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Admitting to Being Wrong

You’ve argued your point, you’re sure you are right, and when anyone gives any counter-arguments, you shut them down or ignore them. They are wrong; what is the point of even entertaining what they are saying? And when there’s the potential of  being wrong, instead of understanding the counter-arguments, why is it so many of us have a tendency to ‘double down’ and look for loopholes, excuses, or reasons to make our position make sense? Why are we so invested in being right?

Being Wrong

First off, what exactly is ‘being wrong’? Normally, we’d say, “Come on; of course, everyone knows what being wrong means.” But you all know better at this point. Let’s use a physical example since it’s the most obvious and easy to discuss. If a small ball bounced in front of us, we know what we saw. If someone said, “No, a ball didn’t bounce right there,” we’d say they were ‘wrong;’ we saw the ball bounce with our own eyes.

What if the person who is saying a ball didn’t land in front of us was right next to us when it happened? Now, we have two individuals believing two different things based on their ‘firsthand experience.’ Barring lies, if this person truly believes there was no ball, and we, of course, believe there was a ball, how do we resolve this normally simple problem?

Truth and Belief

Right and wrong are a matter of perspective that requires ‘majority’ agreement in most cases. That may sound extreme because, as we know logically, there seems to always be an actual truth. What we have to realize is the vast majority of what we experience and hold as truths are actually more like beliefs.

Take for example when ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is subjective and depends on not a single physical event but a variety of variables. It’s easy to prove a ball landed in front of us if we had cameras (we won’t get into deep fakes here). But how would we prove that a free market with international trade is better than tariffs to manipulate things? There are so many different variables that there could easily end up being a list of pros equal to a list of cons.

What this means is that being wrong can be proven only to the extent of what actually occurred, yet what actually occurred is filtered via our own observations and interpretation. “What actually occurred” is of course truth, but what we observed and interpreted is belief that may happen to be true.

Another area that emphasizes truth vs belief, is when our perception and reality don’t match up exactly and we ‘fill in the blanks’ automatically. For example, there is a natural blindspot that is in everyone’s vision that is large enough to completely engulf a baseball if at the right distance and location in our field of vision. We don’t see the blindspot however, our minds fill in what ‘should’ be there at all times. V.S. Ramachandran in his book, Phantoms in the Brain discuss this and many other ways our minds have a tendency of ‘convincing ourselves’ when we are trying to fill in details we don’t have.

Partial Truths

This idea of ‘convincing ourselves’ or filling in the blanks when we don’t have all the information seems to happen all the time; it’s only natural. We need to make assessments as to what to do with whatever information we have and usually don’t have the luxury of waiting for perfect information every time. Essentially we become masters at using only partial information to operate and get around day to day. The problem comes when we assume or turn this partial information this ‘partial truth’ into the whole truth.

If we are running late for an important event and we hit bad traffic, how many of us will remember that we were late before the traffic and how many of us instinctively think of the traffic as the whole truth? This is only a simple example, more complex examples can have a web of occurrences that could have us genuinely forgetting what the whole truth is.

This is a very slippery slope when someone can find true aspects and base their actions and beliefs on just a portion of what actually occurred while ignoring other portions (and fully believe it). If we’ve made a habit of doing this, of adapting truth to serve the results we are looking for, being wrong almost never happens. What would happen if then, at some point, we are challenged by someone as wrong?

Ego and Emotions

The need to be right, this ‘investment’ to some psychologists, is the protection of our ego, the avoidance of ‘bad things’ or ‘bad feelings.’ We will fight to avoid the thought that “we are wrong” because if we’re wrong, we’re stupid or look stupid. Looking stupid comes with being teased or people not liking us. People not liking us could include our friends and family. If our friends and family don’t like us, then it’s as if we’re outcasts. We wouldn’t be able to have fun with them or have as many happy moments. Doom and gloom.

Of course, that seems like quite the stretch just from being wrong. There’s likely some truth in it, though. Our emotions are built upon an extremely large amount of experiences. And, as we’ve alluded in other topics, emotions seem to be triggered based on our goals. It makes sense that , we have to ‘be right,’ and ‘make the right choice’, and if we aren’t then we have something impeding our goals.

Even more so, however, is how we ‘train’ our brain; pathways are formed through persistent use. So a more simple answer could be that we fight being wrong because we are so used to convincing ourselves we are right. The emotions could simply be a result of that conflict.

Regardless of what the answer is, we should start to train ourselves to understand that making good choices is easier to do when we know more wrong answers; essentially, being wrong helps us be right.

Monty Hall Problem

An interesting way to drive this concept home is the infamous Monty Hall problem. “Suppose you’re on a game show, and you’re given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car; behind the others are goats. You pick a door, say No. 1, and the host, who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to change your pick to No. 2?” Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?”

Essentially, the important point is that obtaining the right information has an effect on the probability. We originally had a one in three chance to choose the right door, which means if we now know which door has a goat, we increase our chances to two in three by switching; we’d increase our chances to 50/50 if we flip a coin and we’d keep our original one in three chance if we don’t change. The trick to understanding this problem is that the host has to ‘know’ or eliminate two doors potentially, which gives us the two out of three chance. The host can’t pick the car, and they can’t pick our door.

This is a very counter-intuitive problem, and ‘being right versus wrong’ starts here. We have a hard time understanding how obtaining information can change a situation and, thus, our subsequent actions. In this case, the ‘goat’ is like being wrong. By simply identifying one of the doors that are ‘wrong,’ we have a much better chance of picking ultimately what is ‘right.’

All information that we uncover is adding to or changing various probability calculations. If we can compare ourselves briefly to artificial intelligence, the lesson is much more obvious; we have to increase probabilities through capturing as much information as possible. The more information we can obtain, the better we can tweak our results.

Accept the Possibilities

Ok, so hopefully, without even thinking about logic puzzles, we know that opening as many doors and understanding what is behind them is the best way to choose the right door. We get that truth is all about actual occurrences, and belief is the interpretation of those occurrences.

We also understand that actual occurrences aren’t always directly observed; as such, we *have to depend* on other’s observations and experiences. And when we are compiling all of that information, we typically only have part of the whole truth at any given time. With all these factors, it is only reasonable that there will always be disagreements on what is right or wrong.

Our part in this is to keep the ego and emotions in check and always accept the possibility that we are wrong; doing so will help us grow and maintain a sensible balance in this crazy world. Always remember, accepting the possibility of being wrong *requires action*; those who are excessively indecisive are no better than those who cannot accept being wrong.

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