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Pathological Altruism$
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Barbara Oakley, Ariel Knafo, Guruprasad Madhavan, and David Sloan Wilson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199738571

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738571.001.0001

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Pathological Certitude

Pathological Certitude

Chapter 10 Pathological Certitude
Pathological Altruism

Robert A. Burton

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents an overview of how the mind generates the feeling that a thought, belief, or action is correct. Drawing on personal anecdote as well as neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, it proposes that feelings of knowing, rightness, conviction, and certainty aren’t conscious deliberate determinations, but rather involuntary mental states that operate outside of conscious control. Supporting arguments range from discussion of artificial intelligence–neural network models to reasons why human cognition might have evolved a mental state that feels like a thought but isn’t (the feeling of knowing). The primary goal of the chapter is to underscore that feelings about our moral judgments such as “I know that I’m doing the right thing,” aren’t justifiable via reason, but rather represent personal, biologically mediated mental states that are influenced by myriad perceptual illusions, distortions, and biases inherent in unconscious cognitive processes.

Keywords:   certainty, conviction, feeling of knowing, human cognition, moral judgment, neural networks

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