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The Trouble With Open-Mindedness PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Phil Plait   

JREF fan Clare Zimmerman alerted us to this brilliant video that illustrates perfectly the basic problem with the all-too-common accusation that skeptics are closed-minded.

 


 

Because we rely on evidence before we decide whether a claim is correct or not, we skeptics are not closed-minded! Instead, we filter the ideas that get into our heads, allowing us to separate sense and nonsense. As the saying goes, have an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.

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Excellent video but....
written by BillyJoe, April 03, 2009
....it seems to me that video was trying to take us beyond that annoying little aphorism.
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written by MadScientist, April 03, 2009
Wow ... amazing. I wish there were more of that stuff out there.

I've often said that the scoundrel's definition of an open mind means cracking open your head, extracting your brains and substituting it with some brown stuff. Not a single week goes by that I am not accused of being closed-minded by some fuzzy-headed people who can't accept that I don't believe in their own personal fairies or silly ideas about homeopathy, psychic surgery, miracles, and other primitive nonsense.
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This is great
written by fluffy, April 03, 2009
Now how do I explain this to a closed-minded paranormal believer who refuses to believe that I am open-minded? (because they are being closed-minded about my open-mindedness)

This seems to happen a lot at parties. Someone will say something about someone else who is showing off their orb photography or talking about "nutrition" or whatever, I'll make an offhanded skeptical comment which eventually makes it back to the someone else, and then I end up getting confronted by this idiot who thinks I need to "be more open-minded" and proceeds to use the same exact fallacies described in this video.
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written by Basscadet, April 03, 2009
Excellent vid! I'm now watching his other vids on evolution and they look great too!
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Thank you!
written by DZiemke, April 04, 2009
Thanks for sharing this excellent video. Very well put together and offers great advice when talking with others of differing opinion.
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written by Skeptico, April 04, 2009
fluffy wrote:


Now how do I explain this to a closed-minded paranormal believer who refuses to believe that I am open-minded?


Just memorize this:

An open mind is open to all ideas, but it must be open to the possibility that the idea could be true or false. It is not closed-minded to reject claims that make no sense. If you can’t accept the possibility that an idea might be false, then you are the closed minded one.
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written by fluffy, April 04, 2009
That seems like a pretty complex statement for the sorts of people who always call me "closed-minded." I think it could be condensed to: "Open-mindedness means being able to accept that an idea is untrue." That would go nicely with how I usually say something like, "If you can give me evidence for it which doesn't have a simpler explanation, I'd be willing to accept it."

(Unfortunately, they never accept my simpler possible explanations either, for example that their "orb photographs" are really just the reflection of the flash on dust specks. "If those were really mystical orbs, then they would still show up if the flash were turned off" doesn't seem to work either.)
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One of the best skeptical videos ever
written by Skeptic, April 04, 2009
A true heir to Sagan's "baloney detection kit".
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His videos are awesome!
written by julianrod, April 04, 2009
I discovered a couple of days ago, and they're all superb!
Check his channel!
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Brilliant Video but...
written by Undecided, April 04, 2009
Brilliant video but Phil Plait's conclusion that
we skeptics are not closed-minded!
is a fallacious generalization.
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written by Mully410, April 04, 2009
Thanks for the post. I often struggle with this exact problem. http://mully410.blogspot.com/2...inded.html
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...or keeping it all positive...
written by BillyJoe, April 04, 2009
An open mind is
- open to new ideas
- open to the possibility that the idea could be either true or false
- open to all evidence for and against that idea.

BJ
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Totally Biased, Lowly rated comment [Show]
...
written by Skeptico, April 04, 2009
fluffy:

Then just use the second bit:

It is not closed-minded to reject claims that make no sense. If you can’t accept the possibility that an idea might be false, then you are the closed minded one.

That usually makes them think, because it's probably the first time anyone's told them that they are closed minded for not rejecting some woo idea.
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@ daniel
written by BillyJoe, April 04, 2009
This video is totally biased
Well, yes, its purpose is to turn the table on certain believers in the paranoramal who accuse sceptics of not being open-minded, by showing that it is they who are not being open-minded.

and too generalistic
Yes, it's a ten minute video. Did you expect a detailed critique of every type of believer in the paranormal in that time frame?

