How Do Ambiguity and Uncertainty Attract Us?

The mind state caused by ambiguity is called uncertainty, and it’s an emotional amplifier. It makes anxiety more agonizing, and pleasure especially enjoyable.

The delight of crossword puzzles, for example, comes from pondering and resolving ambiguous clues. Detective stories, among the most successful literary genres of all time, concoct their suspense by sustaining uncertainty about hints and culprits. Mind-bending modern art, the multiplicities of poetry, Lewis Carroll’s riddles, Marquez’s magical realism, Kafka’s existential satire – ambiguity saturates our art forms and masterpieces, suggesting its deeply emotional nature.

Goethe once said that “what we agree with leaves us inactive, but contradiction makes us productive.” So it is with ambiguity.

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing
Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing

Jamie Holmes

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