Being Wrong Never Felt so Right

Imagine that you’re chatting with your neighbor, Jim. Jim seems like a normal, rational, guy, but then he leans over and says something utterly insane. He says that Donald Trump is a [great/terrible] president (choose the one one that sounds insane to you). Or he says that global warming is [real/fake]. Or that [Republicans/Democrats] are a danger to the nation. Or that illegal immigrants are [detrimental/helpful] to society.

You know he’s wrong. You know it down to your very core. The obviousness of the truth burns with the intensity of a thousand suns. You’re right and he’s wrong. And this confidence isn’t simply based on your gut feelings. You’ve read and studied the topic thoroughly. You’ve reasoned it out from evidence, and the truth is clear. Beyond that, you’ve seen your convictions confirmed again and again, a thousand times over as you’ve gone through life. What a sad, strange mind Jim must have that it rejects the truth that is swirling all around him.

Here’s the problem: Jim is sitting across the table feeling exactly the same way you do. He knows that you’re wrong. He knows it down to his very core. The obviousness of the truth burns with the fire of a thousand suns. He sees the flaws and the biases and the blind spots that prevent you from knowing the truth that he knows. He’s certain that if you had read the stuff he’s read, and absorbed the knowledge he’s learned, then there’s no way you’d still believe the nonsense you do.

Unfortunately, “the obviousness of the truth burns with the intensity of a thousand suns” is not actually a good guide to knowing what’s actually true. Both sides feel it. If you both are feeling the exact same sensations, then how do you know you’re not the one who’s wrong?

I checked with my brain, and my brain says I'm right about everything.

It would be nice if you could just dismiss Jim as some intellectually stunted flunky with no idea what he’s talking about. Unfortunately for you, he’s a competent PhD grad with an impressive list of accomplishments, and he always seems well-informed on every issue.

How can we resolve this? One of you is wrong. How can you actually verify that your brain has not betrayed you? For someone like me this is a frightening question! I don’t want to be just another overconfidence person who walks around knowing they’re right all the time. I don’t want to feel right. I want to actually be right. I want verification! But where to start? This blog is my attempt to explore that question, and hopefully come up with some answers, or at least some hints.

As you read, please try to keep the theme in mind:

Being wrong feels exactly the same as being right.

Being wrong feels exactly the same as being right.

Being wrong feels exactly the same as being right.

 

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