Monday, January 9, 2012

2011 Top 10: Being Wrong

Fourth in a series of reviews of my 10 favorite books read in 2011, presented in alphabetical order.

Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz, ©2010

Being Wrong turns the camera inward to our own personal experience of error. Kathryn Schulz writes that we relish being right:
“Our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient. […But of] all the things we are wrong about, […] error might well top the list. It is our meta-mistake: we are wrong about what it means to be wrong. […] it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.”
In a gentle, leisurely narrative filled with curiosity and even humor, Schulz explores philosophy, psychology, history, and the personal experiences of people being wrong (lovers, explorers, crime victims and economists, among others). Over four sections, she 1) defines error; 2) investigates how we get there (e.g. our senses, memories, beliefs, the data at hand); 3) examines our reactions to being wrong; and 4) encourages us to embrace error. Extensive endnotes and an index complete the book.

She’s adamant that error isn’t an intellectual inferiority or moral flaw but rather something beneficial, a way of learning and becoming -- where, quoting the philosopher Foucault, “The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.” Schulz writes, “When you were a little kid, you were fabulously wrong about things all the time”; she suggests that when we seek new experiences it is a way of plunging ourselves back into the childhood experience of not-knowing, where error leads to rapid learning.

She also suggests that there is no actual state of “being” wrong -- we believe we’re right and then we discover we were wrong and we transition to a new state of being right. And it’s those “hinge moments” of awareness that provoke the revelatory shifts that change us; it’s also our reluctance to acknowledge error and complete those transitions that keeps us stuck in painful life situations.

It's an intelligent and deeply researched book, highly readable and highly recommended.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.)

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