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The Relativity of Wrong

January 5, 2011

The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.

– Isaac Asimov

This is one of my favorite quotes, so I like to share it now and again… the essay it comes from is really wonderful too, and worth a read, so here it is.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2011 11:54 am

    A lesson we could all do well to learn better. Reminds me of another (while we are revealing ourselves to be sci-fi geeks): “[Y]ou’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”

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  2. January 5, 2011 12:49 pm

    I personally do not like this way of thinking. By which I mean the gradation of wrong. When does it end, is it always applicable? Is math absolute? Is the acceleration of gravity not always 32 feet per second per second?

    You can find ways around anything really, but I personally enjoy the comfort of absolutes. I understand the point Asimov is trying to make, and am fully aware of the almost comical intelligence this man possessed; I just don’t have a problem saying that the world being flat is plain wrong; I don’t feel the need to clarify how it is perceived.

    Having said that, in terms of social issues (politics, religion, war, economy, etc.) I can definitely see your point.

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    • January 5, 2011 12:58 pm

      I think the point he’s trying to make is that we’re always wrong, especially in science. Thinking that the world is flat is wrong, but understandable for people who lived out their existence in basically one place without knowledge of the earth’s curve. That said, saying the earth is a globe is wrong too, just not nearly as wrong as saying it’s flat.

      The acceleration of gravity may not be 32 feet per second per second, it could be 32.9999995 feet, so 32 feet is wrong, but not nearly as wrong as 76 feet.

      What I take from it is that once we have evidence that we’re wrong we should move on and, after studying it, accept what the new evidence suggests; but we should also expect our new theory to be wrong as well – just not as wrong as the last one.

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  3. January 5, 2011 1:05 pm

    I have a problem with the “but.” They were right for all they knew; we now know they were wrong. If it turns out one day that it’s 31.99999999999 feet per second per second, then we are wrong; and that’s that.
    All anyone can know is what they are able to – don’t have the vocab here – repeat… I guess? You know what I mean. For instance, I know that since I live on the second floor, leaving the window is wrong. Not going to change there.

    edit earlier post: Meant to say Asimov’s comical *level of* intelligence; don’t want anyone thinking I was insulting a guy that smart.

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    • January 5, 2011 1:14 pm

      Asimov forgives you.

      I agree that people can be totally wrong. I’m only saying that we shouldn’t be too confident that we’re right. That said, it won’t go backwards. Creationism is wrong, evolution as we know it may not be exactly right, but just because it isn’t doesn’t mean we get to go back to creationism.

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      • January 5, 2011 2:17 pm

        Well, if this is being used to argue against Creationism… why? I don’t see a need to pander to these people with an argument that has no base in fact or science(in fact it blatantly goes against both). It would be like me saying you don’t know you can’t fly. Have you jumped off a 900 ft. building without a parachute? Then you don’t know for sure…

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  4. January 5, 2011 2:45 pm

    I don’t know for sure that I can’t fly, but I know enough about gravity and human abilities to have convinced me that I can’t and that if I do jump off a building that I’ll die. And even if we were to find out that gravity doesn’t work the way we thought, it wouldn’t mean that I would go back and say – wow, maybe I can fly after all. Thinking I can fly is MORE wrong about the nature of gravity than just being mistaken about the force of acceleration. That’s my point, creationists are completely wrong about science, but evolution probably isn’t exactly “right” either. But when deciding which one to go with, you have to rationally pick evolution because it’s verifiably WAY closer to what the truth about how humans got here is than creationism.

    To be honest, I don’t even know if we’re disagreeing here…

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