Friday, October 15, 2010

Obvious vs. embarassing mistakes

As you've probably noticed, this blog has been on a bit of a hiatus. I'm going on the jobmarket this year so things have been very busy. I do have a little time now though, to note something about the relationship between two phenomena that are ubiquitous in my life :)

Not all obvious mistakes are embarrassing mistakes. Any mistake you make while adding two numbers will be an obvious mistake, but nearly everyone doing calculations makes such mistakes some fair fraction of the time, and these errors are not (intuitively) embarrassing mistakes.

further questions:
-Is being obvious once pointed out a necessary condition for being an embarrassing mistake? [edit: appropriately enough, i had originally put "sufficient" :)]
-Is the mere fact that a mistake is made with high frequency in some community sufficient to prevent it from being an embarrassing mistake? (maybe inferring the consequent is made with high frequency yet also embarrassing).
-Will trying and failing to give principled necessary and sufficient conditions for a mistake being embarrassing make one feel less embarrassed by embarrassing mistakes?

[hat tip to E.M. for suggesting this would make a cute post]

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Sharon! I just saw this. :)
    Any further insight into the embarrassing-obvious connection? Do you think that some spelling mistakes might be examples of errors that count as embarrassing (for some reason) but aren't always obvious? (So maybe they're counterexamples to the claim that "being obvious once pointed out" is a necessary condition for something counting as an embarrassing mistake?) Suppose I am a horrible speller (this doesn't take too much imagination). I repeatedly misspell 'embarrassing', and I find this embarrassing. But I make the mistake repeatedly, and my repeated offenses suggest that the spelling is still not obvious (to me) even when I am corrected by spell check. What do you think?