What Can You Learn From a Murderer?

I’ve just spent an hour playing Cluedo with my children (it felt much longer).

Admit it, you’ve played it, the detective game.  The idea is to work out who committed a murder, where they did it and how.

  • I think it was Miss Scarlet in the Hall with the Lead Pipe
  • I think it was Reverend Green with the Rope in the Library

Players take it in turns to make a guess, then their opponents prove them wrong by sharing some of their evidence.  Remember it?

It is a powerful idea

Create a hypothesis, then look for evidence that proves you wrong.  Every time you find some you learn something.  The person who learns the who, where and what first wins.

And that in a nutshell is the only way we truly learn anything new.

But we don’t learn

We look for evidence that supports our hypotheses and ideas and ignore the evidence that challenges them.  We look for things that confirm our beliefs:

  • The MMR jab causes autism, because some children start to show the signs of autism after the jab
  • The longer the call the better the customer service, because my Aunt Flo had great service when she talked to somebody for an hour and a half
  • The world is flat because, it erh… looks flat, and isn’t it obvious?

So if you really want to learn something

Look for evidence that proves you are wrong, not that proves you right.

Mind you, that Miss Scarlet does look a bit suspicious, or is that just wishful thinking?

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  1. This was one of my favorite lessons of philosophy class in college. Excellent share!

  2. Hello James,

    Being someone who has somewhat of an avid interest in philosophy, I am reminded of Karl Popper and his take on things. Especially his doctrine of falsifiability. What I have found fascinating is this:

    a. Almost nobody seeks to prove his pet hypothesis or ideology to the test by seeking evidence that indicates-shows that the hypothesis-ideology is false; and

    b. When I have asked people to take Popper’s approach (which is the one that you are suggesting here) I have been met with incredulity and/or hostility.

    On the other hand, when we are faced with the hypothesis-ideology of an opponent then the taken for granted, default, practice is to strive to prove one’s opponent wrong.

    If we were to embrace the philosophical principle of charity then we would seek to really listen to the other, strive for a rational-charitable interpretation of what the other’s position is. That is to say we would not dismiss the other and his position. We would start with the stand that there is something of value in the other’s position and seek to find that value.

    All the best,

  3. James,
    You wrote ‘We look for evidence that supports our hypotheses and ideas and ignore the evidence that challenges them.’ I wonder if we have an intrinsic aversion to being wrong and, if so, why is that?


    • James Lawther says:

      I don’t know Adrian, though I think you are right and we do

      Maybe it has something to do with self esteem?

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