On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not

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St. Martin's Press, Feb 5, 2008 - Science - 272 pages

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 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 think of it as a product of reason. But an increasing body of evidence suggests that feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain, and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning. The feeling of knowing happens to us; we cannot make it happen.

Bringing together cutting edge neuroscience, experimental data, and fascinating anecdotes, Robert Burton explores the inconsistent and sometimes paradoxical relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know. Provocative and groundbreaking, On Being Certain, will challenge what you know (or think you know) about the mind, knowledge, and reason.


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User Review  - BizCoach - LibraryThing

A neurologist looks at what happens in the brain and mind to give us the sense that we are right. Makes you realize that feeling certain is lest about objective reality than one might think. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - chaosmogony - LibraryThing

Excellent summary of "the feeling of knowing", the neurological factors that make us feel as if we're correct -- even if the facts say otherwise. This should be mandatory reading before posting on the internet. Read full review


Title Page
How Do We Know What We Know?
Conviction Isnt a Choice
The Classification of Mental States
Neural Networks
Modularity and Emergence
7 When Does a Thought Begin?
A Further Clarification
Genes and Thought
Sensational Thoughts
Mind Speculations
Final Thoughts

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About the author (2008)

ROBERT BURTON, M.D. graduated from Yale University and University of California at San Francisco medical school, where he also completed his neurology residency. At age 33, he was appointed chief of the Division of Neurology at Mt. Zion-UCSF Hospital, where he subsequently became Associate Chief of the Department of Neurosciences. His non-neurology writing career includes three critically acclaimed novels. He lives in Sausalito, California.

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