We Can’t Make Mistakes on Purpose, So We Have to Take What We Can Get

High-wire artists Phillippe Petit says mistakes are our very best teachers.

It would be absolutely reasonable to assume that someone famous for tightrope-walking across a cable strung between the old twin Trade Center towers in New York, 1,350 feet up in the air, would hate mistakes. But it would be wrong.


  • Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Philippe Petit, the subject of the 2008 documentary Man on a Wire and the protagonist of the 2015 drama The Walk, thinks mistakes are great—though presumably not the high-wire kind. He sees each error as an opportunity for learning we wouldn’t otherwise have. “Mistakes are out best teachers,” he says.

    Of course we do our best to avoid them, and we’re inclined to view each mistake as (at least a small) failure. But that’s the wrong idea, according to Petit. He sees each mistake as a “gift.”

    Petit’s thinking is there are the things we set out to learn, and then there are the lessons we stumble over when we err—equally valuable lessons, but things that might never cross our minds if we didn’t happen to screw up just so. It’s an accidental curriculum, and it’s a great way for us to learn unexpected things that make us better—and smarter—people.

  • STF/Staff 
  • 'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

    Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

    Sponsored by Northwell Health
    • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
    • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
    • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
    Keep reading Show less

    Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

    The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

    Wikimedia Commons
    Culture & Religion
    • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
    • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
    • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
    Keep reading Show less

    Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

    We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

    Abid Katib/Getty Images
    Surprising Science
    • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
    • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
    • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
    Keep reading Show less

    Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

    An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

    Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
    Surprising Science
    • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
    • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
    • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
    Keep reading Show less