Human Mind New Mammalian Mind Psychology Reptilian Mind

Absolute Certainty: Doing, Knowing, and Thinking


When I was about 9 years old growing up in Oklahoma in the 1950s, I remember stating my opinion to a grown-up man. It started out with “I think…” about some forgotten topic. However, I do remember his response: “Do you think or do you know?” Well, I doubt if I really knew what I was talking about, but there was no doubt what the right answer was to his question. “I know!!” I stated double emphatically.


In this post I will describe how doing, knowing, and thinking relate to the quadrune mind model of consciousness.1 The quadrune mind comprises four levels of consciousness, which the healthy human brain produces during our life. However, afflictions of the brain can cause disruptions in its neural growth and connectivity that results in an adult who is limited at an immature, and evolutionarily regressed, stage of mentality. These levels of consciousness include the infantile reptilian behavioral mind, the childish old mammalian emotional mind, the adolescent new mammalian intellectual mind, and the adult Human spiritual mind.

For this post I will describe how what a person “does” reveals what their reptilian mind “knows.” I will also explain how “knowing” and “thinking” differ between the new mammalian mind and the Human mind.

Absolute Certainty and the Reptilian Mind

The one person who has more illusions than the dreamer is the man of action.― Oscar Wilde

The infantile reptilian mind is a mind of instinctual biologically-driven behavior for survival. Everything is either life-sustaining or life-threatening to the infant’s homeostasis. Similarly, the adult who is functioning from the reptilian mind defends their status quo in the same way the infant’s body strives to preserve its homeostasis.

Children may learn that how they “feel” or what they “think” is less important to their parents, teachers, and other adults than for them to do what they’re told to do when they’re told to do it.

Do, Don’t Feel

For example, a parent may be late for work and need the child to get dressed and ready to catch the school bus. The child may have been bullied at school and doesn’t want to leave home. The stressed parent doesn’t have the luxury of sitting with the child and hearing about their fearful emotions. The parent may necessarily short-circuit the child’s emotions by using their literal power of life-and-death over the child with the command, “Because I said so! This command may be given behaviorally with a spanking (or worse) or verbally with threats or insults. To lose the parent’s care, to be abandoned, is instinctively understood by the child as death. They must do what they are told or die. 

The imperative to do what they are told, no matter how they feel about it, can become the established response to their chosen authority figures even into “adulthood.” As an adult they just “know” they have to obey and follow orders of the people who are their “authorities” or die, even though that is not true.

Do, Don’t Think

The child may also learn that what they think about what they are told by a parent or teacher is not respected. One of the first experiences of the rejection of their thoughts is how adults respond to the young child’s questions of “Why?” The reasoning mind becomes engaged by about two years old. The parent or teacher can answer some why questions, such as “Why is the sky blue?,” but run out of answers to questions like, “Why is there a sky?” (As even some physicists understand that “Why” questions are ultimately impossible to answer.2)

When adults run out of answers to the “Why?” questions they may become frustrated or threatened by the child’s persistent inquisitiveness and scold the child for being curious. Adults may sometimes have religious reasons to squash children’s curiosity and fantastical imagination.  

For the reptilian mind in adulthood, uncertainty concerning the right thing to do is intolerable. After all, as an infantile mentality, any wrong action is sensed to be potentially fatal. That is, it is equivalent to being abandoned when they were still young children by their parent, who could not accept their personal thoughts.

Absolute Certainty and the New Mammalian Mind

If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.― Isaiah Berlin

In the quadrune mind model of consciousness, the new mammalian mind is an abstract thinking mentality. People who have developed insulated, habituated ways of thinking about abstract concepts can become ideologues who will defend their ideologies as vehemently as the infantile mind defends the status quo (homeostasis). The ideology is more important than the lives of other people, which makes this mind problematic even if the ideology seems “good.” Because the ideology is “good,” the people who resist it must be “bad.” For example, moral certainty has led ideologues to enslave, murder, and exploit other people in the name of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, patriotism, capitalism, communism, discipline, civilization, and inevitable progress!3

Know, Don’t Think

Most of us want wrong-headed people to accept our enlightened views of the “good” and “true” without their having asked us for our advice, and to accept our advice without asking a lot of questions. As my genius psychiatric mentor, Boyd K. Lester, M.D., used to say, “Unsolicited advice is always perceived as criticism.” But they should still gratefully accept our criticism because what we believe is so obviously right for everyone. They should know that we are just trying to help fix everything, regardless of what they think.

As the Berlin quote above states, the ideologues’ certainty of what they know is true, real, and important justifies everything that they consequently do to serve their world view. From their perspective, the ends justify the means, whether that is to violently storm a national capitol in the name of liberty or initiate a war with crimes against humanity in the name of national (existential) identity. In either case thinking is not required or desired.

