Thoughts On: You Have No Idea How Wrong You Are

This past week I listened to the lecture, “You Have No Idea How Wrong You Are.” Just the title is jolting. It’s not something anyone wants to hear, but it is packed with powerful truths.

We are, “the species that got it wrong.” As the speaker identifies, we as humans make the most mistakes across the board with the most consequential results - more than any other species. Every branch of human history, whether it be politics, religion, or science is littered with mistakes. As is stated in the video, “History is a graveyard of completely confident but wrong assertions” Part of this is due to the fact that there are many more ways to be wrong than there are to be right.

In this lecture, he breaks down the Pessimistic Induction. Basically, this is a pattern of thinking. When we look back on the past 200 or 300 years we often say Wow, they had it so wrong. I’m so glad we have it figured out now. But what gives us this confidence? What makes us believe we have it right now?

In 200 or 300 years from now, people will look back at us and say the same thing. They will laugh at all the things we have wrong.

Some of the most respected geniuses throughout history made huge mistakes. Copernicus was right about sun being at the center of the universe, but wrong was entirely wrong about the planetary orbits. Isaac Newton developed the laws of physics thinking they were universal. However they fall apart at the macro and micro levels.

This isn’t to make fun of these historical figures, but to give us perspective. Thinking we can figure everything out is arrogance. If they couldn’t, why do we think we can with ease?

A piece of this is from the Dunning Kruger effect. In short, it is people’s inability to asses their own capabilities. This effect is backed by a stunning study showcasing the mismatch between skill and perceived ability.

We are masked from our own in capabilities. Don’t see our own mistakes and assumptions. He even makes the argument we can’t accurately judge what makes us happy.

As he goes on to say in the lecture, you are wrong about yourself, your happiness, your wrong about your capabilities.

This all seem pretty depressing, right? Well let’s fill it on its head - the Optimistic Induction.

The speaker poses a question - what if being wrong isn’t SO bad? “Not everything that isn’t right is therefore equally wrong.” We can’t be perfect. We can’t get everything right. We can become less wrong.

Get comfortable with the fact you don’t completely know yourself. Squash your arrogance. Admit your wrong. But don’t be solely pessimistic - find hope and encouragement in your complexity and worlds mysteries.


Top Takeaways:

  • History is littered with mistakes and the current century is no exception.

  • We cannot fully assess our own mistakes and assumptions.

  • We can become progressively less wrong.

Kayla SanoyComment