Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error [NOOK Book]

Overview

To err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. If being wrong is so natural, why are we all so bad at imagining that our beliefs could be mistaken, and why do we react to our errors with surprise, denial, defensiveness, and shame?

In Being Wrong, journalist Kathryn Schulz explores why we find it so gratifying to be right and so maddening ...

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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error

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Overview

To err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. If being wrong is so natural, why are we all so bad at imagining that our beliefs could be mistaken, and why do we react to our errors with surprise, denial, defensiveness, and shame?

In Being Wrong, journalist Kathryn Schulz explores why we find it so gratifying to be right and so maddening to be mistaken, and how this attitude toward error corrodes relationships—whether between family members, colleagues, neighbors, or nations. Along the way, she takes us on a fascinating tour of human fallibility, from wrongful convictions to no-fault divorce; medical mistakes to misadventures at sea; failed prophecies to false memories; "I told you so!" to "Mistakes were made." Drawing on thinkers as varied as Augustine, Darwin, Freud, Gertrude Stein, Alan Greenspan, and Groucho Marx, she proposes a new way of looking at wrongness. In this view, error is both a given and a gift—one that can transform our worldviews, our relationships, and, most profoundly, ourselves.

In the end, Being Wrong is not just an account of human error but a tribute to human creativity—the way we generate and revise our beliefs about ourselves and the world. At a moment when economic, political, and religious dogmatism increasingly divide us, Schulz explores with uncommon humor and eloquence the seduction of certainty and the crises occasioned by error. A brilliant debut from a new voice in nonfiction, this book calls on us to ask one of life's most challenging questions: what if I'm wrong?

