Right answers for wrong reasons

Sometimes it’s possible to be right and wrong at the same time.

For most of us, either because we’re lazy or because we don’t know any better, if our line of thinking leads us to a correct conclusion, then we’ll assume the line of thinking must have been pretty much right. Getting the right conclusion gives us permission to believe that we know what we’re doing.

In reality, though, that’s not how it works.

A bad line of reasoning can lead us to the correct conclusion without ceasing to be bad reasoning. The examples of this are so overwhelmingly numerous that I wouldn’t even know where to begin picking them out.

It’s better to think things through correctly and get something wrong, and take it as an opportunity to learn and fine-tune, than it is to get lucky and reach an answer that’s basically correct and take it as a sign that nothing needs to change in the way we think.

Reaching true (or workable) conclusions by false reasoning is efficient, and sufficiently effective for most of us most of the time. If that’s the goal, then there’s no need to overcomplicate things.

But if we care about the truth, really care about it, as a lifelong, persistent pursuit, then the sooner we can root out such a mentality, the better.

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