Monday, May 27, 2013

What does "Open Minded" Really mean?

I'm sorry. I'll stop talking about science and evidence  :(

This is an ongoing accusation that every atheist or critical thinker faces eventually.

"Why can't you be open minded?"


"Why are you so closed minded?"

Usually in reference to some imagined slight they have received by the audacity of your irrationality.  The irrationality that you display for not agreeing with them.

Water has memory! You'd understand that if you weren't so closed minded.....or addicted to "facts".

What does that particular argument even mean? What IS being open minded?

Do we allow for the possibility of anything as true until it is DISproven?

Do we agree that everything is right if you can find something to support it?

Do we let anything go lest we be branded "Closed minded"?

Do we dismiss unsupported claims until they are supported by evidence and seemingly immune to falsification?


Not to throw TOO much of a monkey wrench into the works of the woo makers, and religion takers but being open minded means NOT coming to a conclusion without evidence. It is dismissing all claims that are unsupported and unfalsified until they have the evidence to support them and have gone through the falsification process. It is letting the conclusion follow the facts and not just looking for facts to bolster your presupposed conclusion.

But most of all, it is being open to more evidence.

Richard Dawkins tells a story about an old colleague of his who for 15 years argued ardently for a theory that he felt was an infallible model (as far as he could tell) and who one day had to stand in front of the very same colleagues whom he had debated and worked with all this time with a somber truth.

His model had been debunked by new evidence.

Did he argue?

Did he fuss?

Did he cry "Foul" or "Closed minded"??

No, he thanked his peers for showing him his mistake and for adding to the understanding of science. THAT is the scientific and skeptical ideal. His idea couldn't pass the skeptical process of falsification and he was happy to hear it because of the advance in knowledge that this discovery had revealed.

That is the definition of what it means to be skeptical, and the essense of what it means to be open minded. To withhold belief until evidence is presented and it has passed the falsification process.

To be open to new evidence as it comes along, and to not so invest yourself in a conclusion that you are sure that you can never be convinced otherwise.

For THAT is the very definition of "closed minded".

Ghosts aren't real you say? LALALALALA!!!

When your conclusion is more important than new evidence or than re-examining old evidence, then you are closed minded. You have closed your mind to any possibility that you and your idea could be wrong. You are NOT open minded for believing in unsupported things. You have DECIDED before the evidence is counted that what you believe is true, and therefor have entered into the very realm of closed mindedness that you accuse the detractors of your chosen beliefs of being trapped in.
I DO understand however that my post will not convince many people who already believe in such unsupported things and that they will continue to think that we need to "open our minds" to their beliefs but there is a very easy explanation for this. People have invested time, effort and personal identity into these beliefs and to give them up would not only shake the foundations of the logical person that they already think they are for being "taken in" (it shouldn't, quite the opposite actually it should reinforce the feeling of being a rational being) but it would be too costly emotionally to give up something that is so much a part of who they are. Things that are believed without possibility of change tend to tie themselves to our identity, and to give them up would be devastating in many cases. All I can do is try...


Homeopathic healers,

Reiki practitioners,


Crystal Therapy kooks,

Magnet Therapy believers,

Astrology adherents,


Muslims, and

Believers of all kinds, you need to listen up!

NEVER SAY "I can't be convinced otherwise" because it is not a statement....

It is a label.

I could share this dunce cap if you like...

It is a label that brands YOU as closed minded.

It is a label that brands YOU as being opposed to rationality

It is a label that brands YOU as the one who simply can't be reasoned with.

and remember..... (in the words of Tim Minchin)

"If you're too open minded, your brain will fall out"

PS- This is not a negative thing. Skepticism is a pathway to ensuring that your beliefs are TRUE. If you care about whether or not those beliefs are true, skepticism is the only real way to achieve the validated assurance that they are. In science this is achieved by the scientific method. For journeymen like the rest of us, we are left with skepticism.



  1. What people need to understand is that the phrase, "Well, it helped me," does not constitute evidence. Whether it's referring to a reiki treatment, or a chiropractic adjustment, or prayer, just because you believe it helped you, does not mean it is proven to help everyone. Did it help more than 50% of people who participated in a double-blind study? THAT is evidence. Is the basic mechanism backed by some sort of sound, proven scientific theory? THAT is evidence.

    A number of year ago I told our chiropractor (who we use occasionally because he is actually more of a physical therapist most of the time) that I didn't want him performing neck adjustments on me or my boys anymore. I've never been comfortable with it, AND because a colleague had a serious injury due to a botched treatment. He got a bit testy, citing that one bad treatment didn't mean the whole discipline should be discredited. Well, it works the other way too. Just because one person had a good experience, doesn't mean the whole discipline is credible either.

  2. Agreed! The other issue with the "Well it helped me" movement is that often the help that is garnered is demonstrably NOT from the treatment but rather attributed to that treatment as a justification of previous belief. I had someone tell me of a woman who was getting a laser removal done, and said that it was only successful because of some nonsense snake oil that they had received. That person claimed "It worked for me" too, when obviously it was the science behind laser removal that had worked, and then just been attributed to something else out of foolish confirmation bias and apologetic. People always want to believe that they have special access to secret information, and these panacea treatments give them just that. ugh

  3. "... To withhold belief until evidence is presented and it has passed the falsification process. To be open to new evidence as it comes along, and to not so invest yourself in a conclusion that you are sure that you can never be convinced otherwise. For THAT is the very definition of "closed minded"." <--- I liked that. Well said.