From the February 2018 issue

The mind’s siren call

Our craving for certainty can make us blind to true knowledge.
By | Published: February 28, 2018 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

We all know the feeling. You’re sitting there trying to figure something out, but it just won’t come together. Frustration and annoyance grow until suddenly you get it — or at least you think you do. “Aha!” The relief comes flooding in. 

Neurologist Robert Burton talks about that feeling in his book On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not. Physiologically speaking, our brains crave certainty in the same way a junkie craves a fix. Satisfying those cravings activates the neural pathway responsible for pleasure and motivation. An aha moment feels good because it releases a lovely hit of dopamine in the brain.

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