Space For Interpretation
What you see is an interpretation of what you see. Kathryn Schulz
In her book Being Wrong 2010, Kathryn Schulz makes the point than perception is the interpretation of sensation. Interpretation implies wiggle room, space to deviate from a literal reading, whether of a book or of the world. Every step in the interpretation process presents a potential divergence between our minds and the world — a breach where mistakes can sneak in.
Wiggle room allows each of us some space or some leeway in our interpretations. It should seem obvious that what we observe is what we observe, not what everyone observes. How you see things and how others see things depends on how this wiggle room is used. This is what makes up our subjectivity. Wiggle room could be another description of personal subjectivity.
Dictionary definition, subjectivity: Preceding from or taking place within a person’s mind such as to be unaffected by the external world. Subjectivity takes place within a person’s mind; and so does perception — and wiggle room. It is an interpretation of reality. Perceptions are portraits not photographs, Daniel Gilbert.
Schulz makes an interesting point about being wrong called “Error Blindness”. There is no experience of being wrong. While it is happening you are oblivious to it. As soon as we know we are wrong, we aren’t wrong anymore. Thus we can only say “I was wrong”. However, can you think of a person who has never said “I was wrong”, and probably never will? But who was wrong over 16,00 times? Error blindness galore!
Of course people can be wrong and know it; this means they know they are lying, no error blindness. This may be worse because it is either ignorance or intentional deception (alternative facts, misinformation, fake news, “truthiness”, etc.). How do you compare being wrong and knowing it and to be wrong and not know it? I guess there could be an excuse for ignorance, but is there an excuse for intentional deception?
Schultz discusses the difference between knowledge and belief. If we want to understand how we err, we need to look at how we believe. She points out that how we determine we know or don’t know something is deeply, unfixable flawed. She says we love to know things; we are bad at recognizing when we don’t know something; and very, very good at making stuff up. 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. Beliefs, subjectivity, and uncertainty are features of my writing. So it seems obvious to me why this book was so good. But of course, it could be me being wrong!
Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong.