Brain Science Podcast discussion

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Off Topic > certainty is cultural and not hard wired

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message 1: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments When reading and listening to podcasts, often it's said our brains are hard-wired to think in terms of certainty. An internet site with a good example is http://intentionalworkplace.com/2011/... .

I agree we tend to think in terms of certainty, but see this as cultural and not hard-wired. Going back to Plato, then following how his premises are resilient through time, cultural predisposition toward certainty is easy to see. Truth assertions that do not include certainty in their construction are ridiculed, and ridicule is a social function.

Heuristics seem to favor certainty, but another way to consider heuristics is the quickest resolution to a problem or issue. If predisposed toward certainty, then heuristics would represent the quickest paths to what we think we must have, which would of course be certainty. Heuristics may lead to certainty, but such does not imply a direct connection.

We each know what we know. I do not feel this is the same as certainty. It just means we have answers to things worked out for self. Even if obtained from an authoritative source, an answer is still worked out for self because self must still filter, compare, believe, and store it.

Certainty is a core aspect of Plato's universals and also Western thought in general. Certainty represents authority and obedience. Having studied this somewhat I do not find myself nearly as predisposed, cognitively, logically, heuristically, or in any other fashion.

What do you think about certainty being hard-wired?


message 2: by Ginger (new)

Ginger Campbell (GingerCampbell) | 313 comments Mod
I think you are using the term certainty in a different way than I used it in Are You Sure?The Unconscious Origins of Certainty. Perhaps I should have stuck with the phrased Robert Burton used in his book On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. He used the phrase the feeling of knowing, which obviously has no implications with regards to authority or obedience.


message 3: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments Myself, I don't agree we live in a real world and do not acknowledge reality as a premise. This is a radical position, but logical. For instance we know truth assertions should be falsifiable. How can we falsify the idea of reality, that it's the same for everyone regardless of context or who they are? A negotiated view might be there are a few things that are absolutely real with the remainder being contextually determined, but even that doesn't work because how people relate to things and expectations establish what things are to them. The only way we can have reality is to take the view of an authority figure and impose that on everyone, idealistically removing context. In days gone by there was very little context and a great deal of authority. That is the culture we came from. The last few decades with context, relativity, dynamics, and emergence are different from our cultural past. Such have been spoken of and alluded to in past centuries, but such was not mainstream. If we were not so predisposed culturally to think in certain (as in certainty) terms, I do not feel our brains would work so much that way. This is of course very hard to prove because we don't find many people totally removed from culture we can communicate with. I do think something can be found in linguistic studies of tribes of people living in the jungle, and to what extent certainty is represented in their dialect.

Myself, I don't see anyone's thoughts as right or wrong. Thoughts represent whatever mental environment a person has. When we say a person's thoughts are wrong, that's a social connotation we put on the person and thoughts, but from within the mind itself there is no such thing. How can a person believe something that isn't right? Such can only be established by imposing values on that person as we view the person. It's like saying what are good flowers or clouds in the sky. When we ourselves use things we say what is good or bad with regard to that use such as a good hammer or good word processor, but we do not use other people, therefore we cannot say whether their thoughts are right, wrong, good, or bad. People just have thoughts.

As we talk about society and share things in that regard, yes it is appropriate to rate people accordingly, but here we are not talking about society but a standalone brain.

Certainty relates to the possibility an assertion, idea, or belief can be wrong. But again, what is wrong? It is impossible to even consider the idea of certainty without a social connotation. If we say the brain is hard-wired for certainty, is that a concept we can successfully represent in lower life forms? I don't think so. The idea of certainty only has meaning with regard to our social environment of language as human beings.

Can we study the brain completely without regard to society? I don't think we can, but we should pay attention, and through cognitive effort, allow our social predispositions to affect what we see as little as possible.


message 4: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments Ginger,
I purchased your ebook a couple of weeks ago but had not read it yet. I'm doing that this afternoon and am 35% finished You say something similar to what I'm saying in two places:

Chapter 4
In light of what we know about brain plasticity, I wonder whether black and white thinking, such as the way schools emphasize the right answer, could mold the brain's reward system to prefer certainty over open-mindedness.
Chapter 5
The way we have been thinking about thought and reason really challenges the concept that we've inherited from the ancient Greeks that there is some sort of objective thing called "reason." Dr. Burton quotes the famous linguist George Lakoff here as saying, "Reason is not disembodied as the tradition has largely held, but arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experience. Reason is not a transcendent feature of the universe or a disembodied mind.” This comes from a book by Lakoff and Mark Johnson called Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought.
Chapter 5
Objective thought is not humanly possible!

