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But What If We're Wrong?
Cover of But What If We're Wrong?
But What If We're Wrong?
Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
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New York Times bestselling author Chuck Klosterman asks questions that are profound in their simplicity: How certain are we about our understanding of gravity? How certain are we about our understanding of time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams? How seriously should we view the content of television? Are all sports destined for extinction? Is it possible that the greatest artist of our era is currently unknown (or—weirder still—widely known, but entirely disrespected)? Is it possible that we "overrate" democracy? And perhaps most disturbing, is it possible that we've reached the end of knowledge?
Klosterman visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear to those who'll perceive it as the distant past. Kinetically slingshotting through a broad spectrum of objective and subjective problems, But What If We're Wrong? is built on interviews with a variety of creative thinkers—George Saunders, David Byrne, Jonathan Lethem, Kathryn Schulz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Junot Díaz, Amanda Petrusich, Ryan Adams, Nick Bostrom, Dan Carlin, and Richard Linklater, among others—interwoven with the type of high-wire humor and nontraditional analysis only Klosterman would dare to attempt. It's a seemingly impossible achievement: a book about the things we cannot know, explained as if we did. It's about how we live now, once "now" has become "then."
From the Hardcover edition.
New York Times bestselling author Chuck Klosterman asks questions that are profound in their simplicity: How certain are we about our understanding of gravity? How certain are we about our understanding of time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams? How seriously should we view the content of television? Are all sports destined for extinction? Is it possible that the greatest artist of our era is currently unknown (or—weirder still—widely known, but entirely disrespected)? Is it possible that we "overrate" democracy? And perhaps most disturbing, is it possible that we've reached the end of knowledge?
Klosterman visualizes the contemporary world as it will appear to those who'll perceive it as the distant past. Kinetically slingshotting through a broad spectrum of objective and subjective problems, But What If We're Wrong? is built on interviews with a variety of creative thinkers—George Saunders, David Byrne, Jonathan Lethem, Kathryn Schulz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Junot Díaz, Amanda Petrusich, Ryan Adams, Nick Bostrom, Dan Carlin, and Richard Linklater, among others—interwoven with the type of high-wire humor and nontraditional analysis only Klosterman would dare to attempt. It's a seemingly impossible achievement: a book about the things we cannot know, explained as if we did. It's about how we live now, once "now" has become "then."
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

    Copyright ©2016 Chuck Klosterman

    I've spent most of my life being wrong.

    Not about everything. Just about most things.

    I mean, sometimes I get stuff right. I married the right person. I've never purchased life insurance as an investment. The first time undrafted free agent Tony Romo led a touchdown drive against the Giants on Monday Night Football, I told my roommate, "I think this guy will have a decent career." At a New Year's Eve party in 2008, I predicted Michael Jackson would unexpectedly die within the next twelve months, an anecdote I shall casually recount at every New Year's party I'll ever attend for the rest of my life. But these are the exceptions. It is far, far easier for me to catalog the various things I've been wrong about: My insistence that I would never own a cell phone. The time I wagered $100—against $1—that Barack Obama would never become president (or even receive the Democratic nomination). My three‑week obsession over the looming Y2K crisis, prompting me to hide bundles of cash, bottled water, and Oreo cookies throughout my one‑ bedroom apartment. At this point, my wrongness doesn't even surprise me. I almost anticipate it. Whenever people tell me I'm wrong about something, I might disagree with them in conversation, but—in my mind—I assume their accusation is justified, even when I'm relatively certain they're wrong, too.

    Yet these failures are small potatoes.

    These micro‑moments of wrongness are personal: I assumed the answer to something was "A," but the true answer was "B" or "C" or "D." Reasonable parties can disagree on the unknowable, and the passage of time slowly proves one party to be slightly more reasonable than the other. The stakes are low. If I'm wrong about something specific, it's (usually) my own fault, and someone else is (usually, but not totally) right.

    But what about the things we're all wrong about?

    What about ideas that are so accepted and internalized that we're not even in a position to question their fallibility? These are ideas so ingrained in the collective consciousness that it seems fool‑ hardy to even wonder if they're potentially untrue. Sometimes these seem like questions only a child would ask, since children aren't paralyzed by the pressures of consensus and common sense. It's a dissonance that creates the most unavoidable of intellectual paradoxes: When you ask smart people if they believe there are major ideas currently accepted by the culture at large that will eventually be proven false, they will say, "Well, of course. There must be. That phenomenon has been experienced by every generation who's ever lived, since the dawn of human history." Yet offer those same people a laundry list of contemporary ideas that might fit that description, and they'll be tempted to reject them all.

    It is impossible to examine questions we refuse to ask. These are the big potatoes.

    Like most people, I like to think of myself as a skeptical person. But I'm pretty much in the tank for gravity. It's the natural force most recognized as perfunctorily central to everything we under‑ stand about everything else. If an otherwise well‑executed argument contradicts the principles of gravity, the argument is inevitably altered to make sure that it does not. The fact that I'm not a physicist makes my adherence to gravity especially unyielding, since I don't know anything about gravity that wasn't told to me by someone else. My confidence in gravity is absolute, and I believe this will be true until the day I die (and if someone...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 18, 2016
    Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat) conducts a series of intriguing thought experiments in this delightful new book about how we conceive of the future. He begins with a conundrum virtually all writers contemplate at some point: why do some writers achieve literary immortality while others are totally forgotten? From there, he works through similar questions with respect to rock music and then shifts to wondering which of our established scientific principles might be replaced in the centuries to come. This is pop philosophy, but Klosterman takes it seriously enough to bring in heavyweight experts such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and George Saunders. Klosterman also considers the long-term viability of the NFL and team sports in general. He asks, supposing that the ancient Egyptians had TV, which of their TV shows would interest us most—the Egyptian Breaking Bad? He argues that we’d want the most realistic portrait of society possible, and that level of realism is only achieved unintentionally. As usual, Klosterman’s trademark humor and unique curiosity propel the reader through the book. He remains one of the most insightful critics of pop culture writing today and this is his most thought-provoking and memorable book yet.

  • Kirkus

    April 1, 2016
    An inquiry into why we'll probably be wrong about almost everything.The ever smart, witty, and curious Klosterman (I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), 2013, etc.) takes on the notion that it's "impossible to understand the world of today until today has become tomorrow." One might call that a "klosterism," and the book is full of them. It's also full of intelligence and insights, as the author gleefully turns ideas upside down to better understand them. Klosterman is currently obsessed with ideas that are so accepted we dare not dispute them--e.g., gravity. Once upon a time, Aristotle believed things didn't float away because they were in their "natural place." Then Newton came along 2,000 years later and changed the way we think. Then Einstein said gravity was really a warping of time and space. Now, scientists are trying to "rethink gravity itself." Therefore, the author posits, in the future, whenever that may be, we'll know we were wrong about whatever we thought "gravity" was back then. In each chapter, Klosterman takes on a different topic, applying "Klosterman's Razor" to it: "the philosophical belief that the best hypothesis is the one that reflexively accepts its potential wrongness to begin with." He seeks out a variety of experts to assist him. George Saunders and Franz Kafka help him sort out why future literary greats are "at the moment...either totally unknown or widely disrespected." Physicists Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Greene help him explore the concept of a multiverse universe. Others assist Klosterman in taking on the future of rock 'n' roll ("there are still things about the Beatles that can't be explained"), time, dreams, democracy, TV shows (Roseanne is an overlooked work of "genius"), and sports. Klosterman is fond of lists and predictions. Here's one: this book will become a popular book club selection because it makes readers think. Replete with lots of nifty, whimsical footnotes, this clever, speculative book challenges our beliefs with jocularity and perspicacity.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from April 15, 2016

    Best-selling author Klosterman (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; I Wear the Black Hat) provides a spin class for the brain in his latest work. Each of these connected essays examines an idea that seems unassailable, such as how gravity works, which musical artist or group most accurately defines rock and roll, the surprisingly ephemeral position of television within the history of artistic expression, and how we think of freedom and the U.S. constitution. Each proves to be a thigh-grinding uphill ride, pushing against the problem asserted by the title: that our foundational knowledge, in many cases, will inevitably change. Well researched and supported by interviews with scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson; authors Kathryn Schulz, Jonathan Lethem, and Malcolm Gladwell; singer-songwriter Ryan Adams; filmmaker Richard Linklater; and basketball star Kobe Bryant, among others, Klosterman challenges readers to reexamine the stability of basic concepts, and in doing so broadens our perspectives. VERDICT An engaging and entertaining workout for the mind led by one of today's funniest and most thought-provoking writers.--Paul Stenis, Pepperdine Univ. Lib., Malibu, CA

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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But What If We're Wrong?
Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
Chuck Klosterman
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