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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error Paperback – 4 Jan 2011
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“A mirthful and wise diagnosis of what ails us: Schulz dances us through science, psychology, and literature in a sparkling history of (and ode to) human error.” (Publishers Weekly)
“[A]n insightful and delightful discussion of the errors of our ways. . . . Schulz remains good company -- a warm, witty and welcome presence. . . . [S]he combines lucid prose with perfect comic timing. . . . Being Wrong is smart and lively.” (New York Times Book Review)
“So, please take this advice: Read BEING WRONG, because it’s the right thing to do.” (Lisa Ko, author of The Leavers)
“Kathryn Schulz’s brilliant, spirited, and necessary inquiry into the essential humanity of error will leave you feeling intoxicatingly wrongheaded.” (Tom Vanderbilt, bestselling author of TRAFFIC)
“[A]n unusual examination of the virtue and peril of being wrong and of all the ways we think we know things that just ain’t so.” (Boston Globe)
“Engrossing.... In the spirit of Blink and Predictably Irrational (but with a large helping of erudition)... Schulz writes with such lucidity and wit that her philosophical enquiry becomes a page-turner.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Kathryn Schulz has given us a brilliant and remarkably upbeat account of the long history of human error. If Being Wrong is this smart and illuminating, I don’t want to be right!” (Steven Johnson, bestselling author of THE GHOST MAP and EVERYTHING BAD IS GOOD FOR YOU)
“Kathryn Schultz is engaging, witty and fascinating as she uses a full arsenal of academic research, colorful stories, philosophical arguments and personal anecdotes to create a riveting account of why we, mostly, have been wrong about being wrong.” (Frans Johansson, author of THE MEDICI EFFECT)
“Both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise...[BEING WRONG] could also be enormously useful—there are very few problems we face...that couldn’t be helpfully addressed if we we were willing to at least entertain the idea that we might not be entirely right.” (Bill McKibben, author of EAARTH: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet)
“A funny and philosophical meditation on why error is mostly a humane, courageous and extremely desirable human trait. [Schulz] flies high in the intellectual skies, leaving beautiful sunlit contrails....It’s lovely to watch this idea warm in Ms. Schulz’s hands.” (Dwight Garner, New York Times)
From the Back Cover
To err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. In Being Wrong, journalist Kathryn Schulz explores why we find it so gratifying to be right and so maddening to be mistaken. Drawing on thinkers as varied as Augustine, Darwin, Freud, Gertrude Stein, Alan Greenspan, and Groucho Marx, she shows that error is both a given and a gift—one that can transform our worldviews, our relationships, and ourselves.See all Product description
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The author takes a look at why we fear being wrong so strongly, and how we often can't admit we are wrong until we have a new "right" theory to replace our wrong one. We discover that our error blindness keeps us from perceiving our own errors without hampering our ability to find the same or similar error in others. Practically all facets of our lives are affected by error - from politics to religion to love. Can we eliminate error? Even if it is possible, SHOULD WE? Error appears to be a uniquely human endeavor - as such we should embrace it (at least some of the time). The joy of being wrong is experienced daily through optical illusions, humor and art.
Favorite quotes from the book:
(pg. 31) there is a slippery slope between advocating the elimination of putatively erroneous beliefs, and advocating the
elimination of the institutions, cultures, and—most alarmingly—people who hold them
(pg 32) This was the pivotal insight of the Scientific Revolution: that the advancement of knowledge depends on current
theories collapsing in the face of new insights and discoveries. In this model of progress, errors do not lead us
away from the truth. Instead, they edge us incrementally toward
(pg. 70) In sum: we love to know things, but ultimately we can't know for sure that we know them; we are bad at recognizing when we don't know something; and we are very, very good at making stuff up.
(pg 82) It’s not exactly news that most people are reluctant to admit their ignorance. But the point here is not that we are
bad at saying “I don’t know.” The point is that we are bad at knowing we don’t know.
(pg 86) As that suggests, the idea of knowledge and the idea of error are fundamentally incompatible. When we claim to
know something, we are essentially saying that we can’t be wrong. If we want to contend with the possibility
that we could be wrong, then the idea of knowledge won’t serve us; we need to embrace the idea of belief
instead. This might feel like an unwelcome move, since all of us prefer to think that we know things rather than
“merely” believing them.
(pg 106) In other words, if we want to discredit a belief, we will argue that it is advantageous, whereas if we want to
champion it, we will argue that it is true. That’s why we downplay or dismiss the self-serving aspects of our own
convictions, even as we are quick to detect them in other people’s beliefs.
