Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Can you feel good after being wrong?

By Luke Kristopher Davis

So you might be thinking that working out 24/7 eating close to nothing would be the best approach for you getting in shape? Well you're wrong. You might also believe that whilst revising for an exam our brain stores and processes information at the same rate throughout the session, well again you're wrong.

I once thought the above was true, I went about those activities thinking that I was doing it the 'right' way or the most efficient way. Then I was shown to be wrong. I admittedly did feel a small shock. I used to feel so ashamed and so embarrassed about being wrong and would sometimes not admit to being wrong. I would even on some occasions continue to believe in my false claims just because I thought I was right or I didn't like the person who had proven me wrong.

We are wrong everyday, for example we could have miscalculated a sum at work or in a restaurant, we could have spelled something incorrectly or we could have our view of people or theories about the world proven false in a flash. There is a feeling of slight anger and slight shame when we are shown to be false about something, this may be due to the associated causation of being wrong itself. Every time we are wrong it is highlighting something we don't know... showing our ignorance and what seems to be little intelligence. Being shown wrong at work could come across being unprofessional or not showing enough care.

However, being wrong certainly hurts the most when it is about religion,  our own theories of how people behave, love, money, our own ambition and aspirations and how we think the world operates. There is probably some underlying biological reason for this, our brain is simply wired to operate like this due to evolution. Our brain has to somehow conjure up resistance to opposing views, maybe from opposing members of a tribe that are offering a new view of how to keep your people safe.

Why is being wrong so bad? Surely not knowing you are wrong is worse, say for instance going back to the working out 24/7 idea. You could have been doing that for just a week when someone says to you it isn't worth it, try this program of rest days and High intensity training (or whatever workout which is optimized for your goals), aren't you glad you were shown wrong then and not 1 year down the line. Think of the time and the money on your membership and other products you wasted because you could have put them to better use on a BETTER program. When you are shown wrong, yes try and defend yourself and consider the other  argument or theory but if you are wrong accept it and move on. Think about what you have learnt and how you can put your new 'updated' knowledge to use to evolve your own life.

There is something majorly important we need to discuss. It is how to defend yourself and how to show you are wrong just from your own analysis.

This is where the method of science and reason will help you. If you have a theory about the world make sure it can be tested by a decent set of experiments. I don't mean make yourself a large hadron collider or a lab but make sure you can measure out the 'success of your theory'. If you're theory is the 24/7 gym workout  then keep measuring you're BMI, weight, muscle strength over an appropriate amount of time. Try another workout (suggested by you're friend or trainer)... which gives you the best results? That is how to test yours and other peoples claims, to measure it's validity with evidence.

What if my or their theory cannot be tested? Well try at best to clarify said theories but if their fundamental premises and claims cannot be tested physically or there is not paper on it then you leave it in the wrong pile. A theory is only 'right' or valid when it has evidence for it. This seems simple but a lot of people cannot apply this consistently to their belief systems. For instance the theory that God created the world and Noah collected animals on his boat has no evidence for it, so we move that into 'the untested pile' which means it carries no scientific truth and we should use theories which have evidence behind them (theories that are based upon the same topic of inquiry).

Being wrong and knowing that you are wrong are two different things. When we know we are wrong we can make progress or we can stay being wrong and look stupid. You only look stupid or completely deluded if you are given a good explanation as to why you are wrong (if the explanation is based on scientific evidence, sound evidence and logic).

Next time you are shown to be wrong.. either in a heated argument or in class... think.. are my ideas reasonable? Is there legitimate evidence that can validate my theory? Use these question to judge your 'opponents' view too.

Remember that you have to recognize other people who are not accustomed to science or reason itself and when they are shown to be wrong they will continue being wrong due to indoctrination, insanity or some other reason (even medical). With these people it is often best to end the discussion.

Next time you are wrong.... you can feel good about it and move on to bigger and better things :)

TEDTALK: http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html

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