- The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. [Sylvia Plath, Letter, June-July 1953.]
Sometimes we can be so frozen by doubt or fear that we cannot act: maybe we are unable to ask the girl out or sign up for the difficult class or begin a new venture. We can overcome doubt by acting in the face of uncertainty, that is, by acting with Faith.
Then, if we have acted forcefully and courageously, yet retained the humility of productive doubt, we can evaluate whether we have acted wisely. Overcoming doubt does not mean that we have eliminated all doubt: that is self-delusion. It means that that we have acted in spite of our doubts, or fears.
If our actions have created a better result than we expected, then we can use that new information to bolster our confidence and move forward again. If our actions have not worked out, then we can re-evaluate and begin again.
This is distinguished from merely proclaiming a thing to be true. Some people can talk themselves into believing anything. Some people seem to crave the elimination of uncertainty. They have overcome doubt, in a sense, and may even feel better but usually this is not a responsible way to live. Sooner or later, reality will exact its price.
For both Humanists and theists, overcoming doubt can be emotionally uplifting. In the short run, absolute certainty can even motivate some people to move forward. But in the long run, unless we ground ourselves firmly in reality and remain willing to change our minds in response to new information, we cannot obtain the full power that comes from overcoming doubt in a responsible way.
Film and Stage
- Finding Nemo, about how we find our way to knowing, sometimes by forgetting what we think are our limitations, thereby navigating through life’s often treacherous waters
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
- Adagio – Allegro moderato – Poco adagio: this movement carries tones of doubt and conflict in the first two (Adagio and Allegro moderato) sections, then turns to a love theme in the poco adagio section, in which the organ makes its entrance. Aptly, Saint-Saëns called this a symphony “with organ,” not an organ concerto.
- Allegro moderato – Presto – Allegro moderato: In the opening and concluding Allegro moderato sections, the dominant motif suggests challenges ahead. A flurry of activity in the Presto section is interrupted by a relaxing waltz, which quickly returns to a more agitated tempo.
- Maestoso – Allegro – Molto allegro – Pesante: The soloist opens this movement with a grand announcement. Each section of the movement is an expression of triumph.
Though Edward Elgar expressed a disdain for “programme music,” he wrote this of his Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55: “There is no programme beyond a wide experience of human life with a great charity (love) and a massive hope in the future.” In his notes for recordings of the work, Michael Kennedy writes: “All this is expressed by the purely musical metamorphoses of this tune.” In that active metamorphosis is the essential step beyond hope into Faith-in-action, which makes the overcoming of doubt both possible and reasoned.
Julius Reubke (1834-1858) composed two keyboard sonatas suitable to this theme:
- Though it is rarely performed, many musicologists regard Ives’ Symphony No. 4 (1916) as his finest work. The first movement asks the great questions of life, and the succeeding three movements supply an answer. Ives incorporates comedy (2nd movement) and disjointedness (3rd movement) but concludes with an uplifting, spiritual finale. The concluding passages make clear that not all questions are resolved, or definitively answered; yet the human spirit moves forward. (Here are performances conducted by Stokowsky, Robertson and Davis.)
- Braga Santos, Symphony 4: Fanfare magazine reviewer Raymond Tuttle writes that the “symphony takes the listener from doubt and struggle, leading him into and emotional territory dominated by the warmth and brilliant light of the sun.”
- Liszt, Hamlet, S. 104 (Poème symphonique No. 10) (1858)
- Arnold, Symphony No. 5, 74 (1961)
- Thought to have originated in the Carnatic tradition, the Hindustani Raag Darbari Kanada is often represented in visual art as a king holding a sword and an elephant’s tusk (performances by Joshi, Amir Khan and Vilayat Khan). Usually it is played in late night.