Good vs. bad or right vs. wrong by Digvijay Singh

Few days ago, I was reading this article about Andy Murray. In it, the great Wilander talks about how Murray never plays a good or a bad game, he always plays a right or a wrong game. That is to say, Murray is so technically sound that he never plays bad shots but it is his game plan that determines the outcome of his matches. This makes a lot of sense, in my experience as a tennis viewer, I have never seen Andy Murray play 'bad'. He is amazingly consistent.

But it was the phrase that Wilander used that caught my attention. It can provide a very useful primer for analyzing our course of action in life, be it professional or personal. For a simple e.g. one could be trying a complicated experiment without results. No result could be due to variety of reasons :

  • Careless handling of samples (bad way).
  • Logical inconsisteny in design of the experiment (wrong way).

Another example, one could be trying a career path without much success. No success could be due to variety of reasons

  • Choice of career path not in tune with your skills (wrong way).
  • Not paying attention to the critical components of the profession (bad way).

There are four possibilities of doing anything:

  1. Good thing in a right way.
  2. Good thing in a wrong way.
  3. Bad thing in a right way.
  4. Bad thing in a wrong way.

Ofcourse, #1 is the most ideal. But I think it is #3 which can be the most dangerous, because bad (or 'not so useful ') things done in the right way will produce favourable early results and can create an illusion of success. This illusion can mask you from pursuing important and useful things. #4 is likely to be so unpleasant that you would quickly make changes/improve your techniques and plans. 

Not even wrong by Digvijay Singh

Few weeks ago, I was watching this long interview of Prof. Sydney Brenner. At one point, he used a phrase that Physicist Wolfgang Pauli used a lot. The phrase was 'Not even wrong'.  

What does it mean ? As the phrase suggests, it is used to describe a model that has an intrinsic logical fallacy or in some cases a string of loosely connected ideas which are individually not wrong but make no coherent sense in combination.  The definition I described is negative, but there are important lessons from this:

1. A wrong model is the second most useful model i.e. after a correct model. 

2. Never propose a model where you are playing too safe and conservative due to the fear of proposing a wrong model. A model too afraid to make a definitive bold statement does not advance our understanding. Ofcourse you want to be very rigorous about testing the bold statement but a 'hesistant' model is not too far from 'not even wrong' model. Or is it ?

Fundamentally all proposed modes are not completely right but some are useful and a 'hesistant' model is not even useful.

Here is a fun example of gibberish biological statements that together make no sense, but are not particularly wrong individually. It's a scene from one of my favorite movies Blade Runner.