things I’ve Been Wrong About

This page is a rough start at listing everything I’ve been wrong about. It’s based on my own memory, so no doubt it contains many omissions. I will add to it over time as more things come to mind, and maybe I’ll even solicit friends for more incidents.

It raises the interesting question: what will I be wrong about next? What might I be wrong about right now?

And that connects to a lot of thoughts I’ve had while playing several thousand games of minesweeper, about what it means to know there isn’t a mine at a given location (how do we separate chance luck with genuinely reliable conclusions?). As with most of what I write, I haven’t really bothered to re-read it, and it remains feeling incomplete.

  • In high school I came across Barry Setterfield, an astronomer who was presenting some kind of alternative cosmology, which excited me because dark matter, dark energy, and inflationary theory all bothered me tremendously. (I’ve since grown more accepting of dark energy, but still strongly suspect that dark matter and inflation are both ad hoc additions to the big bang + general relativity model.)
  • As far as I can remember I’ve always been fairly conscientious of sexism and racism, but for most of my life it has remained a very shallow understanding, and even now I don’t think I can ever fully empathize with anyone who lives those problems. But watching the movie Confirmation sometime in 2016 really opened my eyes to just how strange a problem sexism is, that roughly half the population is hyper aware of it and the other half is either almost entirely oblivious to it, or worse, they don’t even think the problem is a problem, and they contribute to it directly.
  • A similar transformation occurred several years ago with racism, when I read Shuffling feet: a black man’s view on Schroedinger’s Rapist.

I need to be more aware of the things I’ve been wrong about. It would be interesting to really study the phenomenon of being wrong. Learn to recognize better when you’re making a bad argument, or talking about things you don’t know about.

  • I argued with Stefan once about how much of Avatar was computer generated. I had assumed it was all computer generated, because I honestly thought the stuff with people looks like it’s been rendered again. But he was right, there was a lot of non-computer generated footage.
  • I used to argue with Corey a lot and he would say, “you’re not listening” or similar things, and I think I’ve come to appreciate his position more. 
  • The first few times I smoked marijuana I expressed concern that smoking is bad for you, and my friend said, “it doesn’t cause problems like cigarettes do”. And for some reason that was enough for me to think that was okay. Later I would see some studies claiming marijuana wasn’t causing the same problems as cigarettes, but I’ve long been skeptical, and just logically it seems likely both are similar. I did once see something claiming marijuana is worse because there is no filter. And something else that I think showed long-term marijuana users actually had increased lung capacity, versus long term tobacco smokers who have decreased lung capacity. (And a speculation that it was because smoking pot often involves holding it in, whereas smoking cigarettes does not.)
  • When Matt told me about drafting in bicycle racing, my immediate thought was that it couldn’t possibly make sense that both riders benefit, but as we discussed it a little more I began to understand how it could be the case. This might be a useful analogy for explaining non-zero-sum games: where both parties can benefit. Conservative versus non-conservative vector fields might be worth touching on too. That just reminded me of the concept of super rational players in games too, and the following example, though I can’t recall where I read it, I want to say Martin Gardner wrote it? Imagine a madman mails 20 envelopes to 20 random people, each with a letter saying that if one and only one person sends him a return letter, he’ll reward them with 20 million dollars. They know there are 19 other people who received the letter, but they don’t have any way to reach them. What is their best strategy for maximizing their chance of reward? The answer is, you pick a number between 1 and 20, and then you roll a 20-sided die, and if the die matches the number you picked, you send the return letter. If all 20 people do this, they each have a 1-in-20 chance of sending a return letter, and the expected value is 1. (Long digression I suppose?)
  • When Matt told me the Moon was getting further from the Earth, I again thought, how can that possibly be? I’m not sure if I said it made no sense or wasn’t possible, I’d like to think I said I don’t know how that could work, but I was probably quite a bit more skeptical than that. Later I learned a lot about it. (Tidal locking!)
  • I sent Allison that video of the bear chasing the cyclist through the woods, she recognized it as fake. That was embarrassing! More recently I had kinda fallen for the alleged Megladon video. Not so much about the idea that it was a Megladon, but more so that I actually believed it was a very large shark, which is true, but not as large as stated. It wasn’t until I was going to cite it as a rediscovered species that I thought to vet the information. 
  • Shortly after we met, in an Ethics class in college (maybe two or three classes in), I was asked by the professor to interpret a chunk of text from Nietzsche, about “noble” and “slave” personalities, and I did a terrible job — I completely missed the point. Then he asked Allison and she explained her interpretation involved “heart felt” versus “head forced” personalities, which is about when I realized how completely I had failed to understood it. (This is also when I began to fall deeply in love with her.)
  • I once believed the many myths surrounding Monsanto business practices. I probably never really bought into many of the GMO fears, because I’ve always been pretty well educated in biology, and I don’t tend to fear technology.
  • I was briefly concerned about grey goo, until it dawned on me that it would have to compete with life. (Someone recently remarked that there already is grey goo, except it’s brown, called dirt.)

