What do you feel when you discover that your reasoning is flawed? when you find your recurring mistakes? when you find that you have been doing something wrong for quite a long time?

Many people feel bad. For example, here is a quote from a recent article on LessWrong:

By depicting the self as always flawed, and portraying the aspiring rationalist's job as seeking to find the flaws, the virtue of perfectionism is framed negatively, and is bound to result in negative reinforcement. Finding a flaw feels bad, and in many people that creates ugh fields around actually doing that search, as reported by participants at the Meetup.

But actually, when you find a serious flaw of yours, you should usually jump for joy. Here's why.

If you are an ambitious person, you have likely exhausted all the easy ways to improve your performance known to you; all the shortcuts, all the low-hanging fruits. If not, what are you waiting for? So, what's left for you is the hard ways, which require a lot of effort for relatively small improvements. Think harder, work harder, have more willpower, be more restless, et cetera. Such improvements are neither easy nor fast.

Now, suppose that you have found a serious flaw in your reasoning. 

What has happened, actually?

Firstly, you have lost nothing. All your achievements are still with you; as well as all your abilities; as well as anything else. However, one possibility is that your predictions about the future may become worse; maybe, you have just noticed that your road is leading to the abyss. But I'm talking here about noticing biases, errors and flaws that you have had for a long time, and such biases are unlikely to have irreversible forthcoming consequences. For example, if you have had a biased estimate of radioactivity effects on health and have gotten a dose -- that's an unpleasant bias to find, indeed. But most long-term biases aren't that malicious.

Secondly, now you have an opportunity to fix it. Whatever you achieved before, you achieved while being impaired by the flaw. And now, when the bias is eliminated, you can do even better. Fixing a bias might require some effort, but usually way less effort than your default hard ways of improvement. Or maybe you just got rid of some risk which could hit you in the future -- that's good too.

When I find a flaw or a recurring mistake of mine, I imagine how my life will be improved after I eliminate it. That feels good, certainly.


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9 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:26 PM

Yep. I usually phrase it along the lines of "Having been proven wrong is much more useful than having been proven right".

Given that I am wrong, I would prefer being proven wrong to not being proven wrong. However, given a wrongness of unknown status, I would prefer not being proven wrong to being proven wrong.

I can't say I always find that to be true for myself. There are truths that I wish weren't true, and when I find that I was merely being overly pessimistic, that's usually a good thing. Even though I want my beliefs to reflect reality, that doesn't stop me from sometimes wishing certain beliefs I have weren't true, even if I still think that they are. It's possible that being wrong can be a good thing in and of itself, completely separate from it being good to find out that you're wrong, if you're wrong.

Given that I am wrong, I would prefer being proven wrong to not being proven wrong.

Yours is probably the central case, but "prove me wrong" and "I hope I'm wrong" aren't unheard-of sentiments. For example, a doctor giving a grim diagnosis. I think this can only (?) happen when the (perceived) value on the object level outweighs concerns about ego.

Isn't all wrongness, from the perspective of the person to be proven wrong or not, of unknown status?

I usually have a negative reaction at first.

Then, at some later time, I find myself looking back at those times with a sense of pride.

A flaw shifts priorities from the next thing you'd do to fixing the thing that failed, but not if fixing the flaw is too hard or makes no difference. If the issue we found is easy to fix and fixing it provides a significant improvement, we are lucky. We should share such luck by filing bug reports. Conversely, finding no flaw is a disappointment.

First, thanks for responding to my post with your own post, glad my ideas were inspiring and also deserved this sort of enrichment and expansion. Glad you created a separate post, as opposed to simply responding to mine, as the topic deserves its own treatment.

So my response is that I fully agree that it's really beneficial to orient toward getting warm fuzzies from discovering one's own mistakes. That's why in my post I suggested replacing the rationality virtue of Perfectionism with Improvement. Orienting toward improvement, for me and for others, has proven very useful for feeling positive about discovering flaws and updating beliefs. Instead of seeing flaws simply as bad things, I see them as opportunities for improvement. This positive framing is really helpful for feeling good about looking for "opportunities for improvement" instead of flaws, and thus getting the positive reinforcement working to help improve.

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