The certainty epidemic: everyone knows they’re right!

Just a little food for thought. I loved this article by Robert Burton in Salon and excerpted a small bit for your consideration.

The Certainty Epidemic

Modern biology is pointing in a different direction. It is telling us that despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” arise out of primary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of rationality or reason. Feeling correct or certain isn’t a deliberate conclusion or conscious choice. It is a mental sensation that happens to us.

The importance of being aware that certainty has involuntary neurological roots cannot be overstated. If science can shame us into questioning the nature of conviction, we might develop some degree of tolerance and an increased willingness to consider alternative ideas — from opposing religious or scientific views to contrary opinions at the dinner table.

I’d like to add that Buddhism also teaches this idea and people gain these sorts of insights in meditation, Buddhist and other kinds, too. We can gain this understanding through observation. The idea that our beliefs are pretty shaky constructs is not new. Getting this validated by science, though, is always a good thing.

As a case in point to this idea being taught in Buddhism and by complete coincidence, the quoted paragraphs from Pema Chodron earlier today actually speaks to this issue as well.

Robert Burton, M.D., is the former chief of neurology at Mount Zion-UCSF Hospital and the author of  On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not.

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters