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Being wrong
  1. John Launer
  1. Correspondence to Dr John Launer, London Deanery, Stewart House, London WC1B 5DN, UK; jlauner{at}londondeanery.ac.uk

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I was talking yesterday with a friend from Nice in the south of France. Nice is one of my favourite holiday destinations and so I told her the places there that I liked the most—including the Chagall Museum and a picturesque part of town called the Cours Saleya. I said that I especially loved a pretty little enclosed market called ‘Le marché des enfants rouges’. I described how we had eaten a delicious meal at one of the open air restaurants there. The friend was puzzled: she had lived in Nice for many years but never been there or even heard of it. At this point my wife intervened in the conversation and said she wasn't sure the market was actually in Nice. She thought we had probably come across it somewhere else in France. Somewhat irritably, I went to fetch our Blue Guide to France, to prove I was right. Alas, I was quite wrong. The market is in Paris. It will come as no surprise if I tell you that, until I opened the guide book, I would have sworn blind it was in Nice. I would even have described in detail how I walked there from the seafront and past the Picasso Museum—which would be very odd since Paris isn't on the sea and Nice doesn't have a Picasso Museum.

In a fascinating book called Being Wrong, the US writer Kathryn Shulz examines incidents like this, and very many more.1 She describes the myriad ways in which human beings can get things wrong. She offers an encyclopaedic account of everything from mirages and optical illusions to false memories and profound beliefs in the absurd. Shulz demonstrates how almost everything we do, say and believe as human beings is accompanied by certainty, even …

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