86 In praise of error

Posted on April 1, 2012 by

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“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

(Sir Ken Robinson)

           

(Bronze belt – Northwest China or south-central Inner Mongolia c.a 200 BC)

Actually I should not be writing this blog-entry. I should simply ask you to click ted.com and in particular, the speech Sir Ken Robinson gave at the 2006 TED conference[1]. It is highly amusing and entertaining, and it contains great insights about human creativity, how it works, and how it will shape our lives. It is also scathing on our educational system – not a difficult task.

On a personal basis I’d fully approve of Sir Ken’s quote, which is posted above. I’d also agree with him that our educational system instills in us “terror of error”. Much to my regret, for we can only adapt to changing life by trial and error, not by foresight (which is mostly hindsight – unless we stumble on success blindsightedly). Curiosity will bring us forward, and imagination is be-winged curiosity. “Trial and error” is the flapping of the wings sustaining us in our flights of fancy.

(When I write these blog entries, I hope someone proves me wrong – just dare to do so).

Sir ROBINSON has also written a book in 2009: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. It is a passionate book of success stories – of people who dared to follow their passion, and succeeded. Uplifting.

But is it good advice?

What we have here is “survivor bias” on a grand scale – those who survived and flourished in following their passion have come back to tell the tale in Sir ROBINSON’s book. But what were their odds?

To make a comparison: three people in the US just won half a billion US$. The odds for USA Mega Millions were 1 in 175,711,536 – I’m told. I might have an unquenchable passion for US Mega Millions – should I have mortgaged the house (or my life) to follow my passion? You be the judge.

Let’s look at the matter in a social, rather than personal, way. In an utopian world we’ll all live by our passions and succeed. But today we live in dystopia: only few will get through – the rest will founder. We may turn today’s dystopian society toward utopia (if we know how, that is). As we turn the juggernaut on a dime of hope many more will founder before the manoeuvre is complete. Does in not sound a bit like “a war to end all wars”? The road to utopia is littered with bodies of those who did not make it there.

Such is life: we may be wrong when we feel “right” and right when we are wrong. That’s why I settle for being sceptical – a fancy way for saying that I’ll practice “trial and error” in small steps.