Essay:Possibility of being wrong

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The possibility of being wrong is a phenomenon with which many people have had to, sometimes reluctantly, come to terms. One wants to have the courage of one's convictions, and yet anyone who has changed ideologies must admit that he has been wrong at least once. Michael Shermer notes, "I am old enough now to have learned the hard way that there is always the possibility I could be wrong."[1] Ludwig von Mises writes, "Even the genius in drafting a world view sometimes fails to avoid contradictions and fallacious syllogisms. . . . Man is liable to error."[2] Robert Fulghum writes:

Lawyer friend made his annual summer visit last week, up from California. Traveling with two eighteen-year-old girls and a small boa constrictor. In an anemic VW van with PEACE, LOVE, LIGHT written on the side. The inside of the bus was decorated like the set for Alice In Wonderland. He's forty seven. Wife, four kids, house in the Berkeley hills, job in the city with big firm....the whole catastrophe.

I keep up with him because he's always a little ahead of the times. He's taken all the trips — and I do mean ALL the trips. A walking sociological experiment of the sixties and seventies in American culture. Civil rights, Vietnam, Hip, TA, TM, vegetarian, Zen, massage, LSD, palmistry, ten brands of yoga, macrame, psychoanalysis, backpacking, hot tubs, nudism, crystals, more religious movements than you can name, and vitamins. He's got all the equipment — blenders and pipes and grinders and bikes and jogging outfits and oils and unguents and grow lights — the works.

This year he is into simple ignorance. "It's all crap," says he. "All lies. Your senses lie to you, the president lies to you, the more you search the less you find, the more you try, the worse it gets. Ignorance is bliss. Just BE, man. Don't think or do — just BE. The WORLD is coming to an END!"

The day before he left, he jumped off a lakeside dock with his clothes on to help a kid who appeared to be in danger of drowning in the deep water. And he confessed to being in town for the National Lawyers Guild convention, since he's a member of its social justice committee.

"So, if it's all lies and crap — and ignorance is the ultimate trip — then how come...?" I say.

"Well," says he, "I might be wrong."

Pieces of sanity are found washed ashore on all kinds of beaches these days. And skepticism and realism are not the same as cynicism and pessimism. I mention it because it seems like a good bumper sticker for the eighties: "I may be wrong."


  1. Shermer, Michael. "A Skeptic's Journey". The Believing Brain. pp. 53. 
  2. von Mises, Ludwig. "The Fight Against Error". Human Action.