On Being Wrong
Updated: Jul 4, 2019
For one of my psychology classes, we were instructed to read Kathryn Schultz's "Being Wrong." The philosophical book on wrongness describes the adventures in the margin of error, why we find it so gratifying to be right and so maddening to be mistaken, and reading it provoked my interest in this existential and transformative topic.
Of course, when reading this book, I couldn't help but to analyze and examine my beliefs, my world views, and remember times in which these very beliefs were challenged. I remember the all consuming fear that everything I knew about the world and myself was false, and the prospect of changing was too much. Reading this book was powerful for me because of how it explained why this process of recognizing my wrongness was as devastating as it was, and I no longer felt alone in my struggles, and I felt validated in my fear. So now I'm going to summarize everything I learned, and hopefully it can help you find the same level of peace I was able to gain.
Whether it's consciously or unconsciously, we are constantly forming beliefs about the world around us. These beliefs shape our models of the world, and help us take action. These beliefs range from our understanding of how the world works to believing that when we go to bed at night we will wake up the next morning. Below the level of conscious thought, we are always amassing information from our immediate environment and use it to rearrange or add to our understanding of the world. These beliefs shape our perception of ourselves, and they influence the ways in which we interact and relate to others around us. Ever since I was young, I developed and nurtured the belief that I am not enough as I am. This belief was so deeply engrained in my psyche that to say that all of my previous life experiences were tainted by this feeling of inadequacy is not an understatement.
We are constantly and automatically theorizing models that support our views of the world. and they only surface to our conscious awareness when something goes wrong. As Schultz describes, when our implicit assumptions are violated, they turn into explicit ones. I didn't realize that I held this deeply rooted belief about my self worth until my life was on the line, and everything I knew about the way the world works was challenged.
Why recognizing our "wrongness" is so devastating
This part really surprised me. Schultz's book is not only philosophical, but existential in its argument.
The revelation of wrongness is simultaneously a revelation of a new truth.
There are two ways in which our beliefs of the world change - either gradually overtime or when it is replaced by a seemingly better belief. The former is a process that happens constantly and repeats itself over the course of our lifetimes. The latter happens so abruptly that this switch in belief is almost unidentifiable. Scientific theories seldom collapse under the weight of their own inadequacy, but only topple when a new and seemingly better belief turns up to replace it. The second one belief is replaced with another is not only painful but redemptive. When we are stuck inside the space of error, we are lost twice over - once in the world, and once in ourselves. If you've ever had to confront your world views head on, then you will understand the enormity of