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Why Being Wrong Makes Humans So Smart

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the something-so-right dept.

Science 311

Hugh Pickens sends in an excerpt in last week's Boston Globe from Kathryn Schulz's book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. "The more scientists understand about cognitive functioning, the more it becomes clear that our capacity to make mistakes is utterly inextricable from what makes the human brain so swift, adaptable, and intelligent. Rather than treating errors like the bedbugs of the intellect — an appalling and embarrassing nuisance we try to pretend out of existence — we need to recognize that human fallibility is part and parcel of human brilliance. Neuroscientists increasingly think that inductive reasoning undergirds virtually all of human cognition. Humans use inductive reasoning to learn language, organize the world into meaningful categories, and grasp the relationship between cause and effect. Thanks to inductive reasoning, we are able to form nearly instantaneous beliefs and take action accordingly. However, Schulz writes, 'The distinctive thing about inductive reasoning is that it generates conclusions that aren't necessarily true. They are, instead, probabilistically true — which means they are possibly false.' Schulz recommends that we respond to the mistakes (or putative mistakes) of those around us with empathy and generosity and demand that our business and political leaders acknowledge and redress their errors rather than ignoring or denying them. 'Once we recognize that we do not err out of laziness, stupidity, or evil intent, we can liberate ourselves from the impossible burden of trying to be permanently right. We can take seriously the proposition that we could be in error, without deeming ourselves idiotic or unworthy.'"

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getting this out of the way (-1, Offtopic)

RodRooter (1835462) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639270)

You're WRONG!

Re:getting this out of the way (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Struct (660658) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639430)

AND stupid!

Re:getting this out of the way (1)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639472)

There, there. It's OK that you're wrong and stupid.

To Err is Human (1)

clonan (64380) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639976)

And I am very Human

Re:getting this out of the way (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639484)

AND ugly!

Re:getting this out of the way (1)

thijsh (910751) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639808)

Well, *Probably*...

Odds of anyting I say being wrong... (0, Offtopic)

davidwr (791652) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639740)

2 079 460 347 to 1 against.

Rogue_rat (4, Funny)

RogueRat (1710322) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639272)

Interesting way of looking at our failures. So... let's see if BP uses this to prove their genius.

Re:Rogue_rat enjoys cock frequently (0, Troll)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639402)

Just because being wrong doesn't necessarily make you an idiot, that doesn't make you not an idiot for being wrong.

Re:Rogue_rat enjoys cock frequently (4, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639646)

Or deliberately ignoring your own engineers saying, "This is a bad idea. The wellhead will blow out." Then try to act all surprised to discover the engineers knew what they were talking about, and blame the engineers instead of your own stupidity Mr. BP Manager.

Re:Rogue_rat enjoys cock frequently (2, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640192)

Why is the "BP manager" currently out on a yacht at some annual event instead of sat in court, desperately defending himself from a public prosecutor with a battery of lawyers funded by the US government, WWF, and GreenPeace? No doubt they all want a piece of his personal fortune... Especially the lawyers.

He shouldn't be out sailing, he should be taking a plea bargain involving a few hundred million dollars in personal fines and 15 years in a federal prison.

Re:Rogue_rat (1)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639408)

Don't worry. They probably learned a lot from it.

Re:Rogue_rat (1)

raphael75 (1544521) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639584)

Or did they probabilistically learn a lot from it? Seriously, "probabilistically"? Who makes up words like that. It's like "problematically".

Re:Rogue_rat (0, Flamebait)

billcopc (196330) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640084)

Same kind of people who made up all the other english words. English has got to be one of the ugliest, most incoherent messes I've ever had the displeasure of speaking my entire life. It has to be the least expressive language I know of, lacking precision, so it should be no surprise that weird compound words bubble up to fill that void - mostly patterned after romance language constructs which allow for that kind of fine-tuning of almost any qualifier.

It's like PHP. We all know that linguistically it's a steaming pile of klingon shit, but it works and it's easy and every coder knows enough to get by. Sure, it's no Smalltalk and it sure as hell ain't LISP, but it gets shit done.

Re:Rogue_rat (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639690)

To be fair, I think most foreign companies have learnt a lot from it, something along the lines of:

"If you're a foreign company operating in US territory, under US regulations, at the behest of the US, employing US citizens, and using US contractors, then if something goes wrong, expect every US element to shrug off it's own blame and responsibilities and shift them all onto you."

I know there'll be a lot less companies wanting to invest in the US and a lot less companies outside the US wanting to work with US entities having seen how BP immediately from the outset offered to pay over and above it's obligations in compensation, whilst every US company and entity has ducked and dived even their basic responsibilities in offering to pay what they owe.