Keeps going back and forth on the concept of "open mind"
Well, yes, that is the topic of the video after all.

and attribute errors of logic..only to supernatural believers
Yes, that is the purpose of the video: to show how beleivers in the supernatural are wrong when they accuse sceptics of not being open-minded.

many straw man
Such as?

and takes for granted the fact that most "skeptics" really believe that many things are not true even though they try to disguise this as "I need evidence to believe".
But the question of whether or not this is true - or even whether or not this can be a reasonable position in some circumstances (ie flat earth) - is not the purpose of this video.

He didn't present any evidence to believe that...these pseudo-science and supernatural believers actually say those things;
He doesn't need to, the evidence is all around you on the forums. It is a very common accusation by believers and it is these belivers he is addressing in this video.

He didn't present any evidence to believe that...everything has a natural explanation, regardless if it can be explained or not.
He did not say that "everything has a natural explanation". He said that things can either be explained or not explained. Furthermore, he said that to say that the unexplained has a supernatural explanation, is to create the logical fallacy that the unexpained = the explained

And the near the end (starting at 8:24) remarks (controlling, arrogant and presumptuous) can be attributed to most "darwinists".
How is that an argument against his characterisation of the beleivers in the paranormal? And, hey, at least the beleivers in evolution by natural selection have the evidence to back up their claims

BJ
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written by tmac57, April 04, 2009
I was once discussing with a Christian believer why I didn't also believe. On one particular point I made the comment that to me her assertion wasn't logical, and she said "well you and your 'logic' can go to hell."
This took me aback, because up till then the discussion had been very matter of fact,and it turned nasty on a dime. But what really opened my eyes was that to her, logic was something to be disdained, a concept that I had not previously encountered.
It may not always work to try and reason a person out of their position if they are not disposed to understanding their world using reason.
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written by BillyJoe, April 04, 2009
"well you and your 'logic' can go to hell."

I think that, at some time in the past, she worked out that logic threatened to kill her cherished beliefs. Not being able to part with her beliefs, logic had to suffer.

Actually there is some kind of logic in that smilies/grin.gif

BJ
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@BillyJoe, Lowly rated comment [Show]
daniel
written by BillyJoe, April 05, 2009
Thank you.
Don't thank me. It was a criticism. You seem to think the bias displayed in the video was a negative. I was attempting to show you that it is not bad thing to be biased towards the truth.

Now explain why then I got so many negative votes.
If I was you I would not worry about the votes.

Thanks again.
Don't thank me. It was a criticism. How can you be anything but general in a ten minute video? What sort of detail can you present in ten minutes?

It's good to know that you agree with me. But I'm still wondering why I'm getting so many negative votes.
Just ignore the votes.

On the beginning of the movie he says that skeptics are open minded and "believers" are not. Then goes on and changes the concept to mean open minded but evidence filtered
I think you missed something here.
He explains that being open-minded means being RECEPTIVE to new ideas. But, being RECEPTIVE to new ideas does not mean ACCEPTING new ideas. He then adds that it is necessary to have a FILTER for new ideas that determines which ideas to ACCEPT and which ideas to REJECT. This filter is EVIDENCE.
So he has not changed the concept, he is developing his concept and he is developing his concept step by step for easy understanding.

At the end it comes down to almost saying that to be open minded is bad because you let a lot of garbage go in and the true open minded is the person that rejects everything if evidence is not presented.
That's right. He encourages us to be RECEPTIVE of new ideas and to apply the EVIDENCE filter to determine whether to ACCEPT or REJECT the new idea. And, yes, if you do not apply the filter you are in danger of letting a lot of garbage in.

I honestly have no idea how is that good to create "new ways of thinking".
If you just uncritically ACCEPT everything by not demanding EVIDENCE, your brain will end up being filled with a lot of mutually incompatible garbage.
Also, the acceptance and rejection of a new idea is always provisional. Meaning that, any time new evidence becomes available, you will need to re-evaluate your accetance or rejection of that idea.

I'm really confused. You agree with me in lots of things.
I was not agreeing with you. You were criticising him for saying that believers use errors of logic. I was explaining what he meant by that and showing that it was a valid statement (this was the explained = unexplained thing - see below).

What it is that I said so bad that got me so many negative votes in less than 24 hours?
Really, just forget the votes.

