Open Your Mind

As a sceptic, I am often told that by not believing unproven claims, I am being “closed minded”, I only have to “open my mind” and I will realise that, say, alien-human hybrid breeding schemes (and, no, as far as I can tell, this is not a joke) are real.

If the definition of “closed minded” were “not willing to believe unlikely claims without good evidence”, I wouldn’t mind being labelled such, but that isn’t the word’s definition. In fact, its actual definition is: (from Wiktionary)

unreceptive to new ideas or information

Thus, sceptics, who are defined by their love of inquiry, who actively seek information before jumping to conclusions, who are always curious to learn new ideas, are surely the furthest in the world from being closed-minded. It is the opponents of scepticism, the very people who tell sceptics to open their minds, who are truly closed-minded.

Requiring evidence for belief is not at all closed minded; quite the opposite: believing without (or in the face of) evidence is the true sign of a closed mind.

The believer in souls and magic, in homoeopathy and alien-abductions, rejects any new information — any evidence — which doesn’t support what they already believe. For instance, when science tells us that water does not have memory (beyond a tiny fraction of a second), proponents of homoeopathy completely ignore this new information and continue in the exact same belief they started with.

An open mind accepts what is true, whether pleasant or not, whether confirming or contradicting. A closed mind rejects any fact which doesn’t adhere to its preconceived notions.

The universe is big. Like, really big. So big that you can’t comprehend it. And it’s made up of things which are so incredibly small that you can’t comprehend them either. But don’t worry; no-one can truly comprehend the full spectrum of the universe and it’s all thanks to evolution.

Our distant ancestors didn’t need to judge light-years or picoseconds, because it didn’t really come up in day-to-day survival. As a result, your brain is very good at estimating the distance to the monitor in front of you, but not the distance to the sun. Even if you know the distance to the sun, you’re never going to fully comprehend it; it’s just too big for brains that evolved for acquiring sustenance, breeding and avoiding death.

This may seem like a bit of a tangent, but it’s really quite central to the point of this post (whatever that is). Our brains are the product of evolution. They take short-cuts where they can, they’re not good at intuiting anything very large or very small and they’re liable to fall for all kinds of traps.

As a sceptic, I try to account for the various biases which I know my brain is apt to be ensnared by. I know my memory is not perfect. I know I am likely to see the patterns I look for, even when they aren’t there. I know that anecdotal evidence is very convincing, despite its unreliability. Thus, I rely on science, the best tool humanity has developed for overcoming the limitations of our biology.

An open mind is humbled by the immensity and complexity of the universe, accepting its flaws and limitations; but a closed mind creates a fantasy universe, built in its own image, to be easily understood, to satisfy its “gut feelings”.

– Ben xoxo

PS: In other news, the second season of the podcast should be coming out some time around the New Year. The first episode has already been recorded and we’ll obviously be trying to get it out to you as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

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