Still, I guess US companies are used to not accepting blame seeing as they've been getting away with the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill off the coast of Nigeria ever year for about the last 50 years, and completely dodged their responsibilities with the Bhopal leak.

Re:Rogue_rat (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639526)

The article doesn't claim that bigger errors equal greater intellect. It just says that the characteristics of the brain that makes humans intelligent also make us error-prone. And I don't think all errors are necessarily failures. Sometimes being wrong can be fortuitous.

VERY old news (5, Interesting)

Brain-Fu (1274756) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640018)

David Hume [] pointed all of this out hundreds of years ago. And he backed up all his claims with plenty of evidence that was readily available at the time.

I wonder if Kathryn Schulz's is aware of this?

Re:Rogue_rat (1)

AlexiaDeath (1616055) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639902)

IT's not up to BP to use this. Its up to us to make it god damn sure that no matter how big you are skirting around laws and safety procedures is not possible.

Re:Rogue_rat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639922)

...not to mention John C. Dvorak.

abstract thinking STILL leads to persecution (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639294)

however, considering the notion that ALL things are connected, maybe we should stop mistreating the 'messengers', which we do out of fear, which is a poor motive at best.

the corepirate nazi illuminati is always hunting that patch of red on almost everyones' neck. if they cannot find yours (greed, fear ego etc...) then you can go starve. that's their platform now.

never a better time for all of us to consult with/trust in our creators. the lights are coming up rapidly all over now. see you there?

greed, fear & ego (in any order) are unprecedented evile's primary weapons. those, along with deception & coercion, helps most of us remain (unwittingly?) dependent on its' life0cidal hired goons' agenda. most of our dwindling resources are being squandered on the 'wars', & continuation of the billionerrors stock markup FraUD/pyramid schemes. nobody ever mentions the real long term costs of those debacles in both life & any notion of prosperity for us, or our children. not to mention the abuse of the consciences of those of us who still have one, & the terminal damage to our atmosphere (see also: manufactured 'weather', hot etc...). see you on the other side of it? the lights are coming up all over now. the fairytail is winding down now. let your conscience be your guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. we now have some choices. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on your brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

"The current rate of extinction is around 10 to 100 times the usual background level, and has been elevated above the background level since the Pleistocene. The current extinction rate is more rapid than in any other extinction event in earth history, and 50% of species could be extinct by the end of this century. While the role of humans is unclear in the longer-term extinction pattern, it is clear that factors such as deforestation, habitat destruction, hunting, the introduction of non-native species, pollution and climate change have reduced biodiversity profoundly.' (wiki)

"I think the bottom line is, what kind of a world do you want to leave for your children," Andrew Smith, a professor in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences, said in a telephone interview. "How impoverished we would be if we lost 25 percent of the world's mammals," said Smith, one of more than 100 co-authors of the report. "Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live," added Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN director general. "We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives."--

"The wealth of the universe is for me. Every thing is explicable and practical for me .... I am defeated all the time; yet to victory I am born." --emerson

no need to confuse 'religion' with being a spiritual being. our soul purpose here is to care for one another. failing that, we're simply passing through (excess baggage) being distracted/consumed by the guaranteed to fail illusionary trappings of man'kind'. & recently (about 10,000 years ago) it was determined that hoarding & excess by a few, resulted in negative consequences for all.

consult with/trust in your creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." )one does not need to agree whois in charge to grasp the notion that there may be some assistance available to us(

boeing, boeing, gone.

Re:abstract thinking STILL leads to persecution (0, Troll)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639862)

I realize paranoia is delectable, but you will feel much better if you seek peaceful oblivion before the Illuminati win.
I suggest suicide.

First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

miggyb (1537903) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639310)

The benefit to being wrong is that instead of being modded off-topic, this post will at least modded funny.

Re:First Post! (5, Funny)

Matthew M. McClinch (1606791) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639390)

The funny thing about that is your post wasn't all that funny. So you're even more wrong than you think.

Duh (3, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639326)

Once we recognize that we do not err out of laziness, stupidity, or evil intent, we can liberate ourselves from the impossible burden of trying to be permanently right.

Sometimes people do "err" out of laziness, stupidity of evil intent!

We can take seriously the proposition that we could be in error, without deeming ourselves idiotic or unworthy

Any suitably intelligent person already knows that failures are as much a part of learning as always being "right". And sometimes we do make really silly mistakes by overlooking things that should have been obvious. I know I do. Then again, often what is obvious to me, isn't to others..

Re:Duh (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639334)

stupidity of evil intent!