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Editorial Reviews

Dwight Garner
Ms. Schulz's book is a funny and philosophical meditation on why error is mostly a humane, courageous and extremely desirable human trait. She flies high in the intellectual skies, leaving beautiful sunlit contrails. God isn't her co-pilot; Iris Murdoch seems to be.
—The New York Times
Daniel Gilbert
…an insightful and delightful discussion of the errors of our ways—why we make mistakes, why we don't know we are making them and what we do when recognition dawns…From the expository first half through the character-driven second, Schulz remains good company—a warm, witty and welcome presence who confides in her readers rather than lecturing them. It doesn't hurt that she combines lucid prose with perfect comic timing…
—The New York Times
Michael Washburn
Being Wrong traverses disciplines and eras, deftly interweaving etymology (Schulz reminds us that "error" derives from the Latin word for "to stray or wander") with such sources as Saint Augustine's Confessions, contemporary neuroscience and vivid examples of radical mistakes…Through such cases, Schulz lays bare the inductive failures, misperceptions and biased assumptions that exist in less extreme form in everyone and that everyone should find instructive.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In the spirit of Blink and Predictably Irrational (but with a large helping of erudition), journalist Schulz casts a fresh and irreverent eye upon the profound meanings behind our most ordinary behaviors—in this instance, how we make mistakes, how we behave when we find we have been wrong, and how our errors change us. “[I]t is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are,” she asserts. Schulz writes with such lucidity and wit that her philosophical enquiry becomes a page-turner. She deftly incorporates Wittgenstein, Descartes, and Freud, along with an array of contemporary social scientists and even a spin with Shakespeare and Keats. There's heavy stuff here, but no heavy-handedness. Being wrong encompasses the cataclysmic (economic collapse) and the commonplace (leaving a “laptop in front of the window before the storm”). Being wrong may lead to fun (playing with and understanding optical illusions) or futility (the Millerite expectation of the Rapture in 1844). Being wrong can be transformative, and Schultz writes, “I encourage us to see error as a gift in itself, a rich and irreplaceable source of humor, art, illumination, individuality, and change”—an apt description of her engrossing study. (June)
Boston Globe
“[A]n unusual examination of the virtue and peril of being wrong and of all the ways we think we know things that just ain’t so.”
Associated Press
“So, please take this advice: Read BEING WRONG, because it’s the right thing to do.”
New York Times Book Review
“[A]n insightful and delightful discussion of the errors of our ways. . . . Schulz remains good company — a warm, witty and welcome presence. . . . [S]he combines lucid prose with perfect comic timing. . . . Being Wrong is smart and lively.”
Washington Post
“Schulz draws on philosophers, neuroscientists, psychoanalysts and bit of common sense in an erudite, playful rumination on error.”
Associated Press Staff
“So, please take this advice: Read BEING WRONG, because it’s the right thing to do.”
Newsweek
“Intellectualism made fun! . . . Schulz’s call to embrace flaws and errors as potentially beneficial will surely draw legions of follwers.”
Huffington Post
“Schulz possesses playfulness even as she brings the reader to tears... Being Wrong has a heartbeat.”
Tom Vanderbilt
“Kathryn Schulz’s brilliant, spirited, and necessary inquiry into the essential humanity of error will leave you feeling intoxicatingly wrongheaded.”
Steven Johnson
“Kathryn Schulz has given us a brilliant and remarkably upbeat account of the long history of human error. If Being Wrong is this smart and illuminating, I don’t want to be right!”
Frans Johansson
“Kathryn Schultz is engaging, witty and fascinating as she uses a full arsenal of academic research, colorful stories, philosophical arguments and personal anecdotes to create a riveting account of why we, mostly, have been wrong about being wrong.”
Bill McKibben
“Both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise...[BEING WRONG] could also be enormously useful—there are very few problems we face...that couldn’t be helpfully addressed if we we were willing to at least entertain the idea that we might not be entirely right.”
Dwight Garner
“A funny and philosophical meditation on why error is mostly a humane, courageous and extremely desirable human trait. [Schulz] flies high in the intellectual skies, leaving beautiful sunlit contrails....It’s lovely to watch this idea warm in Ms. Schulz’s hands.”
Harold S. Kushner
“An amazing book. . . . I don’t know when I last read a book as stimulating, as thoughtful, and as much fun to read.”
Library Journal
In her first book, Schulz (former editor of Grist) fuses contemporary psychological theories on "wrongology" with classical philosophy, creating a well-rounded picture of what it means to be wrong. Rather than focusing on the negativity normally surrounding wrongness, Schulz urges the reader to see error as an adventure and, more important, a completely natural state of being. She uses a wide array of examples, including a "superior mirage" in the Arctic Ocean and a blind woman who believed that she could see, to illustrate how and why people get things wrong and how to accept and embrace error. Schulz challenges readers to confront their own sense of certainty, peppering her text with images of optical illusions in a unique method of reader involvement. VERDICT While the text is consistently insightful and entertaining, its main points are occasionally hidden beneath muddled examples and Schulz's overtly philosophical approach to error. Not quite a casual read, this book is most fitting for academics and readers interested in the complexity of being wrong.—Melissa Mallon, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib., Johnstown
Kirkus Reviews
A sometimes plodding, sometimes illuminating disquisition on the fine art of getting it wrong. The world of error, writes former Grist editor Schulz, is not black and white. "[B]eing a little wrong in the right direction is one thing," she writes, "and being massively wrong in the wrong direction is something else entirely." Arguing over what direction is right and wrong, of course, occupies much of our days. Think of the invasion of Iraq over WMDs, for instance, which lies in a category of belief-driven error that persists because the perpetrator lacks a suitable alternate theory, a plan B. In that light, writes the author, investment in not wholly thought-through theories is a great cause of trouble, the equivalent of sunk costs, "money that is already spent and can't be recovered." As with much pop science of the day-think Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Johnson or Chris Anderson-Schulz consults little-heard-of authorities, in this case experts in what might be called error science. Yet her approach is more anthropological, even philosophical, than scientific. For example, she closely examines the role morality plays in our operational notions of right and wrong, since we live in "a culture that simultaneously despises error and insists that it is central to our lives." The author covers the ground well, with a particularly good account of why eyewitness police reports are so riddled with error. At times, however, her discussion bogs down in forced moments of supposed significance-e.g., a dream sequence featuring Samuel Taylor Coleridge-and longueurs in which things left better unexplained are subjected to weird science (incongruity theory as applied to jokes). There are also many areas in which other recent books-particularly Atul Gawande's Checklist Manifesto (2009)-do the same work better. Even with its faults, however, one has to like a book that proclaims, "To fuck up is to find adventure."Agent: Kim Witherspoon/InkWell Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061997938
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/8/2010
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 60,007
  • File size: 851 KB

