In On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, Robert Burton showed that the feeling of certainty, which is something we all experience, has its origin in brain processes that are both unconscious and inaccessible to consciousness . Now in his new book, A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves, he extends these ideas to other mental sensations such as our feeling of agency and our sense of causation. The idea that much of what our brain does is not accessible to our conscious awareness is NOT new, but Dr. Burton considers the implications for our understanding of the MIND.
When we talked recently (BSP 96), Dr. Burton explained that his new book has two main parts. In the early chapters, he extends the principles he developed in On Being Certain to other mental sensations. We tend to take things like our feeling of certainty, agency, and causation for granted, but he points out that these are generated in parts of the brain that we can neither access or control. What makes A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind stand out is that Burton then explores the implications of this reality. He argues that while we can become ever more knowledgeable about how our brain works, the MIND, which is something that we each experience subjectively, is much more elusive.
The fact that we are trying to study the MIND with the MIND has inherent limitations and I think that Dr. Burton is right when he says our response should be HUMILITY.
How to get this episode:
On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, (2008) by Robert Burton
Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty, by Ginger Campbell
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume (1748)
See the episode transcript for additional links and references.
BSP 42: A discussion of On Being Certain
BSP 43: Interview with Robert Burton about On Being Certain
BSP 67: Interview with Thomas Metzinger, author of The Ego Tunnel
BSP 85: Interview with Sebastian Seung, author of Connectome.
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