*cough* that wasn't a typo.. it was a moral judgement. Yes.

Re:Duh (4, Insightful)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639426)

It's pretty obvious that BP didn't intend to cause a spill. But when you get to be as big as BP, the size of the potential mistakes grows. If the point of the article is that we're going to make mistakes no matter what, then the logical conclusion is that nobody should be permitted to get big enough where their mistakes could cause more than xxx of damage, where xxx could be monetary, human lives, ecological impact, or whatever.

I don't think that will be the answer, however.

Re:Duh (2, Informative)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639684)

>>>It's pretty obvious that BP didn't intend to cause a spill.

Is it? I'm hearing stories coming-out where engineers wrote e-mails warning this blowout would happen. But the managers, based-upon their vast PoliSci degree knowledge, pushed forward anyway with drilling. Later engineers' emails read like this: "I told you this would fucking happen."

Re:Duh (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639512)

This isn't talking about overlooking things. It's talking about the human ability to make decisions without being able to know all of the necessary facts, the ability to reach a conclusion that could be incorrect... but is still probably correct. That's something that computers cannot do (at least not yet).

Re:Duh (3, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639608)

the ability to reach a conclusion that could be incorrect... but is still probably correct.

That sounds a lot like fuzzy logic [] to me..

Re:Duh (3, Informative)

dominious (1077089) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640090)

That's something that computers cannot do (at least not yet).

Wake up and smell the coffee: []

Also, search for Machine Learning, Statistical Learning Theory, Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks, Fuzzy Logic, Support Vector Machines, etc.

Re:Duh (4, Interesting)

edumacator (910819) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639790)

I think the potential benefit isn't for those who are confidently intelligent. They see mistakes as a means of learning. The real benefit is for people who are tremendously insecure. They see mistakes and try to explain them away, or blame them on something else, negating the possible positive benefit of seeing why the mistake happened. For instance, they may have overlooked something. Instead of noticing that and learning to look for it the next time, they shy away from looking at the fault in detail.

I see this kind of thing all the time with my students. They misread something, and if I comment on it, no matter how nicely, the shut down because they don't like to be wrong because they think it makes them seem stupid. When in reality, they are trying to use inductive reasoning, which is a huge part of my goal. But...they miss the learning opportunity when they close down.

This article will make its way into my introductory lessons now. It will supplement the big sign on my door that says, "There is nothing wrong with being wrong."

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639822)

Sometimes people do "err" out of laziness, stupidity of evil intent!

Why did you put err in quotes? You realize that it is a real word, right (the root of error)? It's not like the author was meaning "durr hardy hur" like the noises some people make when they make an error...

Re:Duh (2, Informative)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639882)

I put err in quotes because if they are doing something wrong purposely with evil intent, it's not an error.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639960)

The saying "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." fails logic, since numerous times the explanation actually IS malice.

Theoretically, there is less than 1% chance that I am swedish, so I guess we can rule out that possibility, right? Except that I live in Sweden and am swedish.

I'm never wrong... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639328)

I'm never wrong.
I thought I was once, but it turns out I wasn't.

Re:I'm never wrong... (1)

stupidsocialscientis (689586) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640006)

so to clarify, only wrong about being wrong?

Re:I'm never wrong... (4, Funny)

rbochan (827946) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640056)

I'm always wrong. Just ask the wife...

Re:I'm never wrong... (1)

juasko (1720212) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640122)

so you where wrong about yourself

Prejudice (1)

ralphrmartin (1711260) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639344)

Its called prejudice.

Re:Prejudice (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639498)

You mean sort of like how I hate you for using that stupid font?

Re:Prejudice (1)

Per Wigren (5315) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639734)

No, prejudice is more like saying that all people named Ralph use stupid fonts.

Old, old news (4, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639346)

I'm sure we've all noticed that the people who make the biggest mistakes get promoted the fastest [] .

Re:Old, old news (1)

Exitar (809068) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639462)

And CEOs that bankrupt their companies become CEOs of larger companies.

Re:Old, old news (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639600)

This was foreseen by Laurence Peter as "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." []

Re:Old, old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32640034)

Peter principal, it's how you get into the Ivory Towers

Re:Old, old news (3, Insightful)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640092)

Dilbert jokes aside, people who take more risks are going to be more likely to have spectacular successes as well. For the most part, at lower levels in a corporate hierarchy, people can fail at trying something but it generally can't *really* hurt the company. They can also succeed at trying something, and it may have a rather large effect on the company, or be seen as signs that this person is an up and comer.

Low risk of spectacular failure + decent chance of large success = promotions. The smart ones tone down the risk taking a bit once they can do real damage, and become much better at risk assessment and mitigation.

