SOMETHING that annoys me about this open/closed mindedness business when levelled as a criticism against scepticism, rationality, etc, which I didn’t say before, is that it is encouraging bad science.

It is all very well to say “if you were truly open minded you’d have no preconceptions” when referring to investigating the supernatural, but in this sense open mindnedness is overrated. Claims of the supernatural are very open to being tested; they tell us about something we can allegedly access in the empirical world. But to remain ‘open minded’ while investigating is in effect misjudging the extraordinary conclusion as being reasonably probable, which is likely to affect the integrity of your investigation. If you say “I had a sandwich for lunch” then this is fairly ordinary claim and I’m not going to doubt it. If you say “I had a sandwich for lunch and it cured me of my rabies” then suddenly a little more evidence is required, because it is a claim which is extraordinary. ‘Open mindedness’ however would have you shed any preconceptions of probability, at which point the two claims become roughly equivalent. If you take one at face value you are obligated to take the other at face value too. This is clearly not a line of thought which concerns itself with sense.

When applied to any kind of investigation, open mindedness just isn’t how science works. It’s supposed to be that you find something interesting, you propose a hypothesis to explain it then you have a go at finding ways in which your hypothesis fails. Then after you’re out of ideas you invite other people to try. Pseudo-open-mindedness doesn’t work like this, it says “here’s an idea, you’re not allowed to disagree because if you do you’re being closed minded”.

It’s an ad hominem attack of the emperor’s new clothes level of sophistication.

These people are probably largely well meaning and just don’t understand science or rationality or thinking in general, and to them it seems reasonable that being sceptical of something they believe in equates to closed mindedness, but it’s not really an accurate usage of the phrase. There are two issues they have attributed to open/closed mindedness and they are bias and honesty. The bias scale runs -1 to 1 and we are just two equivalent opposites, but the honesty scale runs 0 to 1.


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