What would it take?

Openmindedness.

What a loaded word.

Apparently has very different meanings to different people.

According to the Merriam-Webster, the definition is “receptive to arguments or ideas”.  To me, it means the willingness to change my mind (receptive) based on carefully examining valid, well-formed, clear, logical statements based on best available evidence (arguments), and the willingness to examine hypotheses that have at least some level of plausibility (ideas).  This does not include argument from logical fallacies, personal anecdotes or opinions, ideological, theological or teleological statements (which despite ending in -logical, none are), or unsupported assertions.

To some, openmindedness means to listen to and accept what others have to say without question, or at least “respect” their viewpoint.

To many, openmindedness simply means you have to agree with them.

To me, openmindedness applies to factual issues, such as the effectiveness of coffee enemas; moral issues are usually personal opinions or preference, which in my opinion, “receptiveness” does not apply.  There are plenty of arguments that are politically incorrect, but regardless of how well executed they are, are irrelevant because they do not serve to change our collective behavior, and are destined to simply be factoids.

In my opinion, a good indicator of openmindedness would be to simply ask the question: “What would it take to change your mind?”

A truly openminded person is willing to examine everything, no matter how deep the conviction.  Ask the Pope what it would take to change his faith and it would likely be “nothing”.  Ask an evolutionary biologist what it would take to change his belief in evolution, and it would likely be a very specific statement such as “a pre-Cambrian rabbit fossil”.  Ask most people what it would take to change their mind about some deep conviction they have, and the answer is more often than not, “I don’t know”.

Richard Muller, professor of Physics at UC Berkeley, and until recently a very promient global warming skeptic, changed his mind about global warming after carefully examining the evidence.  When was the last time you saw your favorite politician change his/her mind based on the evidence?  Unfortunately that is called flip-flopping and for some reason unknown to me, it is considered a flaw rather than a virtue.  Personally I would like my representative to change his or her mind as soon as evidence becomes available, as often as needed.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  What constitutes good evidence is the subject of another long blog post for another day.  But next time you are asked to be openminded, ask yourself, “What would it take to change your mind?”.  If you don’t know in very specific terms, it might be time to reexamine that belief.

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