls, any set of speed bumps and process barriers, to a scenario wherein some disturbed person could still easily get a weapon and commit another horror.

Though it seems we actually may be willing this time to abandon a starting position of certainty.

We are all in doubt.

Which means, as Feynman points out, that we may have an ingredient essential to progress.

Let’s hope.