“I err therefore I am” – St. Augustine

December 7, 2011



Yesterday night, I was driving to the CVS pharmacy at South Industrial Highway with two of my housemates to buy some groceries. We followed the detour on South State Street to Golden Avenue. Because there was no detour sign on Golden Avenue, we started to discuss which way we should go. One of my housemates, named as X for convenience, claimed that we should turn right because he had been there before. While my other housemate, named as Y for convenience, held strong belief that we should turn left. After hearing them debating for which direction to go for 2 minutes, I decided to turn left just to stop the argument. However, with the help provided by Y, we ended up lost in the middle of nowhere. We had to go all the way back to Golden Avenue and turn right. Upon arriving at the CVS pharmacy, Y was still mumbling about why it should be correct to turn left instead of right.

In fact, many of us are just like Y and always refuse to admit our mistakes. A few days ago, Y wanted to buy a new laptop, and he asked X and me whether he should buy a Sony or a “iMac Pro.” Both X and I asked whether he meant MacBook Pro instead. However, he insisted that it was “iMac Pro.” Actually, many people might be trapped in an internal sense of rightness just like Y. When thinking about solving a particular math problem, it is not difficult to realize that many people often claimed that they were right even though they were not 100% sure about the answer.

According to Kathyrn Schulz, we are often trapped in a bubble of feeling very right about everything and avoid

Kathryn Schulz

thinking about being wrong. She suggests that we often refuse to admit we are wrong because it feels dreadful and embarrassing to do so. Another structural reason that Schulz suggests is called error blindness, which means we do not have an internal cue to let us know that we are wrong until it is too late. There is also a cultural reason for getting stuck in this feeling of rightness. Starting from elementary school, we have always been taught that people who get stuff wrong are lazy and irresponsible, while successful people never make mistakes. Therefore, we want to insist that we are right, because none of us want to be dimwits.

However, it is absolutely fine to make mistakes and do something wrong in our lives. Screwing things up is fundamentally a part of who we are. It is not something that can be fixed in our lives. Being wrong is an important element of our life stories, instead of something that is embarrassing. We need these moments of surprise and wrongness to make these stories work.

Are there any examples of getting stuck in the bubble of feeling right that you have been through? Do you think it is fine to make mistakes, or do you think still think that only lazy and irresponsible people make mistakes?

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7 Comments on ““I err therefore I am” – St. Augustine”

  1. samyoovpolsci Says:

    As many teachers told me while growing up- everyone makes mistakes. Theres nothing wrong with making mistakes, however, as you mentioned, the problem arises when a person is too stubborn to accept the mistake. Just like Socrates said, an important method of learning is by constantly asking questions. If one is under the false belief that whatever he/she believes in is right, then that person is simply simply conceited as well as extremely idiotic, with no desire to learn anything.
    Our educational system, well, the nature of the educational system where i grew up was highly competitive. So, i understand this desire to always be correct. This is mostly because we, at least, I associated being wrong with failure or stupidity rather than another method of learning. However, i now realize that the most key things i have learnt in life was through this trial and error, questioning and being wrong method.

  2. jordanwylie Says:

    I also agree that society teaches us to never be wrong. However, I never felt that my elementary school taught me this, it was athletic teams. My teachers always encouraged me to make mistakes since that was how we learned, however while on sports teams, making a mistake was the end of the world. Think about it, when Denard throws a bad pass or someone fumbles the ball during a football game, the entire student section freaks out and screams. How can a person not feel like a failure when thousands of people are scolding you? I remember accidentally scoring on my own team during a soccer team. I obviously made a mistake (no one purposely scores on their own team) and my entire team shunned me for the rest of the game. This kind of behavior teaches kids that making a mistake makes you a failure. If this is what people are exposed to at a young age then they will always associate mistakes with failure just like Schulz said. To this day I still dislike sports and get really stressed out when I make mistakes during even a friendly sports match.

  3. dcmiller93 Says:

    “I hate being wrong.” It was a famous line I once uttered freshman year after finding out there are 10 pins in a standard game of bowling or something trivial like that – a pointless conversation on an even less important topic. Why should I care that I was off by 2 pins? From what I can tell, the answer comes down to this simple truth – I put a lot of value in the way other people view me and when I’m wrong I feel like someone will think less of me. I know this is a terrible way to live your life, but think about it, isn’t that typical? Don’t we all seek the confirmation of our peers to justify the things we do?

    I think this is the reason people are slow to admit their own fallibility. Even in obvious faults like 12 pins in bowling or iMacs, we’d rather promote our charade of perfection

  4. Phil O'Donnell Says:

    I think one of the most important issues which is raised in this post is the issue of why people so frequently refuse to admit that they are wrong and why they seem live in this ‘bubble of feeling right’? I would agree that this is the mainly due to the nature of our upbringing, coupled with the societal opinions and values which dominate our lives. What does this say about Western society? Should we take pride that our society is against admitting wrongness or be ashamed of it? Is it true that we seem to teach our children that the only way to succeed in society is by being confident and assertive? Do we seemingly create an inflated sense of self-worth due to the endemic competition of American society and the need to right? How does this affect our human emotions; our pride, our stubbornness? What do we lose from this process? Does error blindness prevent increased knowledge and slow down advances in technology or social engineering?

