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Why is it so hard to say "I was wrong"?

  • Sep 17, 2011
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I recently caught a TEDx talk by Kathryn Schulz on the reasons why we need to get over our fear of being wrong.  That's an interesting mindset, and usually not one that people readily accept.  To investigate her ideas more thoroughly, I picked up her book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.  It's a deep and heavy read, but her humor and irreverent attitude keep it from being a sleeping aid.  Having finished it, I think I can now look at my many errors and mistakes in a much healthier light.

Part 1 - The Idea of Error: Wrongology; Two Models of Wrongness
Part 2 - The Origins of Error; Our Senses; Our Mind, Part One - Knowing, not knowing, and Making It Up; Our Minds, Part Two - Belief; Our Minds, Part Three - Evidence; Our Society; The Allure of Certainty
Part 3 - The Experience of Error: Being Wrong; How Wrong?; Denial and Acceptance; Heartbreak; Transformation
Part 4 - Embracing Error: The Paradox of Error; The Optimistic Meta-Induction from the History of Everything
Acknowledgments; Notes; Index

Schulz takes on a heavy topic that most of us don't understand.  The vast majority of people either feel they have to be right at all costs, or that being wrong is a personal failure.  In reality, being wrong is what helps us grow and understand our world better.  One prime example was the insistence that the Sun and all the planets revolved around Earth.  But in the 1600s, Galileo went head-to-head with the Church and many other educated men, and declared his support for the Copernicus model of the universe based on his observations and theories.  The possibility of being incorrect was not well-received, and Galileo died with the stimga of being a heretic.  It took a number of years for people and institutions to come around to the fact that the previously held view was wrong, and that these new observations and facts dictated a change to the way we think about the universe.  If we were less insistent on having to be right or less fearful of being wrong, we as a society could grow so much faster.

I was also struck by how error is often comedy.  If something goes wrong on a trip or you make a mistake, it's common to hear "we'll laugh about this one day."  Rather than wait, just accept that being human means making mistakes, and enjoy the moment.  Laugh and/or learn from it, adjust your views or actions, and move on.

It was impossible not to think about politics while reading this, either.  Each political party has a hard and fast set of beliefs that define them, and anyone not subscribing to those beliefs is wrong and needs to be corrected.  Unfortunately, even when presented with evidence to the contrary relating to one of their closely-held views, it is nearly impossible for the person to adjust their thinking and admit they were wrong.  There's no discussion and consideration of views to come up with a compromise or to learn from others.  It's often a duel to the death to be right while proving the other person wrong.  In the end, nobody gains from that.

Being Wrong has a great message that, if heeded, would make our lives so much more productive and enjoyable.  It's well worth the time and effort it takes to go through the material.  But I have little hope that the average man on the street who is affected by the need to always be right will ever take the time to read and understand this message.

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed
Why is it so hard to say

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review by . August 28, 2010
   I am not a particularly violent person. But there were so many places in this book where I wanted to sit the author down, smack her briskly and scream at her "What were you thinking? It started with the very first word in the book, freshly minted for the occasion by the author. You read it and experience an involuntary recoil of revulsion at the sheer tin-eared ugliness of it. For God's sake, Kathryn Schulz, please don't title your opening chapter "Wrongology". …
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Thomas Duff ()
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Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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I am not a particularly violent person. But there were so many places in this book where I wanted to sit the author down, smack her briskly and scream at her "What we...
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ISBN-10: 0061176044
ISBN-13: 978-0061176043
Author: Kathryn Schulz
Publisher: Ecco

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