As the title implies
As the title implies, Kathryn Schulz takes her readers on an adventure to explore, the widely traveled yet rarely acknowledged, road of wrongness in her book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. Compelling insight is provided into the social construct of right and wrong. Through an examination of cultural norms, historical and philosophical perspectives, individual perceptions, and cognitive development, the author provides clues to why society has become almost obsessed with the notion of being right and continues to show contempt to the idea of being wrong. Most notably, Schulz offers an in-depth discussion on the role human senses play in how individuals interpret their surroundings and how confirmation bias can negatively influence ones’ ability to consider evidence consistently. Furthermore, the concepts presented within the book surrounding judgement between right and wrong exist in daily life and can be revealed by understanding the underlying contributors to a person’s beliefs.
Cultural norms have placed significant value on the concept of rightness as “they affirm our sense of being smart, competent, trustworthy, and in tune with our environment” (Shulz 4). The more important point to the authors story deals with the emotions and feelings associated with being wrong and how people learn, understand, ignore, and cope with mistakes once they discover that they have made one. The writer further explores the effect of social cues that reinforce attitudes making it difficult for people to accept mistakes. One reason for this may be, “a long history of associating error with evil” (Shulz 13). People generally have difficulty accepting responsibility for errors and when given a choice, would prefer to blame others for the mistake. As with all opposites, right cannot exist without wrong. “The debate over whether error is normal or abnormal is central to the history of wrongness” (Shulz 28). Discovering how our minds work helps to shed light on the debate.
Our minds, how they gain and process knowledge, are powerful components in the study of right versus wrong. Schulz argues that “the feeling of knowing something is incredibly convincing and inordinately satisfying, but it is not a very good way to gauge the accuracy of our knowledge” (Shulz 71). Our individual knowledge of the world and its inner workings stem from several sources, with some being more reliable than others. At times, our brains make inferences in an attempt to fill in the gaps of information that are missing. These interpretations made by the mind can feel right and be completely wrong. Similarly, Schulz explains that there are explicit and implicit beliefs that effect our choices. Beliefs can be formed by specific experiences while others are built from corollaries in our environments. Individual perception creates truth to the person directly experiencing the event. Evidence is often used to persuade a particular line of thinking. The feeling of knowing, developed beliefs, and how evidence is interpreted work in unison as internal factors to influence our reasoning ability and to form opinions.
In addition to the internal factors, Schulz discusses external factors that inspire beliefs and question the credibility of perceived knowledge. Society and communities offer a wide knowledgebase that can be accessed to strengthen and extend our own independent findings. “Depending on secondhand information makes our lives both much more efficient and much more interesting than they would otherwise be” (Shulz 141). These relationships can serve as useful tools to gain knowledge. When relying on this obtained knowledge one should consider, “if we often form our beliefs on the basis of our communities, we also form our communities on the basis of our beliefs” (Shulz 143). These communal beliefs can reinforce current knowledge without added value because of its familiarity has an acceptable comfort level. Internal and external forces inform ones’ beliefs but inevitably can be ambiguous when searching for truth and breed significant inherent bias.
After examining how the mind works in conjunction with where beliefs come from, Schulz shifts to the most salient discussion of acceptance of wrongness and the ability to initiate change through lessons learned. The challenge put forth is to de-emphasize the act of being wrong itself and focus on what happens next as the author suggests that being wrong should be recognized as a step that allows people to change. Depending on the severity of the error, it is possible for belief systems to be shaken, explaining “our dislike for error, since most of us are at least somewhat averse to change” (Shulz 192). Instead of denying error, people should take advantage of the opportunity to embrace the concept of error as a prospect to learn and grow, dismissing the negative social stigma widely known as being wrong.
One of the more interesting points early in our reading approaches perception and how individual perceptions help to form personal understanding of naturally occurring events as well as personal interactions. Perception first guides and then becomes the reality by which people base their knowledge. Their perceived knowledge, in turn, leads to their decision-making abilities. Our senses can be deceptive, leaving personal perception open to inaccurate interpretations of actual events. “Perception, in other words, is the interpretation of sensation” (Shulz 56). When individuals experience the world through their senses of sight, touch, smell, and sound, strong emotions are generally formulated as a result of the events. These emotions are the basis for how people react to their environments and begin to establish the foundation of beliefs. “In a literal sense, a model of the world is a map, and that’s basically what beliefs are, too: mental representation of our physical, social, emotional, spiritual, and political landscapes” (Shulz 92). Through learned belief systems, people are likely to develop convictions surrounding those beliefs and assign judgment, both consciously and unconsciously. Beliefs, perceptions, memory, and experiences have a tendency to guide behavior.