Meet the Author

Kathryn Schulz

Kathryn Schulz is a journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Foreign Policy, the Nation, the Boston Globe, and the "Freakonomics" blog of the New York Times. She lives in New York's Hudson Valley.

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Table of Contents

Part I The Idea of Error

1 Wrongology 3

2 Two Models of Wrongness 25

Part II The Origins of Error

3 Our Senses 47

4 Our Minds, Part One: Knowing, Not Knowing, and Making It Up 67

5 Our Minds, Part Two: Belief 87

6 Our Minds, Part Three: Evidence 111

7 Our Society 133

8 The Allure of Certainty 159

Part III The Experience of Error

9 Being Wrong 183

10 How Wrong? 201

11 Denial and Acceptance 220

12 Heartbreak 247

13 Transformation 273

Part IV Embracing Error

14 The Paradox of Error 299

15 The Optimistic Meta-Induction from the History of Everything 320

Acknowledgments 341

Notes 345

Index 393

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2012

    The editor must have been on vacation

    I am enjoying this book, it has a great topic and has an interesting anecdotes. Unfortunatly, this book knows nothing of brevity. Too many sentences needlessly drag on with empty words. Sometimes I feel that esoteric words are conscripted for their laboriousness in opposition to their precision, erstwhile - despite my erudite nature - I have grown weary of reading the sentence. I'll probably finish the book because of its content despite the lack of grace.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 1, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A warm look at every aspect of human error, including its philosophy, history, tragedy and humor

    Malcolm Gladwell opened the book market to accessible, highbrow social analysis, and Kathryn Schulz has skillfully adopted that model. However, unlike Gladwell, Schulz does not analyze trends. She's fascinated by the perpetual, universal propensity for human error in all its forms and contexts. In this companionable, readable, kind-hearted, rambling (and sometimes random) essay collection, she discusses philosophy, astronomy, politics, psychiatry, love and heartbreak, as well as the science of the brain and the workings of memory. She demonstrates a credible grasp of her topics and bends each to her theme without losing sight of the larger picture. This is not a self-help book, but still it offers opportunities for insight, laughter and the rueful recognition that when humans err, they seldom err alone. getAbstract recommends this worthy book to anyone who's ever made a mistake, and especially to those who are convinced they never have.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Why Being Wrong Is So Right

    Kathryn Schulz's "Being Wrong" is both entertaining and informative as it explores the psychology, philosophy, pitfalls and positives of making mistakes. Schulz combines lots of data and theory with plenty of illustrative stories and an accessible writing style to make this book both fun and useful.

    I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score" for anyone who feels bound by their anger, guilt, hurt or pain. I thought that the book was just about forgiveness, I soon learned, it was about so much more than that. It was about how you should deal with friends, family and yourself and more importantly, how to keep these relationships strong when things go wrong.

    Having read it, I feel like a better person. Maybe because this book spoke to me and not down to me. I have read a lot of books that was written like I didn't know anything. What the author of "When God Stopped Keeping Score" does is talk to you like a friend. I needed that. You will understand why when you read it. It is on sale here on BN.com.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2011

    It is so relevant to life's understanding and easy to read also.

    Thoughtful, introspective and useful in understanding our politics , ourselves and our world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 6, 2011

    Fascinating and funny

    I love the way Kathryn Schulz writes. She could make a book about pig slop a page-turner. Being Wrong covers the subject of error in ways I didn't know needed covering, surprising me, opening my eyes, and educating me. Can't ask much more from a book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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