The Falling Drill
Summary: The Falling Drill is intended to practice being wrong in a comfortable practice environment, intended to help us handle being wrong out in the world easier and with less stress.
Tags: Small, repeatable
Purpose: The first thing you learn in martial arts is the ability to fall. The corresponding rationalist skill is the ability to realize that you are wrong. Since modern western society (and possibly most human societies) discourage admitting you’re wrong, it can help to do it repeatedly and get used to it.
Materials: A device that can connect to wikipedia. A list of partial statements such as “The population of Boston is. . .” and “the melting point of mercury is. . .” A suggested list is here, and we suggest writing the questions down on individual cards before the meetup so each person only sees one card at a time.
Announcement Text: One of the most important parts of intellectual progress is learning to change your mind. The first step of changing your mind is realizing that you were wrong about something. Today we’re going to practice that often painful realization, in a small way and in a low pressure situation. Without this skill, how can you debate an important issue or confront a challenging topic? You might argue long after it’s clear to others that you’ve lost, because admitting it feels like defeat.
The first lesson any martial artist learns is often how to fall. There are ways to make the landing easier, but they all start from the knowledge that falling isn’t the worst thing in the world.
1. Read one of the statements, then complete it as best you can. “The population of Boston is four hundred thousand.”
2. Look it up on wikipedia. If you’re wrong, then announce to the room “I was wrong about the population of Boston. It’s over six hundred thousand.”
3. Hand the questions to the next person in the circle, and the process begins again.
Notes: Some minor variations to play with: Practice saying “I don’t know” when you’re asked the question. Practice saying your answer loudly and confidently, such as “The population of Boston is four hundred thousand! Only an idiot would think it was higher than five!” It is good to know what you do not know, but it is also important to be able to back down from a strong claim. In particular, I suggest spending the most time practicing the version that you’re the least comfortable with. Harder variations involve the other participants giving fake mockery for being wrong, changing your mind, or “flip flopping.” I strongly discourage doing that the first time you run The Falling Drill with a particular group.