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Apr 03 2012

Being Wrong

Last weekend I attended the Midwest Science of Origins Conference at the University of Minnesota-Morris. It was a good conference, and I’m writing a longer article about my impressions of the event. But I sat down yesterday and this came out, so I thought I’d put it up now.

Last weekend I was at the Midwest Science of Origins Conference, and I was wrong quite a few times. Not in flashy, obvious, foot-in-mouth ways, but in a myriad of little ways. And I’m not talking about having those enlightening “Hmmm…I’d never considered that before” moments. I’m talking about having ideas and preconceptions challenged in conversations with other people and in the lectures.

I consider myself very lucky to have been corrected by some interesting and intelligent people on Saturday (and not just by subject experts; I’m looking at you, Morris student. You were brilliant during the open discussion in the atrium). And that’s one of the reasons why I go to things like this. I want to be less wrong, and gathering and mulling over new information is the only way to do that.

I have a college degree and work in a scientifically technical field. I am a prolific consumer of media and books. I share ideas with friends who have different opinions and worldviews. I go out of my way to have new experiences, to get out of my comfort zone, and to learn new things every day. And still I will always be wrong about a lot of things a lot of the time.

I don’t like being wrong, especially if I end up being wrong in front of people. Depending on how wrong I am, what I’m wrong about, and who is witnessing me being wrong I can get flustered, red-faced and even a bit queasy. But debating, blogging, getting outside of my head – these are all ways to a) learn I’m wrong b) learn why I’m wrong and c) learn what’s right. Dispelling bad information or perceptions is worth some discomfort now and then.

Also, by putting myself in these situations I get to share what I know, which may help somebody else to consider their ideas and perceptions. I also become more confident about the things that I know I have right, which means I get better at discussions and debates. The more you learn, the more opportunities you have to be wrong AND right. But we don’t ever get to be right about everything unless we live in a very, very tiny little world. Learning about the world around us is an on-going challenge that ends only with death. Once we realize this, I think we are more likely to recognize when we are wrong, to admit it, and to not take offense when we are.

I recommend getting out there and being wrong. You’ll be a better person for it.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    Beth

    This is an excellent post! The only way to get to being right is by going through being wrong first. And second. And third. Repeat as necessary. The importance of being wrong cannot be underestimated.

  2. 2
    machintelligence

    17 minutes well spent:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html

  3. 3
    Leigh Williams

    Liked this so very much that I posted it on my FB wall.

  4. 4
    rutty

    Experiential learning. Excellent :)

    I’m doing a systems thinking course through the Open University and it talks a lot about learning from experience/failures. It comes from Kolb:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_styles

    Glad you found something positive from these experiences. They can be hard to take but satisfying when you realise that you’ve learning something valuable

  5. 5
    Anthony

    Sure.

    Because it’s just that easy, isn’t it.

  6. 6
    Greg Peterson

    I’m fiercely late to this party, but just by way of coincidence, I received one of the nicest compliments from an Amazon.com commenter yesterday, and it relates:

    “But you no doubt are a very good scientist. Do you know how I know? Because you can completely change your mind without hesitation or embarrassment. A rare and admirable facility, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

    I’m not actually a scientist at all; I’m a writer. But I couldn’t be happier, thinking that I have picked up enough of the scientific mindset to embrace correction. This is not something I experienced much as an evangelical Christian, taught as I was to stand on faith regardless what was going on around me in reality.

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