Certainty: I’m fairly sure we don’t need it

Have you noticed many people tend to be pretty certain that Peak Oil either is or isn’t happening, global warming either is or isn’t happening, and so on. Guns, abortion, nanotechnology, Genetic Modification of crops, controlled burning of the Australian bush – it can be quite polarised.

The preferred strategy seems to be to get hold of all the evidence then make a decision that you can be more or less sure about. We seem to like certainty and it seems to be an aid to decision-making. Conversely, it’s hard to take F. Scott Fizgerald’s advice that

“The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

So Robert A. Burton’s book, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not is very helpful and provocative. Basically, the story we tell ourselves about certainty and how we reach it is completely wrong. Continue reading “Certainty: I’m fairly sure we don’t need it”