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Being Wrong is an Essential Part of Getting it Right

Posted in Thoughts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by Konstantin

Lesson:

Being wrong is an essential part of finding the correct answer.

wrong

Economics is at its core the study of incentives, choices and their consequences.  It is of paramount importance to understand that theories, conjectures and models associated with something so ambiguous are never set in stone.

During my understudy years at the University of Central Florida, I took a course which required the completion of an empirical study between variables.  I relished in the allure of autonomy; being able to create my own study, with variables of my own choosing. But of course I knew that my findings, no matter how convincing, would be subject to drawbacks.

When it came time to present, I noted something uniform about the students that preceded me: there were no mentions of ‘drawbacks’, no evidence to the contrary, not even subtle hints of fallacy.  Of course, it wasn’t because the students were confident in the accuracy of their work, nor was it their arrogance or stubbornness; it had a lot to do with the lack of emphasis on ‘being wrong’.

Statistically speaking, confidence intervals, reliability measurements and correlation coefficients do not tell the whole story.  These are all valid mathematical instruments designed to insulate against statistical error, but when such error exists [and it is inevitable], we cannot undermine its importance.

There are two types of wrongs: 1) Factual 2) Moral.  

The latter is more hotly contested than the former by virtue of its vagueness and subjectivity.

In hard science [that is the science based on empirical evidence, mathematical deduction of discrete values, and adherence to the laws of nature] precision is a function of trial and error; meticulous experimentations whereby hypothesis are disproven and knowledge is refined by the process of elimination.  I say precision because even in the realm of scientific inquiry, correctness is measured by proximity to an exact value or outcome.

There is a lot less room for self-indulgent pride in hard sciences because evidence can be easily established and quantified, contradicting previous findings at a whim.

The same cannot be said for philosophical wrongs, or wrongs associated with soft sciences.  Ambiguity tends to take center stage in these matters, and no experimental methodology could encompass the vast diversity of human thought or belief.  Soft sciences have a particular knack for confirmation bias [that is, favoring information that supports an individuals preconceived notions].

In such cases, it’s impossible to [literally] enumerate the confidence interval of an approach but it is essential to understand where your beliefs and/or findings can be flawed.

Philosophically, some cling to their biases by molding a reality that favors their perspectives, but such approaches are ultimately futile and shortsighted, particularly in the 21st century.

We are no longer a tight-knit group of nomads or hunters/gatherers that rely on culture and tradition to survive; we must acknowledge that we will, in our lifetime, be met with ideas that starkly contrast our own.

Open mindedness is not your ability to tolerate the beliefs of others.  It’s your ability to tolerate the idea that you could be wrong.

The need for introspection is imperative; it is a vital component of societal renovation.  The moral history of humanity is a progression towards inclusiveness; a steady, but continuous critique of social constructs that imprison expression so that we may rid ourselves of such wrongs.  In many ways, recognizing that we are wrong is a vital component of getting it right.

-Konstantin Ravvin