scotchbooks wrote:Actually Robert, there seems to be considerable evidence that feelings of certainty "stem from primitive areas of the brain and are independent of active, conscious reflection and reasoning." For the evidence and arguments in favor of this I refer you to the work of Robert A. Burton, a UCSF neuroscientist, as detailed in his book "On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not" from which the above quote was selected.
As with Haidt, I followed the discussion on Burton here with interest, although sadly not finding time to read the book, but chipping in on the summary comments from my perspective.
It is worth going back to the recent discussion here about Plato to explain my view on certainty. Plato held that we can only be certain of knowledge that arises from intelligence, and that beliefs which arise from appearances are never certain. This means that political and religious convictions which lack an intelligible rational frame should not be classed as certainty, despite the fervour with which they are held.
Intelligence tells us that only core scientific facts can be indubitably certain. Astronomy is the paradigm, with our knowledge of facts about the universe sitting together so coherently that doubting them arises only from stupidity or ignorance. But at the frontier, science acknowledges its uncertainty: the fact that we cannot explain dark matter does not mean we should entertain doubt about whether the inverse square law of gravity predicts planetary positions.
For any other claims, they need to match the gold standard of astronomical knowledge to be classed as certain. Religion and politics just don't cut it, due to the obvious existence of large scale delusion and error in these fields.
Once we become certain of the truth of a political or religious belief it becomes almost invulnerable to rational or logical refutation. This will become Haidt's position as well when he discusses what can be done to mediate the bitter disputes splitting our people and political parties today.
What I don't like here is the apparent elision from the observation that social certainty is illusory to the claim that scientific certainty is similarly unreliable. This line of thinking leads to a mad sort of solipsism where we are not even sure the universe exists.
Incidentally, even scientific theories such as those of Darwin are never finished products or facts to which certainty can be attached. They are, at best, highly probable explanations with at least a wink of doubt. Consider the 5 sigma standard for discovery of the Higg's boson. Still some doubt.
The fact that science is incomplete does not imply that it contains no certain knowledge. Uncertainty about the Higgs boson should not imply uncertainty about the existence of atoms. Atoms absolutely exist as a necessary condition of experience. It is a fallacy to say that not knowing everything means we know nothing.