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Sarah Malaya's picture

Less Wrong Vs. Failing Better

I agree with Megan that there is a distinct similarity between the scientific notion of “getting it less wrong” and the literary notion of “failing better”. In both instances one tries to improve on his or her hypothesis/story of an account. The major difference lies in what each account represents. While a literary story most often deals with ones own feelings that he or she has a direct experience of, science deals (unless it involves the human nervous system) with the analysis of something completely outside the analyzers personal experience.

I feel that this distinction dictates the way in which we view the scientific hypothesis or literary story. It seems that individuals are more likely to accept a stories revision as “failing better”, than accept a new scientific hypothesis as getting it less wrong, and that this distinction is a product of how closely the hypothesis or story is related to our personal experience with subject matter. When we attempt to describe something we fully experience (personal feelings), it is much easier to label it “wrong” or “incomplete” than something we only experience as a witness (electricity).

On the other hand, it seems that when we are analyzing scientific assertions in which we have absolutely no personal experience with, such as the creation theory, we tend to be the most skeptical. Ultimately, I feel it is interesting to find ourselves most sure about the things we know very little about, and most skeptical about the things in which we know most about or least about. I guess it goes to show how context can really skew our opinion, and is something that we all must be aware of if we are to be true scientists.

As for the reading, I felt that Mayr was far too focused on getting his assertions correct than less wrong. In other words, he spoke as if the evidence found to support a theory about evolution in fact made that theory true. While his hypotheses may be the most logical or even the most probable explanations, they are not necessarily correct. Biologists, as well as other scientists tend to take the most probable as the ‘correct’ answer, when, in fact, it is only the ‘best’ answer. A specific scientific example is the law of parsimony when using genetics to analyze phylogeny, which states that the evolutionary tree with the least mutations (most probable situation) is the correct one. I also feel that his writing style (his view is correct instead of less wrong) is a product of academia’s need to argue ones hypotheses as best as possible, leaving as little room for debate as possible.

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