Saturday, April 05, 2008

a mini-treatise on certainty

Ask anyone who's ever hung out with me for long enough: They'll say that if you try to tell me I'm wrong about something that I'm certain I'm right about, I'll argue til the ends of the earth. Now this is only on things that I know for sure. And ask those same people from before, and they'll tell you that I am generally right about these things, after I've had a chance to use the magickal internets to prove my point.

Some people would (and do) confuse this behavior as a need to always be right. Not the case. If I'm not absolutely certain about something, I won't argue it. I'll say "Really? I thought it was this way." But I'll accept the other person's point, (especially if it's logical, and thus appeals to my logical robot brain) at least until we get a chance to find out the truth. It might appear as me always needing to be right because I happen to know a lot of random things that other people don't understand that I know. So there is a high probability of something coming up in conversation which I am certain of the factual data on. (Incidentally, if you're ever on a quiz show and get to call a friend, I'm your girl.)

*** Keep in mind, these scenarios apply only to factual arguments. I won't even discuss emotional topics like politics, religion, gun control, abortion, etc. because they generally turn to arguments, and the type of people who want to argue about these topics have a thing against listening to reason or considering something other than their own beliefs. ***

I bring this up today because my Discover magazine recently had an interesting blurb, which I will now reproduce (almost) in its entirety:

"Just like love or anger, certainty is an emotion. So says neuroscientist Robert Burton, whose engaging new work exposes involuntary, physiological roots of conviction. Whether you're sure about political affiliations or alien abduction, that feeling of knowing derives not from rational thought, he argues, but from the brain's primitive limbic system; the gut feeling is more likely to emerge from careful electric stimulation than from careful consideration. Burton is convinced that being certain is not the same as being right."

It's a pretty radical theory, at least to me. It goes against everything I, as a robot, stand for. I make it a point not to let emotions interfere with my brain, and thus the ensuing discussions of facts. Like I said, I only argue when I'm sure I'm correct. However, this "Burton" character (and he's not even the awesome Burton, Tim) thinks it's the other way around. I freely admit that yes, I'm a girl, so I do have some emotions. But I swear to Jebus that the "girl" part is completely separate from the "robot" part. (Wow, this is taking on a kind of sci-fi-erotica feeling, which it's not meant to. Oops.)

I don't know if I'll read this book. But I'm also not sure if my reluctance is based on my emotional gut feeling or my my certainty that it's a bunch of hooey. Or if those are even 2 separate things.

10 comments:

Alex Elliot said...

I remember learning in one of my psychology classes that we only argue about things that are important to us. If someone says that grass is navy blue for example when it is clearly green, a lot of people will just say "whatever" to themselves and drop it. However, if a topic is brought up on which they are an "expert" either because it's their area, they've just read a magazine, they know someone, etc. then they will debate the point.

super des said...

Well apparently I'm an expert at everything then. I've argued with people over band names, where we were when something happened, movie stars, and anything else. But I remember learning that too.

Suzanne said...

I am often certain that I am right, and totally wrong. But that's just me. And I always admit when I am wrong and apologize. Also, I am a person who will passionately "discuss" issues, history, and whether a celebrity is hot or not. So beware! :)

super des said...

Yes, I have experienced this suzanne.
:)

Count Mockula said...

Several years ago, someone argued vehemently with me, because they thought "Hands Across the Water (Uncle Albert)" was a Beatles song rather than a Paul McCartney and Wings song. They wouldn't let it die, even when I showed them the track listing of every single Beatles album; they said they thought it might have another name. Anyway, long story short, I'm not friends with them anymore. It wasn't over Uncle Albert, but I never forgot that, either. Dumbasses.

super des said...

I've known people like that. If someone proves me wrong, I accept it. But a person like that isn't worth being friends with anyway.

viciousrumours said...

I think perhaps you and I might share some strange robot gene...I too will argue a point if I am certain of it. I dated a guy once who thought Peter Wolf had been the lead singer of Genesis before Phil Collins. I knew this to be wrong, Peter Gabriel was the first lead singer for Genesis, Peter Wolf sang with the J. Geils Band. We argued it until I was able to get on the internet and show him...I do have to admit that, due to the alcohol in my system at the time, I stuck out my tongue and made the "nah" noise. But still....

super des said...

I'll stick out my tongue even without alcohol in my system.
But yes, we were clearly made from the same prototype.

MsLittlePea said...

We are twins. Seriously....

super des said...

We already knew that.

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