BOOKS TO BLOG ABOUT
BEING WRONG, by Kathryn Schulz, 2010
H B Gelatt
This is a blog about one of my favorite books. I want to share my reactions to some
of the highlights of my years of reading. Author’s quotes are in italics.
Kathryn Schulz proposes a new way of looking at wrongness. In this view, error is both a givenand a gift — one that can transform our worldviews, our relationships, and most profoundly, ourselves. First she discusses error blindness — when falsehoods are invisible to us.
People who are wrong, but feel strongly that they are right, usually have the least knowledge about the subject. And they are least likely to change their belief when given facts. I like this because it supports my emphasis on uncertainty and shows the dangers of dogma and certainty. And yet it also shows the difficulty of my “process of illuminating” the way we see things. Error blindness is hard (sometimes impossible?) to overcome.
This book, written in 2010, reinforced what I had previously written and influenced what I have written since — especially in two areas: perception and beliefs
Failures of perception capture the essential nature of error.
Of the very long list of reasons we can get tings wrong, the most elementary of them all is that our senses fail us. Perception is the interpretation of sensation. Interpretation implies wiggle room. The wiggle room provides the opportunity for being wrong. Whenever there is interpretation there is room for error.
No matter what these processes do, though, one thing remains the same: we have no idea that we are doing it. Our perceptions operate almost entirely below the level of conscious awareness; ironically, we cannot sense how we sense. To me, this all makes “good sense.” And it is why I think we need to illuminate and understand the way we see things, including our interpretations. But I wonder if illumination is always possible.
If we want to understand how we err, we need to look at how we believe.
Schultz discusses the difference between knowledge and belief. She points out that how wedetermine we know or don’t know something is deeply, unfixably flawed. She says we love toknow things; we are bad at recognizing when we don’t know something; and very, very good at making stuff up. To understand being wrong, she favors the category of belief.
In the end it is belief that is by far the broader, more complex, and more interesting category. It is, I will argue, the atomic unit of our intelligence. But it is true (and not coincidental) that belief is also the atomic unit of error.
Looking at how we believe has been a major theme of mine for years: “believing is seeing;beliefs R us; we believe what we want to be true; beliefs have consequences.” Beliefs, subjectivity, and uncertainty are features of my writing. So it seems obvious to me why I likedthis book. And this caused me to believe others would like this partial summary. Of course, I could be wrong!