August 10, 2010

How did you develop a more realistic perspective?

Kathryn Schulz has written a book called Being Wrong, adventures in the margin of error. The book covers many interesting views on wrongness but I'd like to focus here on one.

There is a difference between the scientific method and the approach to knowing we as individuals tend to have. Schulz: "The scientific method is essentially a monument to the utility or error. Most of us gravitate toward trying to verify our beliefs ... But scientists gravitate toward falsification.... Not only can any give theory be proven wrong, sooner or later, it probably will be. And when it is, the occasion will mark the success of science, not its failure."

According to Schulz, many individuals don't see being wrong as something potentially useful but have a pessimistic view of being wrong, interpreting it as a sign of being ill-informed, stupid of evil. The strange thing is, we often easily notice other people being wrong but we hardly ever notice it when we are wrong. Schulz explains that we think we are right because we feel we are right: we take our own certainty as an indicator of accuracy. This has to do with the fact that mental processes that, to some extent inevitably distort reality, like sensory perception and memory, operate largely outside or are conscious awareness. This explains why we generally tend to feel we are right: we are not aware of the ways in which we distort reality and therefore think we don't distort it all and perceive and remember reality simply as it is/was.

In fact, Schulz says, there is no experience of being wrong. Sure, we may remember we were once wrong. But knowing, in the here-and-now, that we are wrong, according to Schulz, describes a logical impossibility: "As soon as we know that we are wrong, we aren't wrong anymore, since to recognize a belief as false is to stop believing it. Thus we can only say "I was wrong." Just because it is so hard to perceive your own wrongness, I'm interested in how indidivuals manage to get from a state of being wrong to a state that is less wrong, more in correspondence with reality.

My questions to you, reader, are: Is there a topic about you now know you were once wrong and now more realistic? I don't ask you to mention what the topic was, I'm particularly interested in things like: How did you discover your wrongness? How did you develop a more realistic perspective? Was it easy or hard? Did it go slowly or fast? What helped? How do you know this new perspective is actually less wrong, more realistic than the one before?

10 comments:

  1. I have recently changed the entire way in which I eat. I now have more energy and have lost 10 lbs without cutting calories. I'd heard of this way of eating before and never gave it much thought due to various prejudices I'd picked up. However, I love science and will always devour rigorous scienctific arguments and evidence. A friend of mine loaned me a book that had the kind of science I yearned for and it changed my whole view. So for me, I will change my view if I can be exposed to good scientific investigations. I think no conversation on earth would have convinced me that my way of eating was harmful and that I should change to have optimal health.

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  2. I have tons of topics I took for granted and later discovered I was wrong.

    One of the latest big ones that's being challenged is the idea of nonviolent resistance.
    I used to think that nonviolence is more adept at bringing in change and I drew my arguments from the lives of MLK Jr. And Gandhi however, recently I discovered a new way of seeing the situation where these nonviolent movements received a lot of power from violent movements by being a preferred alternative to the violence. I knew about Malcolm X as the violent version of MLK Jr. but I never seen him as influential as I see him now. Gandhi had a violent equivalent too, someone revered in India but virtually unknown to the West.

    Then there is this very cute and relevant quote from Anthony de Mello:

    To a visitor who described himself as a seeker after Truth the Master said, "If what you seek is Truth, there is one thing you must have above all else."
    "I know. An overwhelming passion for it."
    "No. An unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong."

    --

    Is this possible wrongness connected in any way to the "not knowing posture" of SFC?

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  3. Hi Rodney, I am curious about that book ... Do you remember the moment you recognized "My eating habits are wrong!"? What was it specifically that convinced you? How long did it take you to change your view on what's right in eating? Did the change happen as it were in a moment, or was it prolongued process?

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  4. Hi Peter,
    I was thinking about the connection to the not knowing posture too. By chosing a stance of "this conversation is not about what I know or don't know" it is much more easy to really connect to the perspective of the client.

    You say 'I have tons of topics I took for granted and later discovered I was wrong.' This makes me curious about the following. Since you have such experience with being wrong, how do you view your current convictions? Is there any way you can get a sense of which of them are likely to be discovered by you, at some point, as wrong?

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  5. My "wrongness" has been an issue of either narrow view or venturing in a field where I lack knowledge and using intuition instead of research.

    I'm in the process of moving toward a more Socratic attitude of not knowing too much, admitting ignorance.

    I also would like to focus more on consequences rather than judgments (right/wrong). I've failed to evolve in this lately.

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  6. Hi Peter, I Like this: "I'm in the process of moving toward a more Socratic attitude of not knowing too much, admitting ignorance."

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  7. I view the research of Dr. Xavier Amador, author of "I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help" as being relevant to this discussion.
    After seeing this presentation, my appreciation of self-skepticism skyrocketed. It was a little too medical for my taste but still, quite illuminating.

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  8. Thank you. Peter. I'll have a look at it

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  9. Coert,

    I went into the book with a skeptical attitude. I did think my friend's diet was a bit nuts and extreme before I read it so I was not positively pre-disposed to the book.

    I don't think I actually thought to myself "my eating habits are wrong." I think I actually concluded "this new approach is the right way to go." The change happened in one evening as the book is very well written. The author can convey science but also do so within the context of history which gives the information a more story-like feel.

    I know that research shows that people are less resistant to information that is embedded in a story (See "Resistance and Persuasion" Ch 9, page 175 edited by Eric S. Knowles and Jay A. Linn) so the stories and history probably made me more receptive.

    If I remember correctly, as I was reading, I found myself going from skeptical before reading, to curious and open after reading the introduction that tells of a historical account (story), to believing after getting enough of the science to back up the story.

    For me the science is not just "studies show x,y,z" but also knowing why something works the ways it does. The author explained the metabolic processes involved in what happens to our food that explained the data. Since the theory fit so well, and my original ideas did not explain many of my observations, I had no choice but to change beliefs.

    In case you are wondering, the book is called "Good Calories, Bad Calories" and you can get it on Amazon.com.

    I hope this answered your questions.

    Rodney

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  10. You got me curious about the book, now!

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