Welcome to my personal website, The Stance of Unknowing, which archives my philosophical writings and hosts my blog and podcast. My name is Dan Bruiger.

No matter how much information we accumulate, there is always an unknown beyond the horizon of knowledge. Uncertainty is unavoidable. New thought requires that old thought be provisionally set aside. Just as valuable as the skills that bring us knowledge is the skill to live without certainty, the ability to not have to know. We typically view ignorance as a liability. But when that state is deliberately embraced as an attitude toward experience or information, it becomes a stance that is actually an asset. I call this willing suspension of belief the stance of unknowing.

This is not a mystical concept but a practical maneuver. It is a strategy, not a theory or philosophy. It does not mean abandoning reason or the quest for knowledge, but embracing a much-needed complement—like a soft gaze compared to acutely focused attention. The ideal of definite knowledge includes such characteristics as certainty, prediction, control, utility, objectivity, critical analysis, and detachment of subject from object. These are worthy goals underlying the power of science and rational thought. Yet, despite the appeal of certainty, we control very little in life, including nature. Reality can always surprise us. This alone should tell us there is room for a different approach: one that accepts uncertainty as the natural condition and takes the subject’s point of view as fundamental.

The stance of unknowing is a way of looking. It involves qualities that complement those involved in the search for reliable answers. Knowledge involves a knowing agent, and so does any effort to bracket knowledge or suspend belief. A stance is a deliberate posture. Someone stands somewhere in the quest for under-standing, both in regard to knowing and not knowing. What are the characteristics of this posture? First of all: to suspend what is already known or believed, and to resist the temptation to prematurely reassert it in the face of uncertainty.

One must step back from apparent truth in order to see it as mere belief. One must step back from the desirability of certainty in order to see it as the biological need of an organism. One must step back from what appears to be an open window on an objective world to see conscious experience as a brain’s construction. While this means questioning appearances, it does not necessarily mean abandoning them. The stance is a provisional measure, a voluntary act, an experiment whose result cannot be predicted. It is part of a dialectical cycle of knowledge.

This suspension of belief, or bracketing of knowledge, creates a void. We want to see what may enter to fill it. So, a prerequisite is curiosity. Without creating this emptiness, one simply remains blindered by current notions, which tend to eclipse new information and ways of looking. If one has complete confidence in one’s knowledge or point of view, then there is little reason to perform this exercise. Hence, another prerequisite is doubt.

Yet, skepticism is a delicate matter in an accelerating society demanding decisive action, on the one hand, and plagued by divisive mutual suspicion, on the other. We live in an age of contentious short-sighted goals and pressured decision-making—which looks ever more like the very lack of wisdom. There is a valid place for doubt and calm, and for remaining in a phase of suspended judgment for as long as it takes to come to a wise decision. There is a place for the lengthy debate required for consensus, whether in society or within oneself.

That requires patience, discipline, and faith. One needs discipline to resist the compulsion to come prematurely to a conclusion; one needs patience to abide the discomfort of uncertainty; one needs faith that a more adequate view can be achieved that again merits certainty. These qualities serve a commitment to a bigger picture and a longer-term view, which are not readily achieved in an environment focused on nit-picking and immediate results. That commitment could mean actively seeking more information or it could mean doing nothing at all, which is challenging in a culture based on restless activity and distraction. In science, it means valuing epistemology as much as ontology. Above all, it means taking personal responsibility for the processes of perceiving, knowing, judging and deciding, which we normally take for granted.

The stance of unknowing is similar to brainstorming, a concept which originated as a group creative process to solve problems of product development in corporations. It involves the key ingredient of deferring judgment in order to come up with as many creative suggestions as possible. Yet, the stance of unknowing differs in several ways. It is not restricted to collective processes and can be used personally to cultivate openness to new ideas. It is not aimed at problem solving or any pre-specified goal. While it may produce results, it is not a tool to serve a given purpose, but a temporary relaxation of purpose. Yet, it implies an earnest and proactive search for useful ideas. It invokes skepticism as a method of critical analysis, but is aimed at receptivity rather than rejection. It does not deny the reality of the world or the possibility of truth.

My writings presented here, along with my blog and podcast, are admittedly filled with speculations as well as skepticism. Behind all, however, is the intention to treat ideas as provisional, while worthy of consideration on their own merits. In other words, a willingness to take the stance of unknowing.