24 September 2020

Failing helps us to mature

Failing helps us to mature


Failing many times helps us to mature: topic by Norma suggested 15th May 2016


Learning from experience or from our mistakes has been a long established doctrine and belief for centuries. Indeed mistakes are a relevant source of learning and to develop our character.


There are many issues and factors at play in this topic. Sometimes it takes us a long time to discover we are making a mistake with consequences that are best avoided. We might make such mistakes because we simply don’t know what to do, we might be misinformed or maybe we misinterpret the information we have or even lack of attention. The question is whether we can apply lessons learned from a genre type of mistake to another genre type of mistake.


For example learning to check the details of a flight ticket on a web page and applying that lesson to a government document. We all agree that these are two different contexts but the only common denominator is our lack of attention to check the details. Although it might very well be the lack of clear information given by these organisations. And does it matter that the organisations concerned should make their information clear?


A more serious context is when we stick to our beliefs even when the evidence shows that we are wrong or unjustified in those beliefs.  This is very common in political conviction or anything that engages our emotions for example sports. We might believe that our football team is the best team in the country but they have never won anything. Of course, there is no legal or rational law that prohibits us from supporting our team but there is an empirical and linguistic implication in claiming our team is the best; at least without demonstrating why. The language and emotions we engage do have an influence on whether we “mature” or not.


We also have the saying, practice makes perfect. This is also a true and verified doctrine if ever there was one: sports people, musicians, and actors can easily confirm the validity of this doctrine. And this doctrine applies to all disciplines. But for this doctrine to succeed implies that we are prepared to recognise that we make mistakes and are willing to correct them and learn from them.


I would argue that the duty of a teacher or a master is not only to identify our mistakes but rather to help us learn from our mistakes maybe by showing us why we made the mistake and what we need to know to avoid future mistakes.


This idea of failing and learning from our failings is very important for the scientific method. Indeed we also have an expression in our language to reflect the scientific world: trial and error. We employ this idea of trial and error in all walks of life but in science we apply it most of all in the context of negative results and falsifiability/refutability of hypothesis.


Negative results might be a consequence of errors in our data, or errors in our experiments. In a way negative results might be due to our failure to be attentive to what we are doing. Maybe we just don’t know that certain procedures might create a bias under certain conditions but this information is already in the public domain but we failed to find the information. Negative results do not necessarily falsify a hypothesis.


Whereas we still believe our hypotheses to be true when it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt our belief is false; something like the supporter of a football club who claims the club is the best without elaborating further. Today we have expressions to describe such people, including: nutters, idiots, anti-vexxers, anti-maskers and flat Earthers.  



Best and take care



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PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 27th September: Failing helps us to mature


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