Wednesday, February 02, 2022


 There's a general nervousness in the Austin area today because tomorrow we get hit with our first winter storm since last February's winter storm disaster, which shut down large portions of the state. It's an interesting sort of nervousness -- everybody's better prepared in general, there have been extensive improvements, nobody thinks that it's likely that we will have a similar disaster or, indeed, even be very inconvenienced, but everybody's still a little bit short of confident.

We often talk about doubt as if it were purely cognitive, but this seems rarely to be the case. Descartes was, I think, right that a purely intellectual doubt is something you have to work at, practice, to achieve. Our doubts in any area of life are generally due to broader motivations, which may be of endlessly many kinds. One bad incident may make us wary even if we know it to be a fluke; one bad association may weaken a trust that you thought unshakeable. But it's also the case that a lot of these motivations are transient or condition-dependent. This was recognized by Pascal. There are many situations in which doubts are primarily based on the passions and emotions you are feeling, and in such cases doubts are resolved not by answers but by changing how you do things. Your doubts about God might vanish just from going to church more often; your doubts about your spouse or your friends might disappear just on spending more time with them; your doubts about your society or your nation might cease if you stopped being on Twitter. It will just depend on the situation.

Likewise, sometimes all you need to handle doubts is to succeed at a test you failed before. And I suspect that this is probably related to the kind of nervousness in central Texas right now. On the one hand, everybody dreads it a bit. On the other, it's probably exactly what's needed, which is why people also have an attitude of, "OK, here we go....", like the one you have right as the roller coaster is getting to the top.