I can honestly say that in the last 2 years I've made probably 3-4 times as many "mistakes" on the job (ideas that seemed worth looking into but didn't pan out, changes to systems that seemed promising on paper but actually were 1/2 as good as our current methods in practice) for every success I've had. But the successes have been disproportionately large (ideas that allowed us to do research in ways/with populations that we previously had a hard time getting access to, implementation of systems that cut the amount of time needed to do data management across *all* projects by 50% or more, etc.) and as a result I've been bumped up 3 steps in the hierarchy to what in the corporate world would be a vice presidency but at my university is a directorship. And since I've taken on that position I've been a bit more risk averse, and when I do set up a new program I take steps to make sure that even if it fails the negative impact is minimal - I've adjusted the risk profile of the work I do so that I can now keep the job I've got, while still being able to move forward.

Meanwhile, I can look at other people who started at the same time and level I did, and they're still at that entry spot because, while they've done solid work and made fewer errors than I, they also haven't really done anything that stands out as a demonstration that they have the potential to do a lot more.

And it makes sense, too. Who is going to be the better leader, or the better person to bring an organization to the next level: someone who plays it safe or someone who stumbles a few times but also manages to come up with some really good ideas and makes them happen?

Of course, this kind of thinking can backfire when the powers that be see someone who takes all kinds of risks but never manages to make them pay out. If your management is snowed by someone who claims they'll be able to do big things but doesn't have a solid, defensible track-record of actually making things happen, you have the prototypical PHB who'll do everything he or she can to sabotage the work those under him or her do so that when it comes time to be accountable for the failures they can point at their staff and say they're trying *really hard* to motivate those lazy peons, but some people just aren't educable...

min0s 5, Trol7) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639382)

Declined in market and Michael Smith to them...then told reporters, comprehensive show that *bSD has become an 0nwanted lubrication. You THE DEAL WITH YOU

Be Careful (2, Interesting)

sonicmerlin (1505111) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639384)

I think people focus their criticism more on those that make errors that seem glaringly obvious to everyone else. We tend to call those "stupid" errors. It's true however people tend to become far too critical of others who seem to be unable to reach the same conclusions at a high speed that we have already come to.

On the other hand, there are obvious mistakes that should not be conflated with probabilistic errors due to inductive reasoning. When the heads of BP cut corners that result in a giant explosion, a several month long oil leak, and billions of dollars in damage to the environment and people's lives, we can attribute that to gross negligence.

When a politician decides to engage in 2 costly wars while lowering taxes for the rich, or when a majority of society elects politicians who repeatedly punish the poor and middle class while rewarding the rich, and then complain about not having enough money to support their expensive lifestyles, you can attribute that to stupidity.

Re:Be Careful (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639548)

The problem is most of the time people on some level know that it's a bad idea. I'm sure somebody had lingering doubts that cutting corners on safety equipment was a bad idea. Some people definitely realized that the absence of WMDs detected by the weapons inspector could be indicative of them not being there.

As for the poor voting to cut the taxes of the rich, some people are just so damned stupid and stubborn that they probably shouldn't be allowed to vote. Not because they get it wrong, but because they refuse to actually learn anything from it. It's like those morons that keep pushing for fewer and fewer regulations, then use the inevitable catastrophe as evidence that they didn't go far enough.

Re:Be Careful (1, Funny)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639762)

>>>When a politician decides to engage in 2 costly wars while lowering taxes for the rich

What about a politician that drives the national debt from 10.5 trillion (105,000 per US household, approximately) to 13 trillion (~$130,000 per) after only 1.5 years in office? Never has our debt grown this fast. Not even under Ronnie Raygun.

>>>or when a majority of society elects politicians who repeatedly punish the poor and middle class while rewarding the rich

90% of income taxes are paid by the 1% richest earners. 99% are paid by the 10% richest. Yes I know - an inconvenient fact but also happens to be true (came direct from the IRS).

>>>and then complain about not having enough money to support their expensive lifestyles, you can attribute that to stupidity.

Well on this one we agree.

Re:Be Careful (4, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640108)

90% of income taxes are paid by the 1% richest earners. 99% are paid by the 10% richest. Yes I know - an inconvenient fact but also happens to be true (came direct from the IRS).

The simple truth [] is that they should pay much more. If you want to hold all the wealth, why shouldn't you pay all the taxes? The idea that a few can make almost all the money and yet accept less than their share of the stewardship (through various tax dodges including ye olde capital gains) is ridiculous no matter how you examine it. The top 10 taxpayers in the year 2000 paid taxes on only 50% of their income, another fact straight from the IRS. Typical wageearners who work for some corporation have to pay taxes on nearly 100% of their income. Now what's fair?

no one likes homos (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639392)

especially homo gay babies.


