Mistakes

“It’s the code you added sir…the reveries…it has some…”

“Mistakes…it’s the word you’re too embarrassed to use, you ought not be you’re a product of them, a trillion of them. Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool…mistake.”

This small, beautifully written dialogue is an excerpt from what has become a bit of a television obsession of mine – West World. In this scene between characters played respectively by Jeffrey Wright and Anthony Hopkins they are discussing an issue that has arisen in their place of work; an adult fantasy world in which wealthy, paying guests can inundate themselves in a recreated American wild west. Full of the classic story lines of that era: cowboys, Indians, booze and sex. People enter this world to immediately find themselves the “guests” of this life-like reality. A caveat exists though, the ‘people’ inhabiting the land ‘guests’ are visiting are not in fact real people but rather extremely advanced robotic organisms.

In lieu of rambling on about the show (something I highly recommend people watch) I wanted to take a moment to discuss the topic of mistakes. I specifically want to begin by defining what they are in my own words. It’s true, on the surface I appear to be lacking the conceptualized credentials of Mr. Hopkins character Dr. Ford. With a background rooted deep in the fields of engineering, mathematics, evolutionary biology, genetics, psychology and perhaps even anthropology he is no doubt a learned man. My experience and expertise lie rather in the field of failure. In this venture I am as clever as any tech start up genius.

Mistakes exist in various forms and are open to interpretation. Their identity has the potential to change over time. In essence they live along the same timeline as any person’s lifespan. In fact, I’d argue that they’re exactly what’s at the heart of Murphy’s Law which states – ‘anything that can happen, will happen.’ The correct and incorrect happen simultaneously and are the end result of chance and choice…probability and programming…or whatever else you’d like to call it. It’s difficult to pinpoint what state of form the correct or incorrect (mistakes) exist in but if I were to pull something out of my ass I’d say decisions that are accurate/positive in nature are like a straight line moving forward and/or upward in space; whereas mistakes are like loops that force a person either backward to the point the error occurred or even potentially further back in time.

As the mysterious doctor pointed out they are a necessity of life but to the degree and frequency of their nature they can (and do) occur….to this point I draw objection. The newly fashioned idea that mistakes happen so that we may learn is misleading. The idea of learning ‘after the fact’ is a premise that is just as guilty of inviting error into play as having no desirable concern for the outcome at all. The crippling effect of this mindset is that it gives leeway to the credence (excuse) that mistake is unavoidable, natural and should not have its validity challenged as part of the everyday experience. As someone whose failed countless times in countless ways throughout their life I believe this is a most dangerous social experiment.

Perfection is not the goal or endgame. We should not be inflexible to the variables, that which can’t be seen or is uncontrollable. What our aim should be is to encourage intense observation, open and free dialogue and the ability for development beyond todays socially acceptable standards. Explosive growth of the mind and other abilities is not the desired outcome. Any type that resembles that is a cause for concern as its potential to be metaphorically cancerous is very real. No, what I am seeking is a society built on the premise that mistakes should be a continual point of contention in that they should occupy a healthy percent of our days.

There is this fear, particularly in America, of failing and in order to cope with this we have evoked a number of responses; denial and suppression are a pair that immediately come to mind but the two most dangerous have to be acceptance and intolerance. It’s these two extremes that lead to more problems than almost any of the challenges life throws at us. My solution is simple, make it a small part of our daily routine to examine both our own mistakes as well as those of others. Make it an exercise of analysis not of pure judgement. Find out why something was done, the history before the incident and the recourse afterward. The gift of critical thinking is a present we owe to ourselves as well as to those who come after us. Ultimately because something like mistakes happen don’t mean they should be left alone…some sleeping dogs aren’t meant to lie.

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