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Showing 1-10 of 55 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 83 reviews
on November 14, 2016
Wise, witty, and well written. Let's put absolutism in it's place: unwarranted. My favorite Burton quote, "If possible, both science and religion should try to adopt and stick with the idea of provisional facts. Once all facts become works-in-progress, absolutism would be dethroned. No matter how great the 'evidence,' the literal interpretation of the Bible or Koran would no longer be the only possibility. By exploring and making common knowledge of how the brain balances off contradictory aspects of its biology, we might gradually turn absolutism into an untenable stance of ignorance." (197)
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on September 1, 2016
This book deals with ideas that I have been pondering for decades ever since college, 60 years ago, wondered why people "believe" in many of the untenable notions of religion and faith. I also did not want to accept the nihilism of Dawkins or Hitchens. Burton has dealt with the scientific explanation of us at the same time not rejecting the value and beauty of awe and gratefulness at the core of religion and philosophy.
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on August 4, 2017
Ranging from neuroanatomy to religious faith, Dr. Burton assembles an entertaining and informative - if sometimes rambling - picture on what it means to be convinced, to know, to believe. Relevant quotes and citations expose his interest in and research on the topic.

Whetted my appetite for more on the topic.
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on May 20, 2015
Great book, fascinating and insightful. Well written and is relevant to anyone who is interested in the many facets and problems of seeking an understanding of how we arrive at what we think is "truth" and being truthful/certain. Clearly presents the problem of being certain and how being so closes ones mind to other options. Very good description of the way the brain is thought to work and the logic/support behind his premise about being certain. Excellent for science teachers and, in fact, anyone interested in science and the process of scientific thought. This should be mandatory reading for every politician-- if they are capable of reading--- and if not then it should be read to them.
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on April 1, 2009
Dr. Burton's book is one of the most extraordinary and valuable I've read. The depth and breadth of commentary it has generated by other readers is testament that you cannot read this book without having strong reactions, both intellectual and emotional.

Dr. Burton, as alleged by other reviewers, neither "attacks science" nor argues that his is the last word on the neurobiology of certainty. Indeed, his postulation of a "hidden layer" (similar to Freud's "subconscious") and its machinations, while "believable," is still part of the great unknown of neuroscience.

This is a book that invites the reader to challenge the author and him/herself about our judgments and beliefs. Some things, as the color of the sky, can be known with a high level of certainty; others, as whether an embryo is human, and when, not only cannot be known with objective, rational certainty, but may not be knowable in the sense that they can be proved using scientific methods. Although most of the judgments and values that become part of our "hard-wiring" (whether genetic or acquired) fall into the category of the unknown, unknowable, not-yet-known, or just plain inaccurate, we nevertheless "know" them to be true. Prayer cured my cancer. Politicians cannot be trusted. Organic foods are healthier. God wants me to kill infidels. Businesspeople are crooks. Your mother hates me.

The essence of the argument: 1 - beliefs that we "just know" to be true are based (Burton persuasively argues but cannot yet prove, based on the current state of scientific knowledge) on a mental sensory function (NOT emotion) that the brain's "hidden layer" uses to determine when it has enough information to reach a conclusion; 2 - that however ardently we defend these conclusions to ourselves or others, these things we know to be true are NOT founded on reason or objectivity, but on a complex neurological process that works itself out largely outside our conscious awareness; and 3 - these things that we "just know" to be true persist even in the face of compelling contrary evidence. Our faulty memories are just the tip of the iceberg.

Dr. Burton is a clinical neurologist, not a research scientist, and clearly a student of philosophy. His writing is narrative, approachable and contemplative. This book, he reveals late in the text, started out as a personal journal of discovery, and the final product reflects a disciplined intellect wrestling with a highly-personal and weighty question: how can I trust what I believe to be true? In light of how little we truly know about what Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman calls "the most complicated material object in the known universe," Dr. Barton's essay is a compelling contribution to our understanding of ourselves and our fellow, fallible mortals.
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on September 11, 2015
Fascinating, engaging, inspiring -- a bit heady at times -- but a thoroughly enjoyable book. Especially if you're inclined to latch on tightly to beliefs -- whatever they are! -- this book is a must read. Particularly the middle chapters called Genes and Thought and Sensational Thoughts!

I can't imagine anyone reading this book and not coming away with new insights into how the human brain functions -- unless of course you already know this stuff (those who've read this book will see what I did there -- haha).
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on September 15, 2013
Dr. Burton has written a book that might change your life. His central question? What if almost everything you are sure about originates in your subconscious and is not the product of rigorous reason? What if all your feelings of certainty are just that: feelings?
Burton backs up this hypothesis with numerous studies and by the end you are almost certain he is correct.
What to do with this information? Well, first of all, stop being so sure of yourself. Avoid dogma, eschew fundamentalism. Exercise a little humility. These changes are not only warranted by the data, but they may make you a better person.
Burton not only has a great scientific outlook, but he also comes off as unassuming, humorous and open-minded. We need more of his attitude in both the sciences and in religion.
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on October 15, 2014
If there is any hope for dealing with echo chambers, rationalization and smugness, it lies in understanding how many ways there are to get a sense of certainty other than actual correctness. It sounds like a little thing, but I believe that a little skepticism about what we believe could go a long way to fixing the ills of the world and of individuals. Burton talks about the survival advantages of conviction (as distinct from correctness) and the neural sources of that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing.

Add this book to the short shelf of essential works using modern neuroscience to explain key aspects of how we tick.
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on February 3, 2016
When I took a few psychology courses years ago, we did not cover the feeling of knowing as a mental state associated with positive emotion. It has an association with many of life's experiences -- those involving self-righteousness, thirst for learning, over-confidence in one's memory, and confirmation bias. Dr. Burton has created an enjoyable book with an eye-opening (for me) approach to understanding my emotional attachment to what I think I know.
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on May 23, 2017
Interesting but kind of long for the message.
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