The educational value of false talks and presentations: TEDf

August 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dreams carry mysterious creative powers. I even wonder if we actually need dreams to open our minds, to make us aware of things and thoughts that we simply neglect or forget when awake. Sometimes the dreams are impossible for us to understand and often they are totally out of this (known) world. But they are never meaningless and can offer surprising insights like the one I had last night. I was lucky enough to remember it and share the idea from my dream. Coming from the science, technology and business world – where being right is the thing – I’m not surprised that I had to be asleep in order to get this right.

On learning the right stuff

The Internet is crowded with excellent talks, presentations, MOOCs, and other university courses that teach us how things are, what is the right or best way to think about them, what works, what is correct knowledge and stuff. We can immerse ourselves in the world of abundant videos and admire the wonderful, convincing, admirable scientists, businessmen and other thinkers who have solved difficult problems and can now offer us ever better knowledge.


TED talks are a perfect example of this flow of the good and right knowledge, sharp and original thinking, perfect solutions and their fascinated and mesmerized audiences. We learn wonderful things from the masterminds of such talks and texts, their logic and creativity and the ways to deal with complex problems. Especially we can follow their passion, exceptionally productive skills, and ability to think and solve the most intriguing and significant problems. Many seem to think now that this is the way, through the Internet we will learn in the future, by following the best brains in how they can be right in their knowing.

Dream come true and false

But this is not what my dream told me. Instead, in my dream last night, I realized how extremely valuable for a modern man it would be to closely and in detail observe how the mistaken scientists, politicians, other leaders, and artists have explained the world as they have thought about it. And how they have, nevertheless, been able to convince us or other audiences to believe and trust what they have said and shown.

Here I don’t mean the fraudulent people who just want to deceive, persuade, and manipulate us while knowing what they are doing. In my dream the main figures were the scientists, politicians, journalists and activists who seriously believed – and “knew”, just like their audiences did – that they were right and wanted the audience to understand the object of their thinking in the same, correct way. They did this by following all the best rules of logical argumentation, etiquette and style of presentation. But they were just wrong. This should not surprise us at all since we know, how the sciences continuously develop and old science truths turn into wrong or false.

What would we gain from being able to observe such erroneous presentations and moments of unjustified persuasion?

Knowing for a fact that someone has been proven wrong and being able to follow such a talk is not a common privilege. We don’t have TEDf talks (false TED talks). But with the exponentially growing number of videoed talks and discussions we are gaining more and more material where just this happens and TEDf actually becomes a possibility: we can follow in detail someone who is convinced to be right but has been proven wrong. We can even enjoy materials offered to us to know this.

It is an astonishing moment to follow such false talks and discussions. As a relatively recent example, take this video from the year 2003 on Alan Greenspan, one of the worlds most influential economists of his time, previous Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States. He admits being wrong in his assumptions – and after doing that his earlier talks acquire a totally different meaning and significance.

If we would know beforehand that a talk or an article is wrong or false we learn a number of new and valuable things. First of all, we would know – by definition – that whatever these respected masterminds claim and conclude they are wrong in some or all of their claims. More importantly, we would also know that they actually did not have the right to make us believe in what they say: they should have warned us. Further, while observing their story telling and having this pre-knowledge we could relate everything they say or argue to this knowing that they are not right. We could even follow with a different eye the way they express themselves in persuading their audiences. Knowing this true knowledge background could totally change the way we listen to them, and how we would try to understand what they say and how they say it. It is indeed educational for us to recognize this special, critical way of listening because more often than not we face such situations in today’s media.

By listening and following talks that have once been the truth but have since been proven false, we can learn the following:

We learn in detail how false or erroneous data is taken as the solid ground against which the rest of the data is then interpreted and otherwise used.

We learn how wrong or biased deductions are made and how superficially right or promising consequences are actually suggested and forcefully promoted.

We learn how the passion of the respected masterminds is reflected in the way they make their case, use the evidence and treat other alternative explanations – or people disagreeing.

We learn how the recognized masterminds behave in their style and expressions – without any doubts – when they have been offered the chance to be the representatives of “the right thing”.

We learn how we, as the audience, react to such forceful acts of knowledge communication and how we are persuaded to believe what is false. We learn from ourselves.

But of course, we would learn that the false talks, articles and presentations are already here, everyday and all over the media and our world. They argue with false and unsustainable data and evidence, trying to convince us on how things really are and making us uncomfortable that we don’t know better. But we don’t know who they are and where – yet.

We are floating on the waves of the modern and future knowledge and technology society and the pressure to advance, gain, go further, to innovate. We are forgetting how valuable it is to learn from the suggestions and claims that are simply wrong and especially to follow the most prestigious and leading actors persuading us. In science, at its best, this has not been totally forgotten but often it is buried under the not-so-sexy practice of theory-hypothesis formation and the processes of confirmation and falsification. But even there lurk the beasts of modern science pr and media visibility that invites scientists to forget the value of the false claims – or hypotheses: But we or our children will see the future videos when it is already know they are wrong.

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