Chapter

Pathological Certitude

Robert A. Burton

in Pathological Altruism

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738571
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918669 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738571.003.0101
Pathological Certitude

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This chapter presents an overview of how the mind generates the feeling that a thought, belief, or action is correct. Drawing on personal anecdote as well as neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, it proposes that feelings of knowing, rightness, conviction, and certainty aren’t conscious deliberate determinations, but rather involuntary mental states that operate outside of conscious control. Supporting arguments range from discussion of artificial intelligence–neural network models to reasons why human cognition might have evolved a mental state that feels like a thought but isn’t (the feeling of knowing). The primary goal of the chapter is to underscore that feelings about our moral judgments such as “I know that I’m doing the right thing,” aren’t justifiable via reason, but rather represent personal, biologically mediated mental states that are influenced by myriad perceptual illusions, distortions, and biases inherent in unconscious cognitive processes.

Keywords: certainty; conviction; feeling of knowing; human cognition; moral judgment; neural networks

Chapter.  3589 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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