Saying the unexplained = the explained. Saying "can't be explained" means (or can also mean) can't be explained by the procedures used for other phenomena not that it is a logical fallacy of: can't be explained = it can be explained.
In a nut shell, this is what he said:
Scientists distinguish two groups: the explained and the unexplained.
Believers like to say that the unexplained is evidence for the supernatural.
In other words that the supernatural is a valid explanation
Therefore, they are in effect saying that the unexplained = the explained.
Is that any clearer?

Again, I'm showing evidence that the video is biased.
No, you said that sceptics will often say "I need evidence to believe" but what they really mean is "this is not true".
I replied that, whether or not what you said is true, this has nothing to do with the video.

I heard the same line from several christians talking about the evidence for God [He doesn't need to, the evidence is all around you]. What does that say about you? (I'm just teasing...)
As long as you are also just joking. smilies/wink.gif
(because we are talking chalk and cheese here)

Oh. So you mean that after watching that video you honestly think that he thinks some things has supernatural explanations?

I said: "He did not say that everything has a natural explanation". But that does not mean that I think that he thinks some things have a supernatural explanation. In his own words: "things that are UNEXPLAINED are just that: UNEXPLAINED"

It's not an argument, I'm just emphasizing that the video is biased, because the same argument (that starts at 8:24) can be used also for most darwinists, but it is shown as something that only "supernatural believers" do.

No. He said that beleivers are often controlling, arrogant and presumptious. And you said that also often applies to "darwinist". I agreed that supporters of evolution can sometimes be similarly characterised. The distinguishing characteristic is that supporters of evolution have the evidence to back up their claims.

BJ

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@daniel
written by tmac57, April 05, 2009
You seem unduly concerned about negative votes. You should realize that with the type of world view that you are displaying with your comments here, that you have come to the wrong site if positive feed back is what you are after.
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written by TDjazz, April 05, 2009
Great video! If it were not for my open-mindedness in 2001 (finally) about my spiritual and supernatural beliefs, I would never have looked at those beliefs critically and seen there was no evidence for me to believe in such things. It is ironic that those with religious and spiritual beliefs are the ones putting down skeptics and critical thinkers for lacking open minds.
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@BillyJoe and @tmac57
written by danieljref, April 05, 2009
@BillyJoe

You seem to think the bias displayed in the video was a negative.

That is your assumption. Where did I say that? The movie is biased. I said so and you agreed. How is that criticism is beyond me. (and just a statement - you seem to think that I implicitly say things without stating them clearly but you get all literal when I talk about the author of the movie and what he did or did not "literally" said.)

Just ignore the votes.
I'm not worried about the votes. Never were. I'm just trying to show with huge amounts of evidence how not only the video is biased but that it is probably a lie. I'm in a place full of skeptics, who according to the movie are supposed to be open minded and willing to accept new ideas and I got several negative votes, which I really doubt came from supernatural believers and yet I said nothing out of the extraordinary, showed plenty of evidence for my case and you even agreed with me (even though in your head you want me to be wrong so you start fabricating stuff and attributing them to me).

I think you missed something here.

That's funny because you are just repeating what I said with more words. Examples? 1. On the beginning ...he says... skeptics are open minded - He explains that being open-minded means being RECEPTIVE to new ideas; 2. Then goes on and changes the concept... - But, being RECEPTIVE... does not mean ACCEPTING... He then adds...;3. At the end it comes down to almost saying that to be open minded is bad... - That's right.

I don't doubt he is "developing" the concept but he is doing so to make it mean an entirelly different thing than from the beggining of the movie. At the beginning, believers are actually the "close minded" ones and at the end, believers are the "too open minded" ones.

If you just uncritically ACCEPT everything by not demanding EVIDENCE, your brain will end up being filled with a lot of mutually incompatible garbage.

Oh, come on! Do you really need me to tell you how many scientists that made breakthrough discoveries accepted a lot of things uncritically (God, alchemy, astrology, psychics...)?.

You were criticising him for saying that believers use errors of logic.

Nooooo. I was pointing out that he attributes errors of logic only to believers when, in fact, that happens also to skeptics, which makes his argument pointless.

n a nut shell, this is what he said

Well, then in a nut shell, here is where he is wrong. He is confusing explanation with indication of existence.

this has nothing to do with the video.

Yes it does because he presents "I need evidence to believe" as something that all skeptics have and as a sign of balance, when in fact, many just say that to hide what they really think, i.e., "it is not true".

