WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton

People in conflict often suffer from an overinflated sense of certainty. They KNOW they are right, they KNOW the other person is wrong, and they KNOW what the right outcome is.

Usually, though, once we explore those things in more detail, reality is not quite so certain. There are gaps, inconsistencies, improbabilities, wishful thinking… lots of areas in which certainty falls apart under closer examination.

I’ve been exploring the concept of certainty recently, and came across Robert Burton’s book “On Being Certain”. Burton is a neurologist who has studied the relationship between our thoughts and what we actually know.

The book explains that the “feeling of knowing” is more like an emotion than the end point of a rational thought process. He also demonstrates that this feeling often arises BEFORE our thought process – so our thinking often simply justifies our feeling of knowing rather than critically evaluating and perhaps challenging it.

In the book, Burton criticises two other writers whose work I had previously admired – Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence and Malcolm Gladwell’s findings in his book Blink.

This book is a fascinating read (if a little challenging at times when delving into the science of neural networks, etc.).

I love his final suggestion – perhaps we should learn to say (and develop a mindset of) “I believe” instead of “I know”

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