Are There Advantages To Error?

We excel at acknowledging other people’s errors but most of us haven’t even mastered the basic skill of acknowledging our errors. Most of us can’t say, “I was wrong.” In fact, all conflicts in the world—from conflicts over the last slice to conflict in the Middle East— arise from our inability to say, “I was wrong.”

This, of course, is bad, given the simplicity of the phrase, the ubiquity of error, and the tremendous public service that acknowledging it can provide.

Why Do We Always Have To Be Right?

Being right is imperative for our survival. It’s gratifying for our ego, and it’s one of life’s cheapest and keenest satisfactions.

The Advantages Of Being Wrong

Being wrong isn’t just what we do. It’s who we are. Error leads to success, creation, innovation and insight. And, eliminating it leads to ignorance and close-mindedness. In fact, its wrongness, not rightness, that teaches us life lessons. The right answers come from mistakes. As Augustine wrote, “Fallor ergo sum” (I err, therefore I am).

In fact, I have a deeper satisfaction when I’m wrong than when I’m right. Being wrong breaks my model of the world. This gives me new perspectives and opens new doors. It cures boredom and motivates me to go deeper in. In fact, these are what I call epiphanies. If I go through a week without at least one epiphanies, I get a little sad. An epiphany is a chance to learn something extremely new, it breaks my model of the world. In short, erring is an opportunity to rethink our position and to rethink our beliefs.

Error isn’t darkness. It shines its own light. It illuminates. It’s not an obstacle in the path towards truth. It is the path towards truth! Error is vital. It reveals the truth rather than obscuring it. It’s the hallmark of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.

The word “er” used to mean “to move,” “to set in motion,” or simply “to go.” That root gave rise to the Latin verb errare which means “to wander” or “to roam.” From the beginning, the idea of error contained a sense of motion: of wandering, seeking and going astray.

Roger Bacon’s Four Offendicula

To Bacon, we err because of four reasons. He called them offendicula —which are impediments or obstacles to the truth. We err because of:

  1. The tendency to cover up our ignorance with the pretense of knowledge.
  2. The persuasive power of authority. This is a false doctrine that’s propagated by religious, scientific, or philosophical authorities.
  3. The blind adherence to custom —which includes the tendency to distrust or dismiss all peoples and beliefs foreign to our own clan.
  4. The influence of popular opinion —which includes the misleading effects of language and rhetoric.

In Conclusion

I’ll end with this quote:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” —Mark Twain

To your success,
Nikhil Mahadea