Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools

I just happened to be reading a few other things on this topic, so I thought I'd make a qiuck post that related to the spirit of the day.

When discussing a conspiracy theory, or the value of religion, or an alien abduction with someone I am often confronted with a statement about how "open minded" I am. The nicest way this was presented was someone who said they "allow more in" and thus are more likely to come across something with value. I can't quite work out the math on that one, given the amount of time it can take to develop an internally consistent reality that supports the latest theory.

A brief definition of this "you're not open" idea was given recently by a psychologist. He started working with a group of other psychologists to learn some new ideas, but soon found their ideas were completely wacko. When he questioned these so-called teachers, they questioned his open-mindedness. What they were calling "open minded" he called gullibility. They were asking him to accept their ideas without questioning them even though they went against everything he had learned.

Saying "you're not open minded" is really two logical fallacies wrapped into one. First, they considered their ideas special. They were above the normal scrutiny that other ideas are subject to. This is known as "special pleading". Then, they attacked the person doing the questioning. There is something wrong with him that does not allow him to see the truth as they do. There is something wrong with his mind. This is an "ad hominem attack". What is especially cruel about this is the way it is delivered in a calm and calculated manner, as if the attackers, the believers, the ones with the special knowledge, are talking to a crazy person who needs to be treated as if he is about to crack. 

"Open minded" means you are receptive to new ideas and you are willing to listen to someone's argument. It does not mean that you have to believe the argument or that you shouldn't question it. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, that does not mean that everyone else is entitled to adopt it. Some ideas are even dangerous. We wouldn't send children to a Ku Klux Klan summer camp and tell them keep an open mind. A reasonable opinion has some sort of basis, some facts that collectively support it, although there may be missing pieces or untested assumptions. Those facts can be checked and the assumptions can be tested.

If you have an opinion on the origin of the universe, I can't check your math. I can't even understand the math. If you're using math. If you're not, then I can't check if the world is really resting on the back of a turtle either, or whatever it is you're proposing. So for some things, I'll keep my mind open until more data is available.

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