Spiritual Thinking by the Human Mind

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.—“The Prophet,” Khalil Gibran

The spiritual thinking of a thoughtful Human being is not driven by biological instincts for physical survival. Neither is it dogmatically determined by a utopian ideology that has to destroy the world in order to rebuild it in their idealistic self-image.

The Human is able to see both sides of any issues without simplifying those views into a false equivalency. Humans realize that they can understand a position without agreeing with it. Of course, the understanding of other people and their beliefs takes away a lot of the ideologue’s and bigot’s self-righteous certainty. Consequently, what should be done about problematic human relationships becomes more complex and difficult to decide. “Progress” becomes more time consuming and labor intensive to achieve. It also becomes less profitable for businesses, and governments, which prefer simple and certain “solutions.” (The quadrune mind model of spiritual consciousness is admittedly labor and time intensive.)

A distinction in the thinking of a Human being from the bigot and the ideologue, for example, is their capacity to change their behaviors in response to the consequences of earlier efforts to solve problems. Having an understanding of reality, they can see if their efforts to help are not, actually, helping. And having the ability to change, they do not double down on harmful policies. They don’t demand that everyone “knows” that they have been helpful when they haven’t been. Perhaps, most of all, the helpful relationship of a Human toward all people, and the world, is friendly.


It is almost certainly true that the more certain we are that our behavior, feelings, and thoughts are absolutely right in a given moment, the more surely we are reacting from habituated behaviors established in the past that have almost nothing to do with the current situation. What may be related to our pre-programmed behavior is an early (childhood) set of repeated experiences that continue to direct later (adult) behavior in a bottom-up process. Our adult behaviors can be produced by either a “bottom-up” process or a “top-down” regulation. In “top-down” regulation, the primary influence on our behavior is the higher levels of human consciousness associated with the prefrontal cortex, which is in contact with the present reality.

However, if we continue to act “unquestioningly,” out of habituated past survival-related drives, it becomes much more difficult for us to be positively changed by the consequences of our behavior. Our view of “reality now” is distorted to fit the reality of our infancy or early childhood. Consequently, we are not able to learn from our mistakes, because we don’t recognize that we are making any mistakes.

In the reptilian mind doing is more important than thinking. And although the new mammalian mind is a thinking mind, clear thinking about the current reality can be blocked by what we already know, which can lead to a very well “thought out” ideology, but an idealogue who cannot change. In that case then, thinking as an act in and of itself is what is all important, not thinking with the goal of understanding reality and bettering the world for all.  

Deeper Conclusions

 “I despise intelligence” really means: “I cannot bear my doubts.”—Albert Camus


Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.—Albert Camus

Behavioral absolute certainty can characterize the reptilian mind. Ideological absolute certainty can characterize the new mammalian mind. (Emotional absolute certainty can characterize the old mammalian mind, but is not addressed here.)

Absolute certainty is not a characteristic of the spiritual Human mind, but wisdom is. And wisdom is not dogmatic, hateful, bigoted, defensive, sectarian, or utopian. Wisdom does not crave absolute knowledge. Wisdom does not demand that the heart never be wounded. Wisdom does not fear uncertainty.

Related Posts

QM and the Vital Difference between Consciousness and Intelligence

QM and the Scary New Mammalian Mind of the 21st Century

QM and the Infantile Mentality of Donald Trump

  1. See pages 5-11 of our Study Guide for more information.
  2. Siegel, E. (2018, June 12). Is theoretical physics wasting our best living minds on nonsense? Forbes. “The history of physics is filled with great ideas that you’ve heard of, like the Standard Model, the Big Bang, General Relativity, and so on. But it’s also filled with brilliant ideas that you probably haven’t heard of, like the Sakata Model, Technicolor theory, the Steady State Model, and Plasma Cosmology. Today, we have theories that are highly fashionable, but without any evidence for them: supersymmetry, grand unification, string theory, and the multiverse.” [A different context—but an interesting discussion regarding some of the hazards of asking “Why” questions].
  3. The Ezra Klein Show. (2022, March 15). Timothy Snyder on the myths that blinded the West to Putin’s plans: The renowned historian on Putin’s myths, Ukrainian identity and the West’s “politics of inevitability.” New York Times. “We should at least start from where he’s starting from. Because there is a logic here. You know, the logic is cutting through the confusion, undoing the fragmentation. I may not be able to think it all through, but I’m going to show you that I can act it all through. The world may not be the way I describe. I may not be able to gather up in my paragraphs, but I can gather it up in my paratroopers. I can make it make sense. Watch me make it make sense. [Emphasis added. Snyder is describing part of Putin’s “thinking” in his invasion of Ukraine. Knowing what to do obviates the need for thinking—an ideologue’s mentality in the quadrune mind model].