ON BEING CERTAIN: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not ON BEING CERTAIN is a revolutionary look at how we know what we know. At stake is the commonly held belief that we can logically and reasonably determine when our thoughts are correct. If, after due rumination and deliberation, we decide that a thought must be correct, we presume that this conclusion is itself a conscious choice. ON BEING CERTAIN presents compelling evidence that this assumption is inconsistent with present-day understanding of basic brain function. Drawing from case studies and recent neuroscience advances, as well as such far-ranging subject material as the physics of baseball, high-stakes poker, and popular discussions of gut feelings and the nature of intuition, ON BEING CERTAIN systematically undermines certainty and conviction as products of reason. The central premise: Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason. REVIEWS/COMMENTS FORBESLIFE MARCH 10, 2008 The day after the space shuttle Challenger disaster, a psychology professor named Ulric Neisser had his students write precisely where they’d been when they heard about the explosion. Two-and-a-half years later, he asked them for the same information. While fewer than one in ten got the details right, almost all were certain that their memories were accurate, and many couldn’t be dissuaded even after seeing their original notes. For neurologist Robert A. Burton, the Challenger study is emblematic of an essential quality of the human mind, and evocative of the psychology underlying everything from nationalism to fundamentalism. In his brilliant new book, Burton systematically and convincingly shows that certainty is a mental state, a feeling like anger or pride that can help guide us, but that doesn’t dependably reflect objective truth. Evidence for Burton’s fascinating insight is everywhere around us, and « On Being Certain » expertly weaves together studies from Science and The New England Journal of Medicine, as well as the front page of the New York Times, to consider the myriad ways in which the brain constructs a useful worldview — often by manipulating details for the sake of consistency — and sometimes, as in the case of schizophrenia, takes untenable liberties. Faced with the inherent unreliability of the human mind, a lesser author might become cynical. Burton, however, is able to appreciate the cultural worth of unjustified certainty, which fuels the impulsive creativity of scientists and artists alike. Equally important, he argues that, « if science can shame us into questioning the nature of conviction, we might develop some degree of tolerance and an increased willingness to consider

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