No Doubt

Linda and I were dining at our son’s restaurant, when something caused me to tune into a conversation at a nearby table. A person at that table was discussing my family and the circumstances under which we had purchased the business.

I did not recognize the voice… and when a sneaked peek was possible, I also did not recognize the individual. This person, clearly unknown to my wife and me, talked with confident familiarity about details for which he had absolutely no knowledge. As I listened, he shifted the conversation to other topics, but his tone remained the same: he was an expert on a variety of issues.

I was sorely tempted to go to the four-top where he was seated and introduce myself. Two things stopped me: a) I was embarrassed for eavesdropping – everyone has a right to privacy, and I had violated that right b) nothing offensive was said… in fact, he and his guests complimented the food. Why fix something that ain’t broke, I thought.

However, I could not help thinking about this situation: why would strangers elaborate on stories that involved my family – I mean, why bother, since he does not know any of us (I confirmed that my son also did not know this person)? I concluded that he had a strong need to be perceived as a ‘person in the know’ and we were simply ingredients in a larger narrative.

It seems to me that more and more people hold opinions that have a loose grip on actual data. I was going to say ‘facts’, but I’m reminded of a social psychology professor who informed me that “there are no such things as facts; only perceptions”. (I guess this conversation was pre-Snopes). True, it’s unreasonable to expect that the perceptions of others will match your own – the probability is larger that given the same set of circumstances, perceptions will vary greatly. The bothersome part of the restaurant episode was the tone of complete certainty expressed by the individual.

So, who are these people who spin elaborate yarns that travel far beyond the limited information they are based upon? Turns out there is a term for such individuals – and I thank Word for this:


A person who expresses opinions on matters outside the scope of their knowledge or expertise

In other words, people who are full of ‘crep’. Doesn’t it seem to you that there is an abundance of such folks these days, particularly on social media? Well, if I did such any soul searching, I’d have to confess to being an ultra myself on occasion. This will cause some self-examination on my part going forward.

The problem with ultracrepidarian behavior is that it adds to the noise in the world. Yet there is already plenty of noise to go around. And it is usually delivered confidently – with no doubt, whatsoever. I find that problematic, because I believe in doubt. I have no doubt about doubt. (Actually, I do have some doubt about that). However, I’m in good company: Richard Feynman agrees with me.

I’ve just finished Feynman’s book, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a collection of his short works. Feynman was a Nobel laureate, celebrated for his work in quantum physics, but also as a wonderful teacher. A constant theme in his works is the definition of science as a process of ‘doubting the experts’ and objectively rechecking accumulated wisdom. He concluded that the spirit of science rests on the ability to define meaningful questions and the predisposition for adventure. A priori opinions are held in check or tested as hypotheses. First-hand discovery is the joy, but uncertainty is a constant delimiter – there is always more to learn and always room for doubt. Feynman expresses a humble philosophy and a perfect antidote for the ‘creps’!

I guess the larger question is how we deal with our feelings of certainty and doubt in our lives. Here’s an interesting suggestion for responding to an ultracrepidarian:

I Will Have to Look That Up by PinkFaerie5 (from

I have no knowledge of that I say.

She continues speaking “facts” that are


I will have to look that up I reply.

She gives me a sigh full of exasperation.

Letting me know that she thinks it is


That I do not believe her “facts” like others

To whom she has spouted these fabrications

Prior history has dictated that I can’t.

Related Thoughts on Doubt

Some related thoughts on Wal’s excellent post on “No Doubt.”

When I was young printed information was taught and taken as fact.

If it wasn’t fact, it was, for me, considered to be a lie.

I was raised believing that if you spoke with certainty, you knew from first-hand information or trusted your source or researched it yourself.

Another thought I had after reading Wal’s blog post is that we tend to lean more heavily on believing what is said that is congruent with our views and doubting or denying that which opposes our perspectives.  Shouldn’t we give equal question to all communication that is splashed about, especially on social media?

When I was working full time, a person who showed up as knowledgeable, confident, and certain was more frequently sought after for leadership positions than someone who didn’t.  Of course, in personal practice, this often required thorough background work that would provide me with the moral permission to speak to parents, teachers, students, colleagues, and others with a sense of confidence in my discourse with them.  I also knew when it was prudent and honest to admit when I didn’t know.

