Thursday, July 15, 2021

Relish your mistakes

Many people have a fear of making mistakes. This fear can lead to an unrealistic demand for perfection in themselves and other people. While it is true that some mistakes can lead to a harmful consequence, and should be avoided (if possible), we are only human and we must accept that we are imperfect. Still, most mistakes don’t sit in this category. Everyday mistakes in reasoning don’t usually lead to immediate harm. These are the mistakes I relish. Why? Because they help me learn. 

I have always said that we should follow arguments to their conclusions, no matter whether we like or dislike those conclusions. But sometimes an argument yields a conclusion that appears absurd. In such a case we may have made a false assumption - a mistake in the initial premises. Discovering this mistake is a joy because it allows us to look more carefully at why, exactly, we held that premise to be true. We can then either abandon the premise or refine it as needed.

In some cases we may find that our premises are good. In this case we must take a closer look at the bizarre conclusion and try to understand why we think it is false. Accepting the conclusion may require us to jettison some other beliefs. This is something in which I take great pleasure. To learn that I have been carrying false beliefs is, to me, a great good and something to celebrate. 

So, please do not fear the discovery of mistakes in your reasoning. Mistakes can help us examine our beliefs. They help us learn how to examine our lives. After all, the unexamined life is not worth living. 

- Socrates