The Lie of “Keep an Open Mind”

For a period of time, J. felt guilty that he did not believe certain things others seemed to believe/told him to believe because he was not “open-minded” enough. Then one day, he realised he wasn’t “close-minded”, he just wasn’t convinced.

What does it mean to be open-minded? Dictionary.com defines open-minded as:

1. having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments.
2. unprejudiced; unbigoted; impartial.

An open-minded person is therefore somebody who can examine new ideas, being as unbiased as possible, and be open to both possibilities that they may be true or false.

This is the basis of medical science as we know it. It is an imperfect science, admittedly, but there is no perfect science. Anything that works, and is proven to work with evidence, is incorporated while things that are not proven are not accepted. Things that were thought to work with few side effects yet were shown to be dangerous are discarded.

Some people who exhort others to be “open-minded” fail to understand what it means, or the fact that it can be offensive to people. Others are saying, “Believe my view no matter what” and actually mean it as a thinly-veiled insult that the only reason one does not believe what they say is that one is too “close-minded”. This character insult is used for want of better argument.

More often than not, the folks who use this argument are themselves the close-minded ones, being completely opposed to the idea that what they believe in might be wrong. Just like how one who rejects something regardless of evidence for it is close-minded, one who accepts something regardless of evidence against it is close-minded.

In the course of writing this post, J. found this page on UK-Skeptics which organises an argument against this logical fallacy very nicely. So nicley, in fact, J.’s finding this post a bit redundant, but is unwilling to delete it.

UK-Skeptics – The Open Mind: a critical look at appeals to be open-minded.

Ironically, most people who are truly open-minded don’t ask others to be. Strange, that.

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