A new and great book has been written by Kathryn Schulz titled Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.
Schulz starts with one underlying question: Why do we love being right? Is it for sport or some other deep seated need, she writes, “unlike many of life’s other delights — chocolate, surfing, kissing — it does not enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry: to our appetites, our adrenal glands, our limbic systems, our swoony hearts.” but that’s not quite the case she continues, “we can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything,” including that which we’d rather be wrong about, like “the downturn in the stock market, say, or the demise of a friend’s relationship or the fact that at our spouse’s insistence, we just spent 15 minutes schlepping our suitcase in exactly the opposite direction from our hotel.”
There is a deep rooted prejudice against being wrong and on a psychological level we go to great lengths to avoid being wrong. We even go to extremes when facts and the whole world ally’s against us. One of my favorite quotes comes from John Maynard Keynes and his reply to a criticism during the Great Depression on why he changed his position on monetary policy:
When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
I use this quote as a reminder as a constant check on critical thinking. It’s great to see a book that delves into the psychology of our ‘wrongness’ avoidance. While there are a few elements of the book that do not quite complete the point I highly suggest it as a great read. For more formal reviews check out this one at the NyTimes and this article from Kathryn Schulz titled ‘Being Wrong: Chapter 1: Wrongology“