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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

Kathryn Schulz

Top 10 Best Quotes

“To err is to wander and wandering is the way we discover the world and lost in thought it is the also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying but in the end it is static a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling and sometimes even dangerous but in the end it is a journey and a story. Who really wants to stay at home and be right when you can don your armor spring up on your steed and go forth to explore the world True you might get lost along get stranded in a swamp have a scare at the edge of a cliff thieves might steal your gold brigands might imprison you in a cave sorcerers might turn you into a toad but what of what To fuck up is to find adventure: it is in the spirit that this book is written.”

“...[W]hen we make mistakes, we shrug and say that we are human. As bats are batty and slugs are sluggish, our own species is synonymous with screwing up.”

“both doubt and certainty are as contagious as the common cold”

“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.”

“it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.”

“To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story.”

“As all this suggests our relationship with evidence is seldom purely a cognitive one. Vilifying menstruating women bolstering anti-Muslim stereotypes murdering innocent citizens of Salem plainly evidence is almost always invariably a political social and moral issue as well. To take a particularly stark example consider the case of Albert Speer minister of armaments and war production during the Third Reich close friend to Adolf Hitler and highest-ranking Nazi official to ever express remorse for his actions. In his memoir Inside the Third Reich Speer candidly addressed his failure to look for evidence of what was happening around him. "I did not query a friend who told him not to visit Auschwitz I did not query Himmler I did not query Hitler " he wrote. "I did not speak with personal friends. I did not investigate for I did not want to know what was happening there... for fear of discovering something which might have made me turn away from my course. I had closed my eyes." Judge William Stoughton of Salem Massachusetts became complicit in injustice and murder by accepting evidence that he should have ignored. Albert Speer became complicit by ignoring evidence he should have accepted. Together they show us some of the gravest possible consequences of mismanaging the data around us and the vital importance of learning to manage it better. It is possible to do this: like in the U.S. legal system we as individuals can develop a fairer and more consistent relationship to evidence over time. By indirection Speer himself shows us how to begin. I did not query he wrote. I did not speak. I did not investigate. I closed my eyes. This are sins of omission sins of passivity and they suggest correctly that if we want to improve our relationship with evidence we must take a more active role in how we think must in a sense take the reins of our own minds. To do this we must query and speak and investigate and open our eyes. Specifically and crucially we must learn to actively combat our inductive biases: to deliberately seek out evidence that challenges our beliefs and to take seriously such evidence when we come across it.”

“The certainty of those with whom we disagree—whether the disagreement concerns who should run the country or who should run the dishwasher—never looks justified to us, and frequently looks odious. As often as not, we regard it as a sign of excessive emotional attachment to an idea, or an indicator of a narrow, fearful, or stubborn frame of mind. By contrast, we experience our own certainty as simply a side-effect of our rightness, justifiable because our cause is just. And, remarkably, despite our generally supple, imaginative, extrapolation-happy minds, we cannot transpose this scene. We cannot imagine, or do not care, that our own certainty, when seen from the outside, must look just as unbecoming and ill-grounded as the certainty we abhor in others.”

“If imagination is what enables us to conceive of and enjoy stories other than our own, and if empathy is the act of taking other people’s stories seriously, certainty deadens or destroys both qualities. When we are caught up in our own convictions, other people’s stories—which is to say, other people—cease to matter to us.”

“Granted it is easy at least comparatively to find pleasure in error when there's nothing at stake. But that can't be the whole story since all of us have been known to throw tantrums over totally trivial mistakes. What makes illusions different is that for the most part we enter in them by consent. We might not know exactly how we are going to err but we know that the error is coming and we say yes to the experience anyways. In a sense much the same thing could be said of life in general. We can't know where your next error lurks or what form it will take but we can be very sure that it is waiting for us. With illusions we look forward to this encounter since whatever minor price we paid in pride is handily outweighed by curiosity at first and by pleasure afterward. The same will not always true when we venture past these simple perceptual failures to more complex and consequential mistakes But nor is willing the embrace of error always beyond us. In fact this might be the most important thing that illusions can teach us: that is is possible at least some of the time to find in being wrong a deeper satisfaction then we would have found being right.”

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Book Keywords:

sins-of-omission, empathy, story, life, adventure, being-wrong, ted, social-science, certainty, mistakes-humanity, imagination, error

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