Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Folly of Certaintude

That innate "feeling of just knowing" is sometimes wrong.  Yet, we are in love with our hunches and really hate to be wrong. Intelligent people should be able to compensate for such possibility. Few do. Such is the thesis of Dr. Robert Burton's new book, "On Being Certain"
Believing we are right when we are not, is of little consequence on trivial matters, but if one is a doctor or pilot the results can be deadly. Indeed, the most dangerous actionable thoughts are those which make intuitive sense.
In trying to answer the basic question, how do we know what we know?, this Yale neurologist covers a lot of terrain from snap-judgements to the gulf between religious and scientific beliefs.

If there is much, you the reader, is certain of, borrow or buy this 224-page book, and you may suddenly be more skeptical. Not inclined to delve into the book? Then, take the 25 question test made available by oldblackjoe. So, step up to the plate and find out if you bat over 300.
The questionnaire is independent of the book, but is an ideal test of part of the good doctor's summation offered under the overarching mandate:"Above all, do no harm:
"Just as we learn to cope with the anxieties of sickness and death, we must learn to tolerate contradictory aspects of our biology. Our minds have their own agenda. We can intervene through greater understanding of what we can and cannot control, by knowing where potential deceptions lurk, and by a willingness to accept that our knowledge of the world around us is limited by fundamental conflicts in how our minds work."
Yes, the power of certainty can be delusional -positive or negative.