The distinguishing characteristic is that supporters of evolution have the evidence to back up their claims.

Exactly. So his argument that "believers open mindedness" leads to controlling, arrogant and presumptuous is flawed.

@tmac57
You seem unduly concerned about negative votes.

Believe me, I'm not. I know how to get good votes. I just need to say something "skeptically correct". I've done that before (not a thorough study case, but enough for me). The comments about the votes were only to show how many "open minded" skeptics are there.
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@daniel
written by medains, April 05, 2009
You're being quite prolific here in your argument that the video is biased.

It is biased - towards skepticism.

What many people fail to understand (particularly in our media) is that bias towards logical reasoning is not a bad thing.

Being unbiased does not require that you give equal time to "ghost cleaners" and scientists (or any other grouping you might care to choose) - merely that you ask both sides to present reasonable argument supported by evidence. This approach is "biased" towards logical reasoning, but gives each side an "unbiased" opportunity to present their evidence. Unfortunately it does not make good TV, so expect more Psychic and Ghost shows.

You also seem to be objecting to the video-makers definition of open-mindedness requiring several parts - this doesn't mean that he's changing the definition, merely that he's presenting it an easy to understand chunks. You wouldn't try to explain the totality of nuclear theory to a high-school science class - in fact in my experience of science students are taught a series of progressive models that are not necessarily entirely correct, but which lead them to an understanding of the final advanced model of quantum mechanics during university.

You also don't seem to be able to accept that a believer stating that something is "supernatural" is basically providing an explanation for their "unexplainable" observation (unexplained = explained), and the problem with this is that they cease to examine the situation for alternative explanations - and will later present the anecdote without sufficient details for anyone else to provide an explanation.

You also say that many skeptics say "I need evidence to believe" is really them hiding their true thought of "This is not true". This is not true! smilies/smiley.gif They are not hiding it at all - if their tru thought is "This is not true" then they can clearly state "I do not believe that this is true". You are making a statement about their beliefs and so are they, what's to hide? If their true thoughts were "This is not true, and no amount of credible evidence will change my mind" - then they are close minded, but if they thing "This is not true, but bring me some credible evidence and I may change my opinion" - that is true open-mindedness.

Your negative votes were probably due to stating that the video-maker didn't provide any evidence for believers saying those things, and everything being naturally explainable - when most of us have personal experience of believers saying those things, and he didn't say everything has a natural explanation. Personally I tend not to use the voting buttons, but if I didn't have time to comment but I disagreed with you then I'd probably vote down your comment. So the fact that you have three people debating with you here likely explains the negative votes without having to assume that the voters are close-minded.

One last point about great scientists of the past believing in some things non-critically. Sure - some would have had serious problems in their community if they expressed non-belief, others would just accept some things because they had no direct bearing on their work. In fact the video shows the open-minded thinker with an evidence filter with some wrong ideas in their head - which are displaced as new evidence causes them to re-evaluate that idea. If great scientists accepted an idea as a child and never had cause to re-evaluate it, they probably still believed it to be true - did that make their discoveries any less great?

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@ daniel: Let's concentrate on this bit...
written by BillyJoe, April 06, 2009
The author does not change his concept, he develops it:

This is the author's conclusion:
It is sceptics, not believers, who are OPEN-MINDED.

This is his reasoning:
What does it mean to have a OPEN-MIND? To have an open-mind means to be RECEPTIVE to new ideas. To be receptive of new ideas does not mean to ACCEPT new ideas uncritically because new ideas may be either true or false. To accept new ideas requires EVIDENCE in support of these ideas. Failing to find evidence in support of an idea results in the idea being REJECTED.
Believers are not interested in EVIDENCE. Therefore, they are stuck with their non-evidence based beliefs. They REJECT out of hand any new ideas that conflict with their non-evidence based beliefs. Therefore they are not RECEPTIVE to new ideas. This makes believers CLOSE-MINDED.

BJ
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Daniel
written by Griz, April 07, 2009
You got so many votes because you are challenging the groupthink. That's all. Same process as when a christian rejects reason and logic but it's okay when "we" do it here, even though all our conclusions are "based on evidence".
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Billy Joe
written by Griz, April 07, 2009
I find frequently on this very web site that self identified skeptics are not much interested in evidence either. Take a look at the cooking utensils article for one of many examples of fighting misinformation with more misinformation.
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Griz
written by BillyJoe, April 07, 2009
I find frequently on this very web site that self identified skeptics are not much interested in evidence either.

