Why is it so hard to admit when we’re wrong?

“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

–George Orwell (1946)

“A great nation is like a great man:

When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.

Having realized it, he admits it.

Having admitted it, he corrects it.

He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.”

–Lao Tzu

These two quotes are epigrams from a book that attempts to answer the question stated in this post’s title. I first read the book a year ago, and just finished re-reading it. Many books diminish on the second read, but not this one. In this blog I’m exploring a variety of topics related to creativity, discovery, and curiosity, and I think that a big part of ‘learning how to learn’ involves learning how our minds tend to go wrong and what we can do about it.

The quotes above might lead you to think that the book is all about politics and the decisions of leaders, but it’s much broader than that. The title is Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Though written in a popular style, it’s based on wide-ranging research in cognitive and social psychology. It will change how you look at yourself and others.

More about it next time. For now, just a question: why is what Orwell describes so common while what Lao Tzu describes so rare? And is Orwell exaggerating when he says we’re all capable of believing things we know to be untrue?

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2 thoughts on “Why is it so hard to admit when we’re wrong?

    1. thecuriouspeople Post author

      Yes, confirmation bias is a big problem – that’s a concept that needs to be better known (good idea to blog about it, by the way). The book I’m referring to talks about it in the context of a lot of research that’s been done over the years on cognitive dissonance.

      Reply

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