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You Have No Idea How Wrong You Are

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Published on May 26, 2011

The problem with standing on the shoulders of giants is that we are liable to mistake the new horizon for the edge of the earth.

This is a talk I gave at the 2011 Nammour Symposium at Sacramento State.

There are a lot more ways to be wrong than there are ways to be right. Yet somehow, many of us think that we are probably right most of the time. Prior generations were wrong about almost everything they believed, but this does not stop our unfailing confidence that we, being so much more enlightened, have things for the most part figured out.

In this talk I give a short tour of the myriad surprising ways in which (and degrees to which) we can be wrong about even the most seemingly obvious things. This pervasive fallibility will cast doubt not only on our beliefs about matters of objective fact, but also subjective and personal matters such as our predictions about what will make us happy, what we actually believe, and what emotions we are feeling. Drawing on insights from history, psychology and philosophy, I attempt to pin down some of the reasons why we are so often and so profoundly wrong, and why our being wrong (to say nothing of our recalcitrant confidence that we are nonetheless right) is unlikely to change any time soon.

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