(pg 123) leaping to conclusions is what we always do in inductive reasoning, but we generally only call it that when the
process fails us—that is, when we leap to wrong conclusions. In those instances, our habit of relying on meager
evidence, normally so clever, suddenly looks foolish
(pg 141) The vast majority of our beliefs are really beliefs once removed. Our faith that we are right is faith that someone
else is right. This reliance on other people’s knowledge—those around us as well as those who came before us—
is, on balance, a very good thing. Life is short, and most of us don’t want to spend any more of it than absolutely
necessary trying to independently verify the facts
(pg 157) Just as disturbing, and more important, we also can’t be sure that some of the beliefs we hold today won’t appear
grievously unjust in the future. This is error-blindness as a moral problem: we can’t always know, today, which
of our current beliefs will someday come to seem ethically indefensible
(pg 161) What zealots have in common, then, is the absolute conviction that they are right. In fact, of all the symbolic
ones and zeros that extremists use to write their ideological binary codes—us/them, same/different, good/evil—
the fundamental one is right/wrong. Zealotry demands a complete rejection of the possibility of error.
(pg 167) Doubt, it seems, is a skill—and one that, as we saw earlier, needs to be learned and honed. Credulity, by
contrast, appears to be something very like an instinct
(pg 179) Whether you believe in flying saucers or the free market or just about anything else, you are (if you are human)
prone to using certainty to avoid facing up to the fact that you could be wrong. That’s why, when we feel
ourselves losing ground in a fight, we often grow more rather than less adamant about our claims—not because
we are so sure that we are right, but because we fear that we are not.
(pg 187) Fortunately, we don’t get stuck in this place of pure wrongness very often. And we don’t get stuck there via the
collapse of small or medium size beliefs. We get stuck there when we are really wrong about really big things—
beliefs so important and far-reaching that we can neither easily replace them nor easily live without them.
(pg 199) All of us know people like this—people whose rigidity serves to protect a certain inner fragility, who cannot
bend precisely because they are at risk of breaking. For that matter, all of us are people like this sometimes
(pg 209) our beliefs come in bundles. That makes it hard to remove or replace one without affecting the others—and it
gets harder as the belief in question gets more central
(pg. 217) we are exceptionally bad at saying “I was wrong”—or at least, we are bad at leaving it at that. For most of us, it’s tough not to tack that “but” onto every admission of error.
(pg 293) This is one of the most powerful ways being wrong can transform us: it can help us become more compassionate
people. Being right might be fun but, as we’ve seen, it has a tendency to bring out the worst in us. By contrast,
being wrong is often the farthest thing in the world from fun—and yet, in the end, it has the potential to bring
out the best in us.
(wrong thinking is from me — inside. Awful!)
“That’s part of why recognizing our errors is such a strange experience: accustomed to disagreeing with other people, we suddenly find ourselves at odds with ourselves. Error, in that moment, is less an intellectual problem than an existential one—a crisis not in what we know, but in who we are. We hear something of that identity crisis in the questions we ask ourselves in the aftermath of error: What was I thinking? How could I have done that?’’ (20)
Yep . . . that is me! Am I really . . . really . . . that . . . stupid? Nope! (right?)
Well . . .
“A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.’’
Right! I love that! Me and God — both know everything!
Absurd? Well . . . I guess . . .
Is this a new problem?
“If you commit a moral transgression, you can turn to at least a handful of established options to help you cope with it. Virtually every religious tradition includes a ritual for penitence and purification, along the lines of confession in Catholicism and Yom Kippur in Judaism.’’
“Twelve-step programs advise their participants to admit “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Even the criminal justice system, although far from reform-minded these days, has one foot rooted in a tradition of repentance and transformation. By contrast, if you commit an error—whether a minor one, such as realizing halfway through an argument that you are mistaken, or a major one, such as realizing halfway through a lifetime that you were wrong about your faith, your politics, yourself, your loved one, or your life’s work—you will not find any obvious, ready-to-hand resources to help you deal with it.’’
This seems so odd. Errors, wrong decisions, false conclusions, are always with us and constantly hurting. Yet, we don’t know how to react. Or maybe we do know — and just . . . refuse.
“In Part One, I trace the history of how we think about wrongness and the emergence of two opposing models of error—models that also reflect our ideas about what kind of creatures we are and what kind of universe we live in.’’
“In Part Two, I explore the many factors that can cause us to screw up, from our senses to our higher cognitive processes to our social conventions.’’
“In Part Three, I move from why we get things wrong to how we feel when we do so. This part of the book traces the emotional arc of erring, from the experience of realizing we went astray to how that experience can transform our worldviews, our relationships, and—most profoundly—ourselves.’’
Part I The Idea of Error
2 Two Models of Wrongness
Part II The Origins of Error
3 Our Senses
4 Our Minds, Part One: Knowing, Not Knowing, and Making It Up
5 Our Minds,
Part Two: Belief
6 Our Minds,
Part Three: Evidence
7 Our Society
8 The Allure of Certainty
Part III The Experience of Error
9 Being Wrong
10 How Wrong?
11 Denial and Acceptance
Part IV Embracing Error
14 The Paradox of Error
15 The Optimistic Meta-Induction from the History of Everything
Author is a experienced journalist, not an academic. And reads like it, smooth, interesting, humorous and catchy.
Many stories along with the deeper psychological or philosophical explanations.