This is why I use this name (5, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639394)

I have known this for most of my life. The name reflects the idea. I'm not afraid of being wrong... at least not as much as others seem to be.

The depth of the value of errors goes much further than the topic describes. The animal brain itself is a noisy collection of errors. The reason correct processing happens at all is because nearly all possibilities are explored in neural pathways to get to the correct responses. Once correct responses are identified, neural pathways to the correct response are established. This is what we call learning in the lowest level sense of the word.

I have always found it amusing and interesting that computers work the way they do. They work in ways that are the complete opposite of the animal neuromechanism. Computers, originally derived from numerical processing devices, rely on accuracy and seek to prevent errors in every way possible. Memory is storage rather than a path. In a way, computers are our biggest hangups about being wrong put into mechanical practice.

I find it to be far from ironic that we are now trying to get computers to "learn" under these conditions. The fact that it doesn't work particularly well. When every measure is taken to always be right, how can a machine learn? It is also far from surprising to me to see that people who are so afraid of being wrong are also the least capable of learning anything new or useful or being able to adapt to new circumstances. It all fits neatly within my own observations about mistakes and learning.

Re:This is why I use this name (5, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639480)

I have known this for most of my life. The name reflects the idea.

Indeed. In more ways [] than one.

Re:This is why I use this name (3, Interesting)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639852)

What annoys me is that managers expect perfection from imperfect being. I remember in my second year as an engineer I was testing an FPGA using a self-designed testbox. By a simply drawing a line in the wrong place I had connected 28 volts to 4 of the pins, which then blew-out the FPGA.

Rather than say "Ooops. Fix it and try again," the managers totally over-reacted and stopped work on the project. We wasted two weeks on this simple error. Thousands of dollars in man-hours because of a damaged $200 part. Rdiculous. I identified the problem within just a few hours and had it fixed by the next day, but the managers went into panic mode and forbade me from entering the lab until a 2 week review was finished.

They would not allow for error.

Reliable hardware is not why computers can't learn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639966)

As a PhD student of Machine Learning, I used to ask myself this same question:
Is practically error-free hardware to blame for our shortcomings in solving Machine Learning problems?

The short answer: IMHO, no.

The long answer:
On error-free hardware, software can simulate erroneous processes. Such approaches are attempted all the time in ML.
True, this simulation would be more efficiently implemented in hardware than in software (in terms of running time, not R&D time or cost), and efficiency is key in ML.
But the inefficiency is not why it hasn't been successfully done yet.
The reason is that we don't know how. We're trying different things, but nothing has been good enough yet.

When a working "Strong AI" learning algorithm is found, if it relies on the simulation of random error in its calculations (which, to be honest, I'm not sure it must),
it may indeed be worthwhile to produce hardware that is erroneous in the "right" way to accelerate these calculations.
But at the moment we don't know what errors are helpful for an algorithm we don't have.

The speedup of hardware vs. software, while occasionally huge, shouldn't prevent us from demonstrating in software, even if only on small test-cases, a good general learning algorithm when one is found.

Re:This is why I use this name (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640116)

And computers' avoidance of error is their biggest strength, in complement to us. What use would machines which behaved like we did be? (well, I guess that's why we have children, to do our work once we get too old)

Look at yourselves in the mirror. You do it. (5, Insightful)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639418)

Mistakes can cost us time and money, expose us to danger or inflict harm on others, and erode the trust extended to us by our community.

Or being ridiculed and humiliated by assholes who gain a false sense of superiority by belittling people over mistakes - many times trivial ones. Which then leads the other person to dig their heals in, argue pedantic points to stay "right" which then leads to counter pedantic arguments from the other, and round and round we go!

But hey! That's what you get when you post on Slashdot or work in IT.

Re:Look at yourselves in the mirror. You do it. (4, Interesting)

justinlee37 (993373) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639686)

Man. That totally reminds me of how much I hate this one dude at work. He gets this stupid-ass grin on his face whenever he thinks he's telling you something you don't know, and it makes me want to knock the smug bastard's teeth out of his head.

At least he's a socially inept moron with a stupid-sounding voice, so the cosmic joke is on him.

Re:Look at yourselves in the mirror. You do it. (1)

wurp (51446) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640098)

I agree with you that getting a sense of superiority because you caught someone else's mistake is itself a mistake. Discounting someone's argument because they made an error unrelated to the relevance or efficacy of the argument is likewise a mistake.

