Great neologism, right? It is not my own, of course, but it has a delightful ring to it. It comes from a book I just finished entitled Being Wrong, authored by Kathryn Schulz. The subtitle is Adventures in the Margins of Error. It has been out for a while, and there is a lot of buzz about it. And, to be honest, I enjoyed the read.
So: wrong is joining other words that nudge us along by seeming so wrong to attach to the best of liberal education -- bewilderment, dead, glee, wrong. Really? Thoughtfulness seems obvious. It even seems right. It belongs. But wrong? Really? It seems so wrong. (Say that aloud in the right tone of voice.) And yet, it seems so right. (Even Bill Clinton agrees. Click here.)
Schulz's book is persuasive and thought-provoking. Wrong is important -- and not just as something to be avoided. It is something from which we learn. Something we need. Something that defines us. All of us. It is, she argues, part of what makes us human. (And thus more than animals in some sense.) She draws on all sorts of intellectual -- and personal -- examples to push us along. And her comments draw on authors from Aristotle to . . . . well, you know.
So, connections to liberal education? To Shimer? There seem to me several.
First, on neologisms per se. I like them -- they remind me that language grows and changes. Yes, there are rules (grammar; my own obsession with the correct use of apostrophes) but yes, things change. English is a living language. Hack no longer is principally a word for a kind of carriage. Nor, did I, in my youth, know what to google meant. [Well, there was a song from well before my time about googly eyes, but. . . . you know my point.) Neologisms build on the past and somehow link that to the new, the future. In some senses, that is what liberal education is about -- connecting us to history, but doing so in a way that imagines (and allows us to build) a future that is both like that past and challenges it. Neologisms, in some sense, face both directions -- to tradition and to invention, as do neologisms. So, too, I would argue, does the best of liberal education and the best of Shimer.
More directly, though -- how are being wrong and being educated, liberal education and Shimer connected? Let me quote from Shultz as I move to a second set of connections for us by offering a few quotations from the book. (My citatons are to the kindle edition).
The feeling of knowing something is incredibly convincing and inordinately satisfying, but it is not a very good way to gauge the accuracy of our knowledge. (kindle location 1103)
How can we square this feeling of rightness with the very real possibility that we are wrong? This is a question that haunts all of wrongology, not just errors of memory. (kindle location 1171)
By discussing confabulators and literature, memory loss and neurological dysfunction, conversion and lying, this author nudges us along to be thoughtful about ourselves -- and yes, to my mind, the role of being wrong in higher education as about cognitive, social, and emotional processes. Are we more error prone when we follow the masses? When we trust a source? Can higher education be groupthink? Or is its role to disrupt groupthink? Is error blindness a moral problem? How do we move beyond the conviction that we cannot possibly be wrong? (And how do we avoid the view that we are always wrong?) Is certainty toxic? Or is uncertainty toxic?
And a third set of reasons we may find this book of interest? Well, the book is profoundly interdisciplinary (or is it multidisciplinary? Transdisciplinary? Antidisciplinary?) In any case, it draws from a variety of intellectual arenas (and life arenas) to think through a topic (and indeed, make an argument) from a variety of angles. As it does so it addresses the complex relationships between being wrong -- moral error, factual error, dramatic changes in our belief systems, etcetera -- and various epistemologies and metaphysics. How do we know? And in what ways do we learn? Is this about multiperspectivalism -- or is it an admision that most of the things we are most interested in are not divided up into the kinds of arenas that academia uses to demarcate intellectual arenas? Hmm. Might she be right as she writes about being wrong? (She cites Montaigne. How can she be wrong?)
Finally, just a personal bit: I find it hard to be wrong. Do you? There are moments when I have been so wrong -- in various ways -- as to been challenged in a very fundamental way. And not just when the theories of religion's disappearance I learned in college and graduate school turned out to be utterly wrong. Because I have, on occasion, been utterly wrong. Have you? Is that part of what it means to be educated?
And yet, as the author of this book notes about many of us, I too enjoy the paradoxical experience of being wrong sometimes -- when it comes to optical illusions, for example. As she puts it: "emotionally, illusions are the gateway drug to humility" (kindle location 1027). Hmmm.
For some of the press on the book, though collected by the book's own website, click here. And for a video that is kind of fun, here. To buy it from indiebook.com try here. Or, try this site for some video that is not TED. Or try this bloggishness from a site with one of the best names I have seen in a while -- the accidental theologist. Or this, from an even more wonderful blog, overweening generalist, whose mission seems oh so Shimerish.