I’ve been concerned about climate change and global warming on and off throughout my life. Usually some degree of concern, increasing or decreasing with various new pieces of information. Though a few years ago I sort of switched to thinking that climate change is already well beyond our ability to stop it, though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to stop as much as we can as soon as we can, it’s a big problem, and it’ll just keep getting worse until we very aggressively start fighting it. I’ve come to accept that much of the biosphere is going to be destroyed in the pursuit of keeping us all alive. I also believe that we’ll likely resort to massive environmental engineering projects to keep the biosphere working in our favor. This is also the reason I so vocally promote genetic engineering and nuclear power. (This doesn’t belong on this page!)

  • I once bought into a somewhat conspiratorial view of SSRIs, and I remain apprehensive about them. I remember some website that had a long list of really gruesome deaths—usually suicide and/or homicide—committed by people who had no history of violence but began taking SSRIs shortly before to treat mild to moderate depression. It does seem that that is true to a very limited degree, long after the drugs were reevaluated and I think it was in the UK first and then the US maybe, they restricted at least some of them to be 18 or older. 
  • I may have thought the bees were in trouble at one point, for a bit, but I know I figured out pretty quickly that the bees that are in trouble are the commercial pollination operations. 
  • Early in Matt Stefan & me hanging out in high school I got in an argument with Stefan about the meaning of adjacent, and he was right and I was wrong. Particularly embarrassing considering my propensity for geometry… I think I was driving and he told me something about an adjacent street, and the argument ensued, and I was completely wrong. I might have bullied him somewhat into questioning himself too.
  • WOW this example is embarrassing. I’ve always been a bit confused about Rodney King, I knew about the beatings and the riots, but I always was confused because I thought Don King was also Rodney King, so I wondered if he was a famous boxing promoter before the beating & riots… derp.
  • I argued with Grandma about what chemotherapy was. I was under the impression it was some kind of radiation therapy. I looked it up later and realized I was wrong, but never apologized. I think I just assumed she couldn’t know what she was talking about since she felt that it was poison. (Which is true, and I knew that was true, but she didn’t appreciate that it remains the only way we know how to tackle certain problems.)
  • I think Ryan once asked who the host of Science Friday was, and I said Ira Glass. Nick caught it and pointed out Ira Glass hosts This American Life, and Ira Flatow is the host of Science Friday.
  • For some reason I feel like I say a lot of stupid stuff whenever I’m around Logan, and also around Chris H. They were always nice about correcting me. I asked some really dumb question about The Flaming Lips being at Woodstock, and Logan was like, dude, he’s not that old! And walking into a bar in Somerville once I recognized the song playing, but couldn’t think of it, and maybe suggested something, before Chris pointed out it was a Nine Inch Nails song that was extremely popular.

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