Knowledge Without Certainty


Shiru Nashi Kakujitsu is “knowledge without certainty”, and highlights both a fundamental characteristic of how the universe reveals itself to us, and counsels against the danger of knowledge with certainty.

[Shiru Nashi Kakujitsu is pronounced “shhh-i-roo n-ah-sh kah-ku-ji-tz-ooo”]

We often seek certainty in our understanding of the world around us. We seek understanding, but we also seek a high degree of certainty that our understanding is correct. However, oftentimes we are faced with the simple fact that the universe is complex, and that we must be satisfied — and even comfortable — in navigating a world in which we do not have absolute certainty. The ability to accept this, and to operate in such a universe, is keep to both not becoming overwhelmed and also key to understanding complex ideas and situations.

However, there is more to Shiru Nashi Kakujitsu. Inherent in the concept of knowledge without certainty is the idea that believing one has certainty can be dangerous. This danger is twofold.

First, to believe that we are absolutely certain about our knowledge implies that any fact or assertion to the contrary is by definition wrong. This is a self-defeating and counter-productive way of looking at the world, and completely contrary to the fundamental principle of shoshin (beginner’s mind). It is vitally important that we keep our mind open and accepting of new ideas, new perspectives. It is only through shoshin that we can grow and come to more fully understand our world.

More importantly, though, there is additional danger. Those that see only certainty in their knowledge inevitably seek to impose that certainty on the world around them. This leads to either disappointment, when the world doesn’t conform to that incorrect or incomplete understanding; or worse, it causes individuals to act in a harmful way to force the world to conform to that certainty.

Of course, we, as karateka, seek to shape our world. But we do so consciously, out of a regard for our goals and out of an acknowledgement that begins first with an understanding of how the world actually is. Then, we move towards shaping or reshaping our world to conform with our goals. However, we must heed the perspective given us by Shiru Nashi Kakujitsu and not make the mistake that the world is already as we believe it to be  — if in fact, it is not.

For another perspective on the importance of uncertainty in knowledge, and the danger of "certainty" -- you may also want to read this article by Prof. Simon Critchley, writing in the New York Times: 


知る 無し 確実