Friday, March 2, 2012

Open Minded

One complaint that gets thrown at Skeptics all the time is that we aren't being open minded.  To which I say bollocks!  A skeptic who is not open minded is no skeptic at all!  Being open minded is a virtue, but like a lot of virtues it stops being virtuous when you start doing it wrong.  Under the right conditions being open minded is great - under the wrong one's it's the opposite.  Allow me to demonstrate.

Suppose I was handed a mysterious envelope with something inside.

Behold!  The mysterious envelope of mysterious mystery!

What is in the envelope?  I don't know!  It doesn't say anything on it so it could be anything really.  Well not anything.  Obviously it would have to be flat and envelope shaped so no Boeing 747's or ponies.  But within reasonable limits it could be anything.  Is it a letter?  A photo? Cash money?  The Colonel's list of 11 secret herbs & spices?  I don't know!  Dogmatically pretending like I do know when I don't would just be stupid.  So the only thing that makes sense is to stay open minded until I can know. 

The mystery, it taunts me....

Lucky for me, this is a mystery that can be solved.  All I have to do is to open the envelope.  When I do that I find...

Sigh.  Not the secret formula for KFC...
It's a playing card!  But which one?  I haven't looked yet so as far as I know it could be any of them.  Is it a high value card?  Is it red or black?  I don't know!  I will have to stay open minded for now.

If only there was a way to find out...

Until I actually check it could be any one of 52 different options (I doubt this will be a 13 of lightning bolts unless this is some kind of novelty deck).  Until I know I could make some educated guesses but I would have to be open minded about it because again, being dogmatic at this point makes no sense.  So lets take a peek!
Is THIS your card?

There we go!  Mystery solved.  It was the 8 of Diamonds all along!  Well now I know, the facts are on the table.  Should I still be open minded?  Hells no!  Why?  While it's certainly important to keep an open mind when the facts are not available, it makes no sense to "keep an open mind" when they actually are!

But let's say I look at the 8 diamonds staring me in the face like the hard facts they are and I decide I don't like them.

I bet they are conflict diamonds!
 I decide I would rather have the card be a cool one like an Ace or a face card.  You know, a card with a song like the Queen of Hearts or something. Well, you'd probably tell me that's just tough, the card we want is not always the card we are dealt.  But what if I decided that wasn't good enough, I really want this card to be a better card and I don't appreciate you being so dogmatic about "reality" and "facts"!  I'm going to stay OPEN MINDED about this dammit!

Maybe if I believe hard enough!
Well that would be idiotic, wouldn't it?  Actually I doubt even an idiot would be stupid enough to ignore the reality right in front of them.

And yet, the sad truth is that millions of people who totally aren't idiots do that every day.  There is no end to the amount of subjects in which people will choose ignorance over information - mostly because they dislike what the information is telling them.  And when you remind them of what the information actually is they get all huffy and tell you to be more open minded.  But as I tried to show here, doing that is not being open minded, it's being willfully blind to reality.

Being open minded is great - when you don't know all the facts.  When you do know something it doesn't make much sense to still be "open minded" about it. Sure, we need to stay open to new facts or the fact that maybe we were mistaken somehow.  However for that to happen your first need to show why the facts we have are wrong.  And no, "because I don't like how that makes me feel" is not a valid reason for rejecting reality.  You can't reject the evidence we have now in the vague hope that maybe one day we will find new evidence that you will like better.  That's not actually being open minded at all!

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