The Generative Power of Being Wrong

Being wrong is not often glorified.  But there is great value in being wrong.  According to Daniel Dennett — American philosopher & cognitive scientist known for his research on philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of biology — “the history of philosophy is in large measure the history of very smart people making very tempting mistakes, and if you don’t know the history, you are doomed to making the same darn mistakes all over again.” 

As something with enormous generative potential, Dennett speaks of mistakes and their usefulness as an empirical tool. The power of making mistakes is that they can serve as a vehicle for (in line with Rilke’s thinking) “living the questions” and advancing knowledge in a way that certainty cannot.  Thus, claims Dennett:

Any being, any agent, who can truly say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance. – Daniel Dennett

Dennet argues that one of the hallmarks of our intelligence is our ability to remember our previous thinking and reflect on, learn from it, use it to construct future thinking.  Instead of shy away from wrong, he encourages us to celebrate our “ignorance” that produce the mistake int he first place.  He says:

So when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage. It’s not easy. The natural human reaction to making a mistake is embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than when we are angry at ourselves), and you have to work hard to overcome these emotional reactions. Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity. But that is not enough: you should actively seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them. – Daniel Dennett

To read this brainpickings article in its entirety, click here!

NOTE:  Thank you to Troy DaRonco for sharing this great article with us!  Daniel Dennett is a rock star of a philosopher! 

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