8/07/2012

Admitting You Are Wrong

By Rowdy Otto Riemer

The Monty Hall Problem

Like many, I like to get into debates on various sites. Often, especially when debating religion or politics, it seems as if those I argue with are intellectual lightweights. The errors with their arguments are often so overwhelmingly obvious that I usually find dealing with them frustrating. Perhaps they aren't all actually stupid, but at least within the context of these discussions, they are intellectually compromised. Often their problem seems to be, simply, willful ignorance. No matter how rational my arguments and the arguments of others who agree with me are, they simply refuse to admit they are wrong.

The fact that I seem so obviously right when debating these people makes me question my own objectivity. Often times, I wonder what it takes for me to admit when I’m wrong. If their inability to admit when they were wrong was a symptom of their lack of objectivity, what did it say about me that I had not found myself needing to admit I was wrong in quite a while? Not long ago, I was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to find myself having to admit that I am wrong simply to confirm that I am able and willing to. Not too long ago, I got my chance.

Recently, one of my friends made a post on Facebook discussing the Monty Hall problem. (See wikipedia for details). He said that after Monty Hall revealed one losing choice, the door the player did not choose would be twice as likely to have the prize behind it than the one the player chose. I simply could not see how this could be true. After his explanation, I went through the possibilities in my head and even on paper. I just could not see how he could be correct. I gave a detailed explanation as to why his logic was flawed. Others got in on the discussion. I decided I would simply write a program to run through various simulations and gather statistics to either prove or disprove my case.

I ended up finding statistics for an already existing program running Monty Hall Problem simulations. It gave an explanation for the results. And then it all clicked in my head. Not only was I wrong, but I was EMBARRASSINGLY WRONG! It finally made so much sense to me that I was shocked and disappointed in myself for thinking otherwise. I admitted I was wrong in the Facebook discussion, though not so gracefully. In keeping with the spirit of the light-hearted trash talking, I tried to spin things to look like I deserved a beer for admitting my mistake. But really, I deserved the embarrassment.

Afterwards, I thought about an episode of Mythbusters where Jamie Hyneman admitted he was wrong. At one time, he made a statement that two cars colliding head-on at 50 mph would be like one car hitting a brick wall at 100 mph. Fans pointed out - with simple physics - that he was wrong. Not only did Hyneman admit it, but before he did, he and Savage gave a conclusive demonstration that showed he was wrong. If someone as brilliant as Hyneman can make a simple physics mistake, and then gladly admit his mistake on television, then perhaps the rest of us should not feel ashamed to admit when we are wrong, even over something as simple as the Monty Hall problem.

It's better to admit you're wrong than to arrogantly refuse to accept your error. By refusing to accept your mistake, you're stuck in falsehood. If you can realize - and admit - you've made a mistake, then you allow yourself to grow intellectually. And humble admissions are so much less ugly than arrogant refusals.

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