However, when someone points out an error and you take it as an insult, you are doing exactly what this research is telling you not to do. The *point* is that we need a willingness to make mistakes *and a willingness to learn from them*.

If you're unwilling to make mistakes, you're stodgy and won't grow. If you're unwilling to learn from them, you're foolish and won't grow.

Unfortunately... (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639420)

While it might be true that "we do not err out of laziness, stupidity, or evil intent", it is definitely also the case that laziness can and does lead to ignoring procedural correctness that would have caught error, stupidity can and does delay the recognition of error until it has had time to balloon into something more serious, and evil intent can cause the willfull application of anything that laziness or stupidity would lead to; but carried on much more intelligently(and thus dangerously). Not to mention, of course, that little class of statements we know as "lies", which are essentially calculated to cause errors in those receiving them.

Obviously, in a trivial sense, nobody wakes up in the morning and says "Gosh, I sure do feel like really fucking up today!"; but some people take measures that reduce the probability of error(and, where possible, measure it) and others do not. Just because virtually all human reasoning, outside of (some) math and syllogisms, is inductive does not imply that all human reasoning is on equally firm ground. In fact, given that deductive logic is useful pretty much only in certain types of math and in carefully controlled toy situations, the ability to distinguish various statements of inductive logic by quality or probability is probably the most vital aspect of epistemology as an applied science...

Re:Unfortunately... (1)

Inda (580031) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639934)

You say that but a guy I work with had never been involved with a court case in all his twenty years in project management. One day, he woke up and said "I'm going to miss a step, fuck this up and see where it leads" just to gain the experience. It does happen.

I'm forever "being wrong". I often make an untrue statement to see if I'm corrected or if I'm fishing for information. Yes, I am that cunt.

Probabilistically true (1)

thijsh (910751) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639448)

So, it is possibly false... In my opinion it's the best working model you can come up with. I have yet to encounter anything that isn't "possibly false"... There is no such thing as an absolute truth, it only exists if you blind yourself to all other truths. But since humans are apparently built to account for the possibility of failure there should be no problem with a 'good enough' truth...

It only raises one important question: Why are people fighting, kicking and screaming, every step of the way when their absolute truths appear to be probabilistically (or even provably) false in hindsight? It should be expected, right???

Re:Probabilistically true (4, Funny)

Scholasticus (567646) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639634)

"There is no such thing as an absolute truth."

Is the above statement absolutely true?

Re:Probabilistically true (1)

thijsh (910751) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639688)

Absolutely! It's probabilistically true... :)

Re:Probabilistically true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639758)

Truth is in the eye of the believer

already a platitude (3, Funny)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639450)

To #ERR is human, to forgive divine.

Re:already a platitude (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639564)

To divide with zero results in an error.

O yeah? Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639452)

I've only been wrong once; when I thought I was wrong for the first time, but I was actually right.

"We can take seriously the proposition (4, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639464)

that we could be in error, without deeming ourselves idiotic or unworthy."

i guess Schulz has never read a comment board

Re:"We can take seriously the proposition (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639590)

Probably doesn't even own a computer. Or watch TV or well interact with anybody at all. Fox is in and of itself evidence that there's a huge market for entertainment of morons and idiots.

Oh Baby! (3, Funny)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639468)

If loving you is wrong, I don't want to be right!

It Makes Sense! (3, Funny)

Rie Beam (632299) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639470)

So that's why I feel smarter after staying at a Holiday Inn.

This is something I've observed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639476)

In people under the age of about 30 or so. Disclaimer: This is a generalization based on people with whom I work.

There is a noticable inability to acknowledge errors on the part of young people - especially those in their teens and twenties. If there's one thing they're good at it's denying and shifting blame. Rarely do you I screwed that up... what can we do to fix it? They either act as if the error didn't occur - try to make it your fault - or deliver an eye rolling "My Bad".

Re:This is something I've observed (-1, Offtopic)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639622)

As opposed to the baby boomers that refuse to acknowledge that both baby boomer Presidents were more or less worthless. The first backed down when ever there was a challenge to his initiatives, and the second was so damned stupid that he pretty much took down the country with his inept handling of even the most basic tasks that a President can handle.

It's easy to make those sorts of generalizations, but the hard truth is that baby boomers did an embarrassing job of managing the country when they took over. If we're lucky, there may even be one left for the gen X set to manage, let alone whatever generation is coming up after that.

In Western culture, maybe (5, Interesting)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639482)

None of these conclusions make sense in an Eastern shame culture/honor culture. These conclusions, do, however, dovetail nicely with Western guilt culture. Correctly pointing out the mistakes of others can result in massive loss of face for the correctee. This will have real consequences for the finger-pointer. Publically admitting that you were wrong and redressing your errors is career suicide in many places throughout the world. I see it all the time, Westerners are shocked that their culture of "it's OK to make mistakes and it's a positive thing to admit when you are wrong" doesn't apply everywhere.

