Why do we always remember the great thinkers of our time for being right? It’s more impressive that before they thought they were right, they thought they were wrong. Copernicus is remembered for proving that the planets rotate around the earth, but I think it’s more important that he grew up believing that the earth was the center of the universe and at some point he thought, “Wait…what if I’m wrong about this?” E. Donnel Thomas proved that bone marrow cells infused intravenously could repopulate the bone marrow and produce new blood cells. This is impressive, sure…but more impressive is that he once thought the task to be impossible, and at some point he thought “Maybe I should revisit the idea.” Right now the folks at the Large Hadron Collider will likely explain the origin of mass in the universe. Once they do, that’s what they will be remembered for…I’m going to remember them for being the ones to ask, “You know, what if there is a reason for mass in the universe?”
These thinkers were great because they overcame deeply-held paradigms, but at some point of each of these peoples’ lives they had to think, “Wait a second…maybe I’m wrong about this. Let’s see…” and they proved that they were wrong…even thought most people see them as proving themselves right. What they were actually doing is proving their original paradigms wrong.
The scientific ones often get the spotlight, but these kinds of “I think I’m wrong” discoveries happen all the time in every field. Gardner was trained in pedagogy to believe in an idea of absolute intelligence and believed it, but then thought “What if I’m wrong about this? What if there’s more than one way to measure intelligence?” and mapped out seven groundbreaking ways of measuring intelligence…because he sought to prove himself wrong.
The ability to prove oneself wrong is one of the most important signs of intelligence. Think of the state the world would be in if the Greeks had never moved past the notion that the earth was flat…or if our founding fathers had believed that taxation without representation was fine…or if our parents’ generation had accepted their parents’ generation’s idea that inter-ratial marriage was immoral. Every great movement in history has started with someone thinking, “What if I’m wrong about this?”
Try it today.
Think of something you believe and consider, “What if I’m wrong about it?”
You might not think you are…but think of what an exciting breakthrough you could have if you were!