While I’m not someone who joins organizations that work toward changing the world, I do believe that holding myself accountable to the behaviors I believe are universally important, makes a difference.  Now that Wal has raised the issue of an ultracrepidarian, I’ll seek to pay more attention to how I pass along information so that I’m at least, not contributing to the problem.

Regarding the idea of questioning current wisdom, Don Miquel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements and co-author of The Fifth Agreement, concludes with the last agreement as “Be Skeptical but Learn to Listen.”  I find this to be an effective way to lead with strength, curiosity, and respect.

Stephen Covey, another favorite author of mine, wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as well as The Eighth Habit.  The last habit he describes as addressing the crucial challenge facing individuals and organizations today, which is “to find our voice and inspire others to find theirs.”  Perhaps we’re so eager to find our voices that we inadvertently sacrifice true knowledge and validated perceptions.   And, unless we “learn to listen” how will we inspire others to find their voices?

“I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”
― Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman’s Camden Conversations


A cultivated gentleman meanders into an alcoholic establishment and acquires a place to recline adjacent to a man already savoring a beverage from a capacious ceramic container.  The Sesquipedalian admonished the ultracrepidarian for his over indulgence of the beverage.The ultracrepidarian replied that according to medical research if the liver and kidneys are strong and the individual is not subject to various addictions there is no danger of side effects to the body drinking.  The sesquipedalian retorted, “Oh beloved celestial transcendental father figure, you think you ascertain all erudite data!” 

 Needless to say these men were talking past each other!  A situation that often occurs when people are talking to someone who may possess an alternate view or set of facts depending on his individual experience or the channel on the TV that he usually watches.  Facts are hard to verify even when we see things with our own eyes and hear with our own ears as evidenced by the two diametrically opposed views of what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021!  One version was an insurrection but others who viewed the exact same visual saw it as a peaceful demonstration.  Those people are actually talking past each other and there is very little that can be done to convince the other of the alternate interpretation. Social discourse is difficult when debating politics right now in this environment and as a result we rarely expend the energy to actually hear what the opposing view is, because we are already embedded in our own opinion and nothing is going to dissuade us from it.

As Norris Clempfire wrote in his book, “It is Raining, No, it is Sunny!” different people can see the same information and can interpret it entirely differently!  And as Sargeant Friday often said, “Just the facts, Mam!”  There is no such author and no such book but Wally and Henry always quote from some authority from some lengthy tomb of a book that they read over breakfast.  I am a very slow reader and more often react from my gut than from my brain.  I try to interpret what I experience and develop my own facts from those experiences.  And as Wally’s ultracrepidarian did in his restaurant that evening,  I, too, have expounded confidently on subjects I wasn’t always well-versed in.  And I really don’t know how we can ever prevent this kind of discourse to stop because it is a human characteristic that develops during early childhood, and we revert back to as dementia sets in.  As Herbert Lostit said in his book, “You Already Ate, Dear,” you will never convince me of something that goes against my impression of what I experienced.PS-No such artist or book … or is there?

9 thoughts on “No Doubt

  1. For years, I used to “overhear” endless conversations on the bus enroute to work. (It was hard not too. Some people just talk loudly.) Anyhow, from these bits and pieces, I formed my opinions of my fellow riders. Unfortunately, that is what is happening today. People form opinions based on either nothing or little bits and pieces. When someone shares an odd tidbit with me, I have started to ask them one questions: What is your source, i.e., what link on the internet did you click. Good post!


    1. Thanks, Diana! Have you read Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell? I guess we all form opinions on bits and pieces. What’s scary is the tendency to pass them off as facts. I like your approach of asking about the source!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was young and knew it all,
    I expounded!
    As I matured and doubts set in,
    I was astounded!
    Now that I am old and have forgotten so much,
    I am dumbfounded!

    Love your essays!!


    1. Once I accepted words said with confidence
      Without any further inference
      And passed them along,
      With great aplomb
      Even though what I spoke was sheer nonsense.


  3. These days, I am amazed at the number of ordinary folks that are suddenly experts on everything. I, too, have witnessed a few full-blown teachings at a restaurant table. I listen but say nothing. Let idiots state their case. You did the right thing.

    Liked by 1 person

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