Saturday, 9 October 2010

We should be wrong more often.

I write a lot of things on here which are just opinion, I try to think them out as well as I can to make sure they're not easily dismantled, but they're still opinion. There's one thing that I think is very important in having respectable ideas, you have to be not just okay with, but actually glad to be wrong.

It sounds pretty odd, and completely against what seems to be the normal ideas of what makes a good opinion, but I really think looking to be proven wrong makes you much better at arguing your own position. I say it goes against mainstream ideas because you only have to open a paper or watch the news to see people who admit making a mistake being portrayed as weak, unprincipled and questions coming about how anyone could ever trust them again. That's completely the wrong way to look at things.

It's not a new idea to try and prove yourself wrong in order to support your ideas, it's exactly how science has worked for decades, and  by any measure I think you'd be hard pressed to say it hasn't worked well for science. Anyone can find evidence to support their ideas. The only way to be more sure its right is to look as hard as you can for anything that might prove it wrong, and if you can't find anything, then that's a good indication that you've stumbled close to the truth.

It's also part of the reason why I will never respect religion, it refuses to question its own beliefs, and that  just isn't healthy. Being dogmatic isn't noble, it's something to fight against.

It's impossible for anyone to be right about everything, there just isn't enough time in life to be able to gather all the information you'd need. And even if there was, the human mind is too flawed to be able to sort through it.

There's an old experiment that is carried out regularly and always shows similar results which shows just how poor we are at being right. Two actors simulated an argument at the end of which one pulled out a gun and shot the other (obviously it was a blank but is made to look thoroughly realistic). Afterwards the participants in the study (who don't know that this is an experiment) are interviewed and asked to recount what happened, after just minutes ago witnessing it first hand with their own eyes.

The majority of people got the whole incident completely wrong.

They put words in the mouths of the two arguing that never happened, they imagined they'd been arguing about girls or money when nothing of the sort had been said and generally mixed up all the events so that it didn't even closely resemble what had happened. The very best witness only gave 75% of the truth. Even the very best made up 25% of the story.

They weren't intentionally lying, they all genuinely believed what they said was true, it was just the way that their brains work that let them down. Every human brain is designed to work best in the world we live in, and that doesn't always mean there's a premium on getting all the facts right.

So if we can't even trust our eyes, how can we expect to be right when we argue about politics, morality, economics or anything else we have opinions on. We can only try to be as sure as we can, and by trying to prove ourselves wrong we can be that bit more sure.

I still hold my beliefs as strongly as ever, and I will argue my corner, the only difference is I'll be happy to be proved wrong if someone comes along with a better idea.

So next time you see someone admit they were wrong, realise that means they are willing to change their mind in light of new facts, and that makes them more trustworthy, not less. Next time someone U-turns because they realise their first idea wasn't good enough, congratulate them. And next time someone tries to make their strong-mindedness and dogmatic approach seem like a positive, give them a quick slap and be very dubious of anything that comes out of their mouths in the future.

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