The Sciences

On Being Certain

By Jennifer BaroneMar 31, 2008 12:00 AM

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

by Robert A. Burton (St. Martin’s Press, $24.95)

Just like love or anger, certainty is an emotion. So says neuroscientist Robert Burton, whose engaging new work exposes the involuntary, physiological roots of conviction. Whether you’re sure about political affiliations or alien abduction, that feeling of knowing derives not from rational thought, he argues, but from the brain’s primitive limbic system; the gut feeling is more likely to emerge from careful electric stimulation than from careful consideration. Burton is convinced that being certain is not the same as being right. I’m not so sure.

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