Doubt everything to arrive at the truth – Descartes, Buddha, Kahneman

Believe it or not,” is a common phrase. We hear it all the time. I think of it as a mantra for questioning everyday reality. French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician Rene Descartes said, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

I remain open to all possibilities but doubt almost everything to keep learning. While I avoid rejecting ideas outright, I entertain them with a questioning mind. In the words of Richard Feynman,“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

Doubt sits right on top of my certainty.

That means I spent a lot of time in my head in solitude, pondering. But I try to be more present. “Just be” is also my mantra. So it’s not always easy to balance living in the now and questioning my reality. I’m enjoying my path to questioning everything, everywhere, but not all at once. I will go insane if I do that. With our limited senses and subjective experiences, objective reality is too far to reach. But question anyway.

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties,” philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon observed.

But why doubt?

Because our brains are wired for efficiency, not necessarily accuracy. We take shortcuts and rely on past subjective experiences. Cognitive biases get the best of us. Confirmation bias, for example, makes us look for patterns that confirm what we already believe and ignore anything that contradicts it. Doubt disrupts our autopilot mode of thinking. We stop taking things at face value and start asking questions. It forces us to confront the possibility that we might be wrong that our perception might be skewed.

Skeptics like Pyrrho of Elis argued that true knowledge is impossible, and the best we can do is suspend judgment.

Descartes famously doubted everything, even his senses, in search of a foundation for certain knowledge. Doubting means becoming a more discerning thinker. You learn to identify potential flaws in your reasoning and consider the perspectives of others. You become less likely to fall for misinformation or manipulation.

“Believe nothing,
No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it,
Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.”  — Buddha

Look for opposing viewpoints. Challenge your own gut feelings. This questioning doesn’t have to be dramatic or time-consuming. Even a few minutes of mindful reflection can make a big difference. When you question something, it sparks a natural curiosity. You start asking, “Why?” and “How?” Mental digging takes you beyond the surface of what you read or ponder and forces you to engage with the underlying evidence.

Doubt exposes bias.

We all have them — unconscious biases that shape how we see the world. Doubt acts as a counterbalance. Doubting everything doesn’t mean rejecting everything. It means being open to alternative perspectives and new evidence. When you approach a topic with an open mind, you’re more likely to have productive conversations, learn from others, and potentially even change your mind.

“William James used to preach the “will to believe.” For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” None of our beliefs are quite true; all have at least a penumbra of vagueness and error. The methods of increasing the degree of truth in our beliefs are well known; they consist in hearing all sides, trying to ascertain all the relevant facts, controlling our own bias by discussion with people who have the opposite bias, and cultivating a readiness to discard any hypothesis which has proved inadequate.” — Bertrand Russell


We build our understanding of the world on a foundation of “beliefs, values, principles and ethics. Everything that is supposed to work for “our own good.” You believe the chair you sit on won’t collapse. You believe the traffic light means stop. These beliefs, often formed through experience and trust in others (experts), become a “path” for daily life. But the seemingly sturdy chair might have a hidden crack. The traffic light could malfunction. Our comfortable world of “beliefs” can be shattered by the harsh light of “reality.”

“When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. ”— Mark Twain, The Autobiography of Mark Twain

We are wired to believe.

From childhood, we accept the world our parents painted for us, a world where the sun rises and sets and monsters hide under the bed. The trust they build with us forms our early understanding of how the world works. But as we mature, the world shows us a different lens. We come across conflicting realities, narratives, and scientific discoveries that challenge what we’ve always believed.

Suddenly, the path of blind belief seems less secure.


Truth seekers want tangible proof that validates their experiences and beliefs. Science thrives on this need, building its foundation of repeatable experiments and verifiable observations.

We find comfort in the objectivity of numbers, the clarity of logic. Yet, even the most rigorous scientific theory is, at its core, a belief system — a well-supported story of the truth, but a belief nonetheless. The universe unknown remains beyond the reach of our current tools and methods.

So, where do I stand at this crossroads?

Can I have both belief and evidence? Absolutely. But I must recognise them as complementary forces, not opposing ones. Belief guides my initial direction, helping me take specific paths over others. It pushes me to ask more “whys” and “hows.” Evidence becomes the map, the tool that helps me refine my understanding and course-correct when needed.

What about the truths that shape our daily lives?

Morality, love, happiness — these are realities without absolutes. There are no universal laws. We rely on personal experience to build our own realities. You saw a friend get burned by trusting someone, so you approach relationships with caution. That experience shapes your “truth” about trust. But what if your friend’s experience was an anomaly? What if trust is the key to a fulfilling life for you?

The “best story” possible

The stories we believe are not the whole truth. A little healthy scepticism can go a long way in helping you see the world more clearly.

“We can’t live in a state of perpetual doubt, so we make up the best story possible and we live as if the story were true.”— Daniel Kahneman

There’s rarely a simple answer. But we settle. We stay at a certain level of “certainty.” They provide stability, but they can also blind us. “I’m always right” can lead to dismissing new information. “The world is against me” nurtures pessimism and inaction. The key is to be aware of these narratives and to cultivate healthy scepticism.

The “best story possible” isn’t static.

As you learn and grow, your narratives should evolve, too. The story of the nervous presenter might transform into the story of the capable professional, comfortable in their expertise. The story of the world as a hostile place might soften with experiences of kindness and connection.

Key takeaway?

Provisional narratives (“the stories by means of which individuals ascribe meaning to their past experiences”) is the way forward.

Acknowledge the limitations of your stories and the potential for revision as you gather new information and experiences.Imagine life or your particular path as a living document, constantly evolving with each chapter of your life. You choose a path based on the best information you have now, knowing that you can course-correct if needed. It’s like going on a road trip with a map, but with the understanding that detours might be necessary based on road closures or hidden gems, you discover along the way.

“We must believe before we can doubt, and doubt before we can deny.” — W.H. Auden ( A Commonplace Book)

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful tools. They provide direction, meaning, and a sense of coherence. But these stories should be flexible and adaptable to your ever-changing life. Live with a narrative imperative (Something meaningful that represents a very specific moment in your life), but don’t let it define you. After all, the most compelling stories are rarely linear — they’re filled with twists, turns, and unexpected detours. And that’s precisely what makes life so interesting.

I will continue to use a “healthy level of doubt” to find meaning, make better decisions, connect with others, and live a more interesting life.

Join my email list with 60K+ curious people who receive my best essays and free curated tools for better living.