Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Being Wrong Feels Like?

While we tend to think that being wrong feels embarrassing, shameful and dreadful, that's just what we associating learning that we're wrong feels like. Actually being wrong feels exactly like being right.Certainty is an emotion, not a degree of reliability we assign to our beliefs. It has nothing to do with the truth.

Just as, oddly enough, lying has nothing to do with the truth. When we lie, we give a false account of our heterophenomenological beliefs. We say what we believe to be true or we do not. The actual truth does not need to be accounted for. For if we say what we believe to be true is not true, we are lying. Whether or not by happenstance or dumb luck it turns out to actually be true. If we say  something we believe to be false is true, it doesn't matter if technicalities or flukes or incorrectness renders our lies factually accurate or not, they are still lies. And if we say what we believe to be false is false and what we believe to be true is true, it doesn't matter if we happen to be mistaken, they are not lies. Lies are when we misrepresent our beliefs. And our beliefs do not need to align with the truth. -- Our beliefs have no solid ties to the truth, nor do they need them. Truths feel exactly the same as falsehoods when they are bouncing around our heads, namely they feel like beliefs; because they are.

Herein is the pride and fall of our minds. Because to avoid the shame of being wrong there are two courses we can take. We can either minimize the pain of wrongness by stubbornness and spite, because what is there that stubbornness and spite can't do even if we must sacrifice all of reality to maintain the illusion. Or we can accept that being wrong isn't shameful, that it's an opportunity for growth and a lesson for future humility. I tend to joke that my humility is part of my awesomeness, but the truth is that I believe it in all honesty. I think humility with which to temper pride is the highest of virtues. I don't mean the bland sort of failing to take credit for your awesome; that's stupid. Own your awesome. Know how badass you are, but do not extend that to your beliefs. You're beliefs are not you. The flip side of insulting a person's beliefs while respecting that person as a person, is a sort of humility where you understand and revel in your positive aspects but avoid believing in beliefs. The idea that because you rock, your beliefs are rock solid is simple folly. It seems rather zen, but understanding the fallibility of the human brain and the cognitive biases to which we are all prey, allows you to forgive yourself for being wrong. It's okay. It really is okay to be wrong. It's not even forgiveness, but understanding that there's nothing to forgive. Because being wrong is easy to do, and it is hard tell wrongness from rightness.

This, however, isn't to say that we should just call the whole thing off. No. All roads lead to epistemological foundations and this is a clarion call for the developing those skills. How do we know what we know, and should we care if our beliefs are true? Rather than pridefully denying our wrongness, we should accept that our wrongness is an absolutely reasonable option and often is the best option. We should be ready to test our beliefs, and determine whether or not they are true and accept that they are what they are, and not care, because to accept a belief nether more nor less than the degree required by a careful understanding of the evidence in favor of that proposition should be passionately wished for. It's more important than I-told-you-sos and regrets about recently abandoned false beliefs, to care enough about your beliefs to be ready to abandon them for the mere objection that they do not conform to reality. Thinking critically requires a deep desire to want to believe true things and not believe false things, to revel in those moments others find embarrassing, shameful, or dreadful, and understand them for what they really are: growing pains.

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