Three things:

If you had said "some sceptics" I would agree but I assume that's what you actually meant.

The author of the video is obviously talking about sceptics, not self-identified sceptics who may actually either be sceptics or not really.

It's hard to tell your point of view of the video considering your response to daniel who seems to have misinterpreted the video.

BJ
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@medains & @BillyJoe
written by danieljref, April 08, 2009
@medains

You're being quite prolific here in your argument that the video is biased.

This is a new one. I'm prolific??? OK. I just said the movie is biased. BillyJoe agreed. You come along and say It is biased. Then both of you present a "lecture" as to explain why it is biased and I'm the prolific one? I really don't get you guys. You're repeating what I'm saying and I'm wrong? Additionally, the movie being biased is a statement of fact, not an argument.

"This is not true, and no amount of credible evidence will change my mind"

See. You guys get what I mean, but somehow you make it look like I didn't mean it. Your quote is what many skeptics think when they say "I need evidence to believe". This is all I was trying to say.

@BillyJoe

(...concentrating... go!)

Conclusion: It is sceptics, not believers, who are OPEN-MINDED.

Then tell me, why at the end of the movie (around 9:20) he says that if you have an OPEN MIND without a filter for evidence you will end up with a lot of rubbish? Isn't that the case for believers? Isn't he saying that believers are open minded (but without filters)? And how does that fit with the Conclusion?
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One more attempt...
written by BillyJoe, April 09, 2009
daniel,

You're missing the wood for the trees.
I suggest you watch from about 7:25 to about 8:10
If you still don't get it, watch it again.

First there is diagram of a head.
The skull lifts off the top of the brain representing the open-mindedness.

Then it switches to another diagram:
There are three layers in this diagram:

Open minded consideration
EVIDENCE FILTER
Acceptance

Scientists with open minds are willing to consider new ideas. They use the evidence filter and accept only those ideas that pass the evidence filter. The skull does not close at this point but remains open to further information which can either strengthen the evidence for the idea or cause it to be dislodged by a new idea.

Believers have no evidence filter and, therefore, an idea moves straight through to the third layer, acceptance. Once there, the open mind (the open skull in the diagram) closes to any ideas and information that conflicts with the original idea.
It took an open mind without a filter to get the idea in there in the first place, and then a closed mind to keep it there.

BJ

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I don't know another way to say this.
written by danieljref, April 09, 2009
BillyJoe,

I watched the whole video again specially from 7:25 to 8:10. I won't repeat what the movie said, so I'll just work with your own quotes.

There are three layers in this diagram:
Open minded consideration
EVIDENCE FILTER
Acceptance


Please bear with me. According to this diagram, scientist have Evidence Filter and Believers do not have this filter. Agree? This is what you said on the first line of your second to last and last paragraphs.

Then if that is the difference between the two, there are two layers that are present in both: Open minded and Acceptance.

So according to the diagram, believers have an open mind, what they don't have is a filter for evidence.

I think you will agree with this statement because you said: It took an open mind without a filter to get the idea

Nonetheless on your previous post, you literally said This is the author's conclusion: It is sceptics, not believers, who are OPEN-MINDED.

(Additional note: On the beginning of the movie there is no mention of evidence filtering when defyning "Open Minded")

So the conclusion is that believers are close minded, but along the way they are open minded.

The issue is that I don't think you are wrong in any of that.

So if both your statements are correct (in agreement with the movie), then the issue is with the movie, which justifies my previous statement that it changes the concept.

Did I make my point?

This one is not directed at you BillyJoe, it's just a late wondering somehow related to the point: What did the author's friend said after he turned off the heater? (It somehow shows who was the open minded one)
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written by BillyJoe, April 10, 2009
daniel,

We disagree about whether he changes his concept or explains it by degrees, but it seems to me that we both understand it well enough so whose to argue.

regards,
BillyJoe
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Negative votes
written by laursaurus, December 23, 2009
@daniel-I just came to this forum last week because of the AGW ruckus. The group-think among self-described skeptics on this forum is fortified by the unique voting feature. In seconds, my debute comment racked up (down)a considerable negative score. At first, I thought