Lord Kelvin and Being Usefully Wrong

There is nothing wrong with being wrong, only with being wrong for the wrong reasons. Some of the smartest investors, entrepreneurs and scientists get things badly wrong, but the hallmark of brilliance is how quickly they realize their error, as well as what can be learned from the thinking process that got them there.

Consider this great example from Lord Kevin:

Kelvin did not believe that heavier-than-air flying machines were possible and he regarded X-rays as a hoax. Kelvin’s ingenuity was manifested even in cases where his overall predictions were wrong. He gave a lecture on the state of physics at the turn of the twentieth century, and – not unlike Hilbert’s famous lectures in mathematics – claimed that physics was nearly complete and all problems would soon be settled. He mentioned, however, “two clouds on the horizon,” the unexpected behavior of ether in the Michelson-Morley experiment and the problem of the spectrum of the black body radiation. His genius as a physicist was manifested by the fact that of all the scores of open problems in physics present at the time (as there always are), he pinpointed the two problems that subsequently led to revolutions: the ether problem led to relativity, and black body radiation to quantum theory.

[via Gil]

We should all aspire to be so usefully wrong.

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