It may seem a bit much if I come in with Plato, Western civilization, history, society, authority and obedience, as if out of scope. When we talk about certainty the idea of correctness enters the picture and scrutiny over whether one is right. That in turn introduces existence, what does exist, what doesn't, and whether one's thinking is aligned with ontological myth. In comes reality, and reality is a euphemism for authority. There is history behind these considerations and no easy way to consider certainty otherwise. Your book and Dr Burton seem to treat reality or "what is" as a de facto standard, then consider the brain and thoughts in the brain in terms that de facto standard and how the brain relates to external objective reality. My point is, within the brain itself there is no standard to rate thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. The brain merely thinks whatever it thinks.


message 5: by Mitchell (new)

Mitchell | 21 comments How about the scientific method? We're in the Brain SCIENCE Podcast discussion after all. Observation, hypothesis, experimentation, theory; repeat. Can that define reality?

You're right that beliefs and opinions are ephemeral. Are brain structures such as the amygdala, corpus callosum, anterior cingulate cortex, pons, etc, ephemeral or predictable and consistent and are their functions based on 'reality?'

Your assertions about certainty as authority and obedience are opinions.


message 6: by David (last edited Oct 22, 2012 11:16PM) (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments Hi Mitchell. Glad to meet you. From a historical perspective the Scientific Method is contrary to realism and does not create reality. The Scientific Method is expressly empirical, which contrasts with realism. I'm very much in favor of the Scientific Method. With regard to certainty and the brain, it will be a long time before we can tie that to specific functionality and we are left with catch-all concepts such as embodiment. Unfortunately it's hard to construct hypotheses for such and subsequent experiments to validate. I hope I did not infer misgivings for the idea of certainty. I just don't feel we are hard-wired for it. We should use the Scientific Method for what we can, and for what we can't, let's discuss and see what sense can be made anyway. We don't have to cram everything into the Scientific Method if it doesn't fit.


message 7: by Mitchell (last edited Oct 23, 2012 03:26PM) (new)

Mitchell | 21 comments I guess I don't know what realism is. From Wikipedia, philosophical realism is the belief that reality exists independently of observers. Scientific realism is the real world, as it is, independent of what we might take it to be, so I'm not sure why science is contrary to realism.

There are thousands of studies which correlate brain regions with specific functionality. Of course we'll never have all the answers, but we know, for example, that brain lesions in Broca's area cause speech aphasias, while Wernicke's aphasia is the inability to perceive written or spoken language.

Certainly it's certain that certainty will not be able to be associated with certain brain regions any time soon, and yes, we have to cram everything into the scientific method. If it doesn't fit, teach it in college philosophy, political science, and religious studies classes where beliefs and opinions run rampant.


message 8: by David (new)

David Mcdivitt | 65 comments As a recovering realist I appreciate your view :)

Before the Scientific Method came along, knowledge, truth, whatever, came by edict, and it was authoritarian. Knowledge was static and didn't change much. The Scientific Method allowed knowledge to change, but that was a meager beginning. After awhile other stuff came along allowing knowledge to change such as evolution theory and the idea species change, relativity, context, environment, dynamics, complexity theory, and emergence. As time goes on we move farther and farther from realism and its circular a priori reasoning which does not work for us. We make knowledge up as we go along. Knowledge does not have to jive with underlying mythical reality as if by magic. All that's required is for logic to be consistent. A lot of ideas can't be tested, but are valid because they represent good logic and provide useful perspectives. That's a brief run down on realism.

I agree we should use the Scientific Method when we can and constrain ideas to that when possible. Ideas should be made with a view of eventually being testable.

Maybe I have explained the connection between certainty and realism and why it's cultural.


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