Review: Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz

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Being Wrong is a well-written account of our understanding of error. The author points out how central error is for all aspects of cultural proress. It is not an academic treatise, but still gives the history of thinking about scientific and religious truth a fair treatment, by mentioning for example St. Augustine’s fallor ergo sum, expressed an entire millennium before Descartes. It gives the beautiful definition of the French Larousse dictionary from the 1600s: Error is “a vagabondage of the imagination, of the mind that is not subject to any rule.”
The book references the idea of household philosophy names like Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, but its real strength and appeal are the many well-researched anecdotes. Being deceived by our senses is illustrated by the story of captain Ross and the phenomenon of a superior mirage; there is the story of the Millenarians who thought the world would end in 1844 (and how they behaved as it the apocalypse didn’t happen); there is the story of a woman losing faith twice and an apt description of the emotional twilight zone in between; there is Abdul Rahman who converted from Islam to Christianity (losing everything), or Alan Greenspan, who after the financial crisis of 2008 found the courage to admit his entire way of thinking was wrong. We also find a gripping crime story of innocent prisoners who are eventually released on the basis of dna-evidence. The author documents the ultimate deception of divorce by visiting a celebrity divorce lawyer. The wealth of anecdotes makes this book an entertainining and interesting read. I learned that it takes courage to be wrong in the right way.

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