    Furthermore the issue of wrongness being connected to failure or a lack of success is seemingly motivated by the idea that successful are ‘wrong’ less frequently then unsuccessful people. Although this may be a reasonable contention in many situations, such as in math test, I also have some concern with this contention being taken too universally. Are successful people less frequently wrong then unsuccessful people, or are they simply better at hiding their inaccuracies or wrongness? I will add substance to this argument by citing the popularly used phrase of a ‘politician’s answer’. Often politicians give an ambiguous answer or one that does not directly or specifically answer the question sometimes because of it being a political controversial topic, but in many cases because it is due to them no having a good answer to the question or they simply cannot answer the question. Hence, successfully people could simply be seen as being better at hiding their lack of knowledge. Furthermore, are more successful people, people who are less willing to admit wrongness and errors, simply people who answers questions which they know they are right at? For example a history professor may be able to answer a question about Soviet Russia but could they be able solve a complex differential equation? Hence, what do we measure success in, or for that matter; wrongness?

    Another interesting issue which is raised in the post and by Kathryn Schulz is the idea of error blindness. I would argue that in reality, error blindness is actually inevitable in many situations, as you don’t know you are wrong until you are proved. Take for example, the example which is provided in the post of the argument of which way to turn; the point is that we don’t know that we are wrong, until we are proved wrong, until it is too late or it has happened. Hence, error blindness should not be seen as a cause of our frequent inability to admit when we are wrong but rather simply a symptom of our being wrong in the first place. Simply put sometimes we argue about being right because we truly believe in what we are saying against what another person is saying and the ‘winner’ (the person who is right) will not be determined until after the event has happened; an example could be which way to turn at a stop sign.
    Finally I truly believe in the notion that life in a learning process and to learn you have to make mistakes be wrong. There are so many clichés connected to this notion, such as ‘you learn from your mistakes’; they are clichés for a reason.

  5. bmschmid Says:

    Being wrong is being right. What I mean by that is if you allow yourself to fail at certain things in your life, you will learn and grow from these experiences. These missteps are what makes a person stronger in the long run, hence being right. No one is perfect. The ones that seem perfect aren’t or they haven’t pushed themselves hard enough to try new things; not venturing in the land of uncertainty where you might be wrong is not beneficial. Albert Einstein once said, “”Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.

    Sports is a great example of being wrong and learning from mistakes. Coaches have said in the past that you only learn when you lose. If you were to make a mistake in a game, that cost your team the win, you would learn a lesson to never repeat whatever your blunder was ever again. If you won the game, but made the blunder, you would’ve never had thought of it as a problem and continued to make this mistake.

    Live and Learn in my opinion is one of the simplest and most meaningful quotes to live your life by. Humans are inherently not perfect creatures.

  6. adamskt Says:

    Throughout high school and all of my education before coming to college, I was one of those people who could never admit being wrong. After three and a half years of college, though, I am finally beginning to realize that the things I remember most clearly from my classes are those that I had to be corrected about. Ideas from questions that I missed on tests, or when answering in class, are the ideas that I am able to remember the most. Concepts that I was not challenged on left as quickly as they entered my head, while those concepts that I worked hardest to wrap my head around are those that stuck more than any others.

    It is common to hate being wrong, and I still do not enjoy it. But as Kathryn Shultz points out in the TedTalk we watched at the beginning of the semester, sometimes our fear of being wrong hinders our abilities to move forward. Imagine a world where it did not matter if we were wrong. I think we would be able to achieve so much more. The fact that being wrong is such a big deal makes it more of a risk to try new things. I do not know if this fear of being wrong comes from society or from human nature, but I do think that it is possible to work around it. If we are conscious of how irrational this fear is, maybe we can start to realize the benefits being wrong can sometimes bring.

  7. djavolio8 Says:

    I absolutely agree with the argument Schultz makes as I myself am often guilty of it. We have been programmed to believe since we were children that absolutely nothing good can ever come out of being wrong. Competing for a spot in a university such as Michigan, and then fighting amongst ourselves for high grades and better jobs has done nothing but support the notion that Schultz argues against. I believe there is another aspect of being wrong, however, that Schultz doesn’t address yet plays a substantial role in why being wrong is viewed so poorly.

    When two people get into an argument sometimes there are no right or wrong answers as the debate is over and ideological issue rather than a factual discrepancy. However, in the case of a factual argument, much like your iMac pro vs. Macbook pro example, the victor is the one who promotes why being wrong is so bad. Think about it. In the majority of situations, if I were to say that Denard Robinson wears the number 15, someone would show me a picture of Denard wearing the number 16 and then call me an idiot for not knowing it. The victors of arguments tend to bash the losers out of a sense to further their superiority. If our society was one that forgave mistakes and moved forward, being wrong would not nearly be as big of an issue.

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