Open mindedness…

THERE is a video floating around the interweb that has proven very popular since its release; it’s called ‘Open-mindedness‘, by a chap called Doug (aka Qualia Soup).

I have forwarded this to numerous friends whom I felt may benefit from this perspective, and also to people who find themselves on the receiving end of being called ‘close minded’, essentially for banal things such as not believing in ghosts. However, in several cases now, it has been pointed out that the video has some flaws. These flaws are not so much to do with the content, but are more to do with the speed at which these potentially new concepts and argument are played out. As such, there is a risk that they may miss their mark in precisely those people who would most benefit.

For my own reference, and for some of the people who I know haven’t quite gleaned what the video is getting at, I’ve written a  para-phrased version that can be read and digested at the reader’s leisure; basically, I’m spelling it out. The core material and structure is taken directly from the video:

Open mindedness is essentially the willingness to consider new ideas.

The advancement of science depends precisely on the willingness to consider new ideas. Indeed, it requires entirely new ways of thinking.

When presented with a seemingly unexplainable phenomenon, labelling it as ‘supernatural’ based on very little evidence demonstrates a lack of curiosity. By applying a ‘supernatural’ label, people will:

  • misinterpret evidence
  • make invalid causal connections, and
  • will dismiss alternatives prematurely.

This is the definition of ‘close mindedness‘.

People who suggest that others should ‘be more open minded about the supernatural’ often accompany this with anecdotes such as, ‘well people have witnessed’.

This is a flawed approach, it in no way strengthens the case; just because it can’t be explained, doesn’t mean that it’s supernatural. All it shows is that it can’t be explained. Suggesting that something that can’t be explained has a supernatural cause is the same as saying ‘I can’t explain it, therefore I can explain it’, which is a contradiction.

It is also flawed to tell others that they can’t explain it, as they have no independent access to the event described, so are unable to see which details have been edited out.

Evidence

The idea that requiring evidence makes you close minded is a fallacy. A willingness to accept new ideas does not mean that you are willing to accept them unconditionally.

When a sceptic says ‘I don’t believe X’, they’re not saying that it isn’t true; it just means that no meaningful supporting evidence has been presented. If someone suggests an entity that is logically impossible, then in those cases you might respond with, ‘that cannot be true’, and back it up with reasons A, B and C.

It is a classic debating trick to exaggerate and therefore misrepresent another person’s position [it is called a ‘Straw man‘ argument, as it is easier to break down a misrepresented ‘dummy’ position than to tackle the real position].

If knowing that some people’s positions are different from yours causes you to lose perspective when talking to them, so that when you hear certain trigger words you start grafting inaccurately assumed attitudes onto them, you’re no longer communicating, you’re merely rehearsing your own prejudices; this is truly close-minded. [Nice]

People are often happy for other people to express scepticism when they do, but not when they don’t; for these people ‘open mindedness‘ means ‘agreeing with me‘. For others, open mindedness is accepting the testimony of anyone with a spooky story. These people are often fiercely sceptical of science, and certain comments such as: ‘science can’t make up it’s mind’, and ‘science thinks it has it all figured out’, simply reveals they have little idea of what science is.

This results in two supreme ironies:

  • They are guilty of the same sceptical attitude they criticise in other people.
  • They are sceptical about scepticism.

Open mindedness isn’t about believing things, so believing in more paranormal things than the next person doesn’t make you more open minded; it is perhaps as sign that you are more gullible. It is not a virtue to be easily persuaded by people; those who suggest it is, and that requiring evidence is folly, clearly would not survive one day in a court of law. Is it close minded to require evidence of someone’s guilt before locking them up?

Of course, we don’t need evidence for everything, we can afford credulity and trust in the appropriate situations, such as believing what a friend tells us about their day at work; and we also don’t stop enjoying films and stories, just because they contain incredible events.

When someone asks us to take something as fact, demanding evidence helps us separate the true claims from the false claims. This is important in a world where false claims can damage your wealth [scams, pyramid schemes etc.] and your health [homeoepathy, alternative medicines etc.].

Critical thinking is not incompatible with open mindedness, it empowers open mindedness. Whilst requiring evidence can occasionally lead you to reject a true claim if it is poorly supported, if and when evidence accumulates, an open mind will allow you to reconsider and perhaps accept this claim.

This approach is promoted by science.

If you accept false claims uncritically, and close your mind to contradictions, you won’t recognise true claims when they come along, even if the evidence is overwhelming. In short, you’ll sabotage your own capacity for learning.

Expecting people to accept your arguments, whilst being unwilling to hear other people’s arguments, means that you’re not just close minded, you are controlling, arrogant and presumptuous. When your claim requires a suspension of critical thinking, it is unreasonable to suggest that others need to require less evidence; it is in fact you who should be asking for more evidence.

Before presuming to advise other to be more open minded, evaluate your own beliefs; perhaps it is you who is in need of your own advice.

Take a look at Qualia Soup’s other videos; I especially liked ‘Instruction manual for life‘, in which Qualia Soup teamed up with Theramin Trees to produce a rather pleasant allegory of belief, indoctrination and the seeds of free thinking.

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