Sunday, November 7, 2010

Issac Asimov on The Relativity of Wrong

A link from Terrence Tao's blog (hat-tip!) sent me to this article by Issac AsimovThe Relativity of Wrong. The whole article is great, and it contains a quote I especially like and have used a time or two. I think I had forgotten the where first read it, so I'm glad to be reminded of the source. I have quoted the relevant part below, with my favorite part in bold.
The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. "If I am the wisest man," said Socrates, "it is because I alone know that I know nothing." the implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.

My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.
Good stuff. Go read it.
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