Read: On being Certain - Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not

Earlier this year I read about cognitive dissonance, the denial of one’s own mistakes, and the resulting bad decision making. Now I have read something related, yet completely different. On being certain is about knowledge and meta-knowledge, the feeling of knowing something, to be certain about something and more general about cognition. Since the author, Robert Burton, is a neuroscientist explanations for the what and why seem, at least to me, more objective than some related work by more traditional psychologists. However, one of the main points the author wishes to convey is about such objectivity, or rather unjustified certainty about the underlying truth. As all reasoning is influenced by the decision maker’s, let’s call it, “wiring” there is no absolute objectivity.

The book is quite compelling and the author offers well-balanced arguments. The underlying cognitive processes are nicely illustrated and their implications discussed from different viewpoints. Since most deliberations are subconscious the book ultimately boils down to the question “How do we know what we know?”

As a side effect, at the end of the book it is once more perfectly clear: There is no perfect rational (economic) man.

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