On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not
You recognize when you know something for certain, right? You "know" the sky is blue, or that the traffic light had turned green, or where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001--you know these things, well, because you just do.
In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton challenges the notions of how we think about what we know. He shows that the fee
The unassailable certainty exhibited by ideologues of many varieties lies behind many of the world's political and cultural problems. One would expect that an examination of how such certainty develops and how one might avoid the traps this entails.
Burton has one good punch: he hammers home that the feeling of knowing is a feeling like any other: not really very amenable to rational understandi ...more
Unfortunately, I found myself increasingly irritated with the book, and have gone from recommending it to everyone I see to only giving it 3 stars.
The author starts with a fascinating pre ...more
"In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton challenges the notions of how we think about what we know. He shows that the feeling of certainty we have when we "know" something comes from sources beyond our control and knowledge. In fact, certainty is a mental sensation, rather than evidence of fact. Because this "feeling of knowing" seems like confirmation of knowledge, we tend to th ...more
I always wanted to read it but the topic of certainty seemed out of place. What does it mean to be certain? I am not sure I was ever in a place to really read this and get what it was saying but then again I don't know. How can I be certain?
What is radical about this book is that Burton addresses the very notion that certainty is nothing more than a feeling. ...more
Burton's thesis that there is an innate biological feeling of knowing, i.e. of certainty, that is separate and distinct from reason and actual fact, is not so hard for me to swallow. Our ability to believe that we are right about something is a useful but not always failsafe attribute. And reasoning itself is beset by bias that will never be entirely eliminated. So what, one might ask, is th ...more
What does it mean to know something?
The author points out that 'the feeling of knowing' is a neuro-biological reaction and not a logical conclusion. There is also a wide genetic variability in the population as to what criteria can elicit this reaction.
What I find lacking is a distinction between statements that are perfectly knowable (within a specific system), such as 2+2==4 on the one side, and statements tha ...more
The message at the heart of this book is that the feelings of knowing, correctness, conviction, and certainty aren't deliberate conclusions and conscious choices. They are mental sensations that happen to us.Unfortunately, once one understands this point, the rest of the book is rather less inspiring than promised. Although the discussions concerning the neural basis of experience is well-written, once the author turns to more speculative areas such as evolutionary ps ...more
Love the fact that the author had the same problem with Richard Dawkins that I did! This sentence had me nodding my head in complete agreement: "[Dawkins'] near-evangelical effort to convince the faithful of the folly of their convictions has the same zeal ...more
Robert shows evidence that feelings of rightness or certainty are one of our basic emotions, and the role that emotion plays in our decision making. But he also does a great job of discussing how much of our brain's work happens in parts of the brain inaccessible by our perceptual mind.
I'd highly recommend this book to anyone with an int ...more
You know what he's talking about: The sense that you know the answer, that the answer is "on the tip of your tongue," in the seconds, minutes, or hours before you are actually able to access the correct information. The conviction that you've found the same street you ...more
Favorite Quote: “Goleman believes in a rational mind that can know when it is being fooled. Schank sees the ability to be rational lim ...more
Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.
---Alfred North Whitehead
We certainly seem to be living in a time when everyone knows they are right, about everything from politics to climate change, from vaccinations to the shape of the earth. How do so many people so fundamentally disagree?
Within the first few pages, author Robert Burton sets out his premise that a feeling of knowing, a 'tip of the tongue' belief that you have certain correct knowledge in your bra ...more
The book has small holes in it, manifesting in trite sentences that mean nothing, like "what is the purpose of find ...more
Burton does a fine job of laying out various neurological truths. However, he doesn't seem to do a good job of tying them together to successfully prove his ultimate thesis. I get what he's saying, but I had a hard time understanding why he was saying it, and the ultimate point of the book seemed to end up left out somehow.
After reflecting on it a while, I started to see why he made the particular points he did, and I unde ...more
What would have interested me then is the connection to the modern social media world. Given we live increasingly in our own social media bubbles does this contribute, physiolo ...more
The author introduces his hypothesis that "feeling of knowing"or being certain is a mental state per se with evolutionary benefits. Though he tries to explore neurology, genetics and even philosophy to bolster his radical claims, they often seem to be ill-conceived, shallow and boring. In the end, the book turns out to be ...more
"If this book has provoked you to ask the most basic of questions--how do you know what you know?--it will have served its purpose.
Very well written, and thought provoking.