Why You Are Not Free, Ch. 14: The Certainty Trap

by Griffyn

All right, it’s time to move on to chapter fourteen of the book, “How I found freedom in an unfree world” by Harry Browne

Harry is going to talk about the myth of certainty.

I will simply be adding the parts of the book that I highlighted.

By no means is this the entire book or even the best way to sum up each chapter, it’s just what I highlighted so that I could review the book quickly later.

Chapter 14: The Certainty Trap

To be free, you must know what you’re doing and why. Otherwise, slight setbacks can cause you to discard your plans and give up.

The Certainty Trap

THE CERTAINTY TRAP is the urge to act as though you had complete information.

You’re in the trap if you make decisions without recognizing the uncertainty of your assumptions and the risk that goes with that.

Unfortunately, a feeling of absolute certainty is usually unrealistic. At any given time, you have at your disposal only a small fraction of the information you would need to make a decision with complete foresight.

Uncertainty isn’t a curse, however. You can still act; you can still make decisions. You use the best information and reasoning you can muster. The important thing is to recognize the limits of the information you’re using. There are variables you can’t possibly predict, your knowledge is less than complete, and there’s the ever-present possibility that you haven’t drawn the best conclusions from what you’ve seen.  None of these things need stop you from acting.  But they must be recognized.  They constitute the risk involved in what you do.

And for every risk there’s an accompanying liability—a price you’ll have to pay if things don’t go as you want them to.

You’re in the Certainty Trap when you ignore that risk.

Loss Of Freedom

The individual who ignores these risks can lose his freedom in three important ways:

1. He’s likely to take risks that would be unacceptable if he were to recognize them; and by acting rashly he can get himself into boxes that restrict his freedom.
2. When things don’t go his way, his previous certainty can turn quickly to despair and depression; after all, he was “so sure.” Now that he’s discouraged, his emotions can tempt him to run from his bad consequences into a worse situation. In other words, he’s fallen into the Emotional Trap.
3. By accepting opinions as absolute fact, he can allow hisfreedom to be restricted by information that may not be true.


There’s nothing shameful in acknowledging that you don’t have the answers to every question about life. Just accept the fact that you know only a fraction of what’s going on in the world. You don’t have to attach explanations in terms of a special revelation of God’s will, a glimpse at the supernatural, evidence of a conspiracy, or anything else.

The Trap

The essence of the Certainty Trap is the disregarding of risks by overestimating the certainty of the information upon which you base your decisions. Taking risks is an inherent part of life; it’s only dangerous when you act as if you’re not taking a risk.

Risks are forms of prices.

Avoiding The Trap

Here are some suggestions that may help you to avoid the Certainty Trap:

1. Popularity isn’t proof.
2. Be skeptical about new information.
3. Don’t expect to have an explanation for everything.
4. Recognize that you’re seeing only part of what’s involved; you can’t see everything.
5. Recognize the risks and liabilities.

The Final Authority

Recognize your sovereign authority. You won’t ever be the totalitarian ruler of someone else’s life. But you do rule your own.

When you no longer count on other people to be “right,” to be certain, to be moral, to be intelligent, you’ll turn to the one source of genuine power that exists for you—yourself.

You’ll find numerous alternatives that can get you what you want without having to go through other people to do so. You’ll discover how much of your freedom and happiness you’ve forfeited in the past by delegating to other people the power that can be used effectively only by yourself.

Who rules the world?
You do. Your world, that is.

If a man begins with certainties, he shall end in doubts;
but if he will be content with doubts he shall end in certainties.


Back: Why You Are Not Free, Ch. 13: The Box Trap
Next: Coming Soon

Categories: Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

Leave a Reply