Big Problem: We Don’t Know We’re Wrong Until Later

You should find 17 minutes to watch this TED talk by Kathryn Schulz, “wrongologist,” author of the book Being Wrong, in this TED talk called On Being Wrong.

We know, intellectually, that we’re sometimes wrong. Of course we make mistakes. But when we’re wrong, while we’re wrong, we don’t know it. She says:

It does feel like something being wrong. It feels like being right. I call this error blindness.

We’re taught, she says, that getting something wrong means there’s something wrong with us. We’re conditioned.

But here’s a real problem:

Trusting too much in the feeling of being on the correct side of anything can be very dangerous. This internal sense of rightness that we all experience so feel so often is not a reliable guide to what is actually going on in the external world.  And when we act like it is, when we stop entertaining the possibility that we could be wrong …. this is a huge practical problem, but it’s also a huge social problem.

So what do we think when someone disagrees with us?

  1. They are ignorant
  2. Or they are idiots
  3. Or they are evil.

So our thinking we’re right causes all kinds of problems. It keeps us from preventing mistakes when we need to, and it helps us to treat each other terribly.  She suggests this one:

The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is; it’s that you can see the world as it isn’t. 

This talk builds steadily upwards. I love her quote from St. Augustine: “I err, therefore I am.” And talks about how being wrong leads to great ideas, art, stories, and, ultimately, being human.  We love being wrong in stories. And she comes to a very strong finish, that I won’t spoil here, but I will say, you should spend these 17 minutes.

And just in case you don’t see it here on the site, or if you’d rather watch it in a larger view, here’s the link back to the original: Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong | Video on TED.com.

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