Up to a point (4, Interesting)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639522)

Look at what happens in Japan when a major mistake is make and in the west. Has anyone from BP taken accountability? Has anyone from Boeing ever laid down their jobs because they killed a couple of hundred people with their bad decision? Has any airline director every left? No.

But in Japan the higher ups DO feel that they are at fault for mistakes.

Your explenation of western attitude often becomes: A fault is nobodies fault.

Re:Up to a point (2, Interesting)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639662)

The "fault is nobody's fault" is exactly what we're talking about! Don't resign in disgrace or commit suicide, just go on like nothing has happened. What BP is doing is crass modern Western shamelessness. Why is that that BP is the first thing that pops into mind? Can we have a higher discussion without interjecting the crisis of the month?

Besides, responsibility has been taken already, so if there are any screwups, we already know who to blame: "I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis. I am the president and the buck stops with me." - Obama, May 28 2010.

Re:Up to a point (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639710)

You meant to say "Look at what happens in Japan when a major mistake is MADE and in the west".

What are you going to do now that I have pointed out that spelling error?

Re:In Western culture, maybe (3, Insightful)

justinlee37 (993373) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639578)

Culture notwithstanding, the conclusions regarding the probabilistic nature of inductive reasoning are insightful. It is important to understand that complex tasks and systems of belief are the result of trial and error; of making mistakes. Regardless of whatever superstitious or fallacious beliefs various cultures might have (and they all have them), this is an immutable fact of cognition, behavior, and psychology in general.

So I don't think it's that the conclusions don't make sense in an Eastern culture. It's simply that, as you describe it, this aspect of Eastern culture makes no sense at all to begin with. You can't do everything perfectly the first time around.

Re:In Western culture, maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639988)

Also, our science is based on inductive reasoning: out of the data the scientists try to make a general formula (which is not The Truth and can be falsified). And making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn, Pavlov's experiment is an example.

Re:In Western culture, maybe (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639664)

I see it all the time, Westerners are shocked that their culture of "it's OK to make mistakes and it's a positive thing to admit when you are wrong" doesn't apply everywhere.

Surprising really, because such thinking doesn't actually apply in the Western world either. If you make mistakes in the West--even minor ones--you will hounded out of your position by a feral media. Unless you're in a position of considerable corporate power obviously.

Re:In Western culture, maybe (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639802)

That's ok that they do that mistake. They'll learn...

Re:In Western culture, maybe (2, Insightful)

Kiaser Zohsay (20134) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639806)

Working with computers, we deal with hard facts, boolean truth values. Separating what we know from what we don't know is a large portion of this job. Therefore, being right about what you do and do not know is important.

To me personally, being right is so important that I will admit when I am wrong, so I can be right about that.

I realize that my experience is not typical. I learned reasonably early in life to put little stock in other peoples opinions of me and my actions, largely because the opinions of others are non-deterministic with respect to my actions. I did not realize it at the time, but by doing so I freed myself from the burden of lifelong guilt and shame. Over the last couple of years, I have been able to see the difference that this freedom has made in my point of view, and it really is astounding.

The stigma of mistakes in Eastern culture is not absent from Western culture, just more subtle.

this kind of thinking is insulting (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640082)

it is kind of insulting to talk of eastern culture as this "shame culture/ honor culture", or a western "guilt" culture

it implies there is no shame/ honor in the west, and no guilt in the east. it also implies motivations in the east, or west, can be understood with simplistic facile concepts

what your words above really say is that some people, yourself, are simpleminded: that you buy into overly broad brushstrokes, surface level pop psychology ideas about other groups of people you know little about

i don't know how many stupid movies or bad television shows i've seen with an exotic "oriental" plotline where the sudden shock twist that the guest character feels shame, because he's chinese/ japanese. i can only guess in japan or china they have exotic western guest stars in television serials where the shocking plot twist is that the character is burdened with catholic guilt. pffffffft

this whole notion of shame/ honor in the east, or guilt in the west, as if those concepts don't motivate people in the west/ east, as if everyone in the east/ west were one dimensional stock hollywood characters, is stereotyping, plain and simple. it does not expand your mind to think in these ways about other cultures, it stultifies your mind and REDUCES your ability to understand other people in other cultures, to trade in puerile ideas about whole groups of people

guess what: we're all human beings. cultural differences are shallow surface level conceits, not deep mystical differences. there are no deep mystical differences. we all sit on the toilet in the morning, and we all laugh at bad jokes

stop with the shallow exoticizing of peoples and places you barely know

failzo8s (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639496)

Erosi0n of user FrreBSD went out Empire in decline, are there? Oh,

Correction is a good thing (1)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639592)

I'm almost always open to the possibility that I'm wrong on any subject. The way I look at it is if I'm wrong about something, and someone has given me the correct information, I'm better off for it.

Proof of Charlie Brown's superiority.... (3, Insightful)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639594)

...for Lucy is never wrong. (There is some kind of circular logic there...pumpkin-shaped, possibly.)

Just because.. (-1, Offtopic)

matthiasvegh (1800634) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639596)

The fact that IP is unreliable, doesn't mean we should accept TCP to be unreliable..

Republicans always said Bush was smart (2, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639636)

and they were right, just look at how many times he was wrong!

And now... (1)

JasoninKS (1783390) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639716)

Now we just need to get some people to realize that they aren't always right! After that we can move to those that feel their belief is the only correct one. (Phelps clan, I'm looking at you...) Seriously though, it seems like a good number of the problems we "suffer" is due to people not wanting to admit they may be wrong.

False claims - The key to knowledge. (2, Interesting)

Per Wigren (5315) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639798)

Often, the only way to get answers to your questions on the internet is to claim things about the subject you know are wrong. Then heaps of people will jump on you to tell you what is correct.

Heuristics (2, Interesting)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639842)

Shulz is precise, just not quite accurate in her descriptions, assertions and conclusions.

It's not (just) inductive reasoning that produces the humans' results, it's heuristics. We create the fastest good enough result rather than the best possible result more slowly. The former proved conclusions that are correct enough but very fast, which evolution favors over slower but more accurate decision making. You can be right as god, but if you get ate you're just very right poop.

Heuristics works in all directions, top-down, bottom-up and side-to-side. Inductive, deductive and all the rest is labels we developed much later to try to describe what we could figure out about what's really going on in our heads. We can do those things because they're all part of how we work, but on the fly we never work in only one direction. Heuristics develops chains of thought according to associations, and so can fill in the chain (more often, the tree)

There are some things that defy logical reasoning, such as language. We can use reasoning to figure out how to talk about the arrangement in memory of the items we can recall and so talk about, but learning to communicate happens far faster than learning can account for. Hence "generative grammar" and the utterly arbitrary nature of language production. Such things are predetermined in the way of species specific behaviors. We are genetically predisposed for these, and no logic could possibly keep up. This could be hardwired heuristics, though nobody can prove that as yet, but it certainly acts like it.

So, heuristics, not induction, plus hardwired exceptions. Thus, we're never right, but we're right enough (to varying degrees) fast enough to survive.

Top Shulz's cake with that frosting, and her precision becomes accurate also when it comes to our (neuroscientists) present best picture of how we think.

It's not in the article above, but thinking that's always completely right has the major failing of being unable to produce novel responses. Heuristics allow the adaptability which novel situations require (another ability favored by evolution as well as Dr. Chandra), and which allows for creativity.

Sounds like a very good book. Adequately correct too. Must have been written heuristically.

To engineer is human: the role of failure in succe (1)

Rich Klein (699591) | more than 3 years ago | (#32639900)

As NoMeansNo would say. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32639916)

Be Strong Be Wrong.

Tell it to the Army (1)

Hasai (131313) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640004)

Once upon a time the U.S. Army brass came up with a policy called 'No mistakes, no excuses.'

'No excuses' we could understand, but 'no mistakes?' On a battlefield? What stupid little Ivy League wonk came up with this idiocy?

So, we all became liars.

To Err is Human - To Forgive Is Divine (1)

Forget4it (530598) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640130)

This was news back in 2005 Practical Application of Optical Illusions: errare humanum est. []

As a failing peculiar to animate visual systems, visual illusions might be used to distinguish humans from "computer bots" ... This approach inverts, and complements, the logic of the Turing test: not requiring evidence of an intelligent capacity equivalent to that of human beings, but rather that of a characteristic human failing.

Evil Intent (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 3 years ago | (#32640176)

"Once we recognize that we do not err out of laziness, stupidity, or evil intent, we can liberate ourselves from the impossible burden of trying to be permanently right."

This is almost too self-referential, but the fact that most mistakes are honest does not mean that all mistakes are honest. That would be an error of inductive reasoning. And in fact that inductive reasoning (assumption of honesty/ fair play/ empathy) is exactly the vulnerability that makes sociopath-type behavior rewarding. It is, in short, the reward behind the "defect" option in your Prisoner's Dilemma game.

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