September 21, 2015

CHANDLER | In Defense of Not Knowing What You’re Talking About

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By SARAH CHANDLER

I sat down two minutes early for my 10:10 in a huff of barely concealed rage. Convinced that I would never figure out how long it takes for me to get from one place to another, I decided that I would just set up a lean-to on Central Campus to eliminate some of the disparity. Two minutes early. I had arrived at class two minutes early, even though I had left my dorm seven minutes later than usual. It’s moments like these that have me contemplating string theory: Could I have stumbled upon a compactified strand of extradimensional circumstances somewhere between West Campus and the Plant Science Building? This explanation seems especially plausible to me since I have absolutely no understanding of string theory and thus no evidence to contradict my hypothesis.

As my pedometer app could likely confirm (if you’re at Cornell and don’t have a pedometer app, you’re wallowing in your lack of physical fitness wrong), I probably just walked a little faster than usual to get to class on time. But the genius of human expression is often found in those little discrepancies, in the gaps between what you expect and what occurs, between what occurs and what you remember, between the person you remember and the person you are now, remembering yourself.

Does being confounded at my early arrival to class make me a genius? In a word, yes.

No, not really. Like I said, I probably walked a little bit faster, was a little bit more aggressive in marching past the cars idling at the crosswalk or just read the time wrong as I locked my door and left. But it’s so easy and exhilarating to be wrong. It is absolutely enchanting just how much can go wrong every single day. Lies can be exposed on national television. You can mix up the locations of your discussion sections. Pluto can (sort of?) be a planet again. Every day we have the opportunity to prove ourselves wrong — about ourselves, about other people, about the world, about whether we can function on four seconds of sleep.

Being wrong, about anything at all, can show that there’s more than one way to look at something, including the concept of being “wrong” itself. Often all it means is that there are perspectives left to be explored or incorporated, or that a view is incomplete or deserves more thought and attention. It detracts from a dependence on absolutes and dichotomies. Every time I’m wrong I am compelled to ask myself why. Is everyone around me a moron? Have I passed through another dimension? Is everyone playing a prank on me? The possibilities are endless. Just imagine if everyone always admitted that we were right. It would be simpler, yes, but we would have so much less to be right about. Being wrong allows us to search out new avenues of rightness.

And that, Professor, is why I didn’t answer your question “correctly,” per se. Because to answer it correctly would be to limit myself and to limit you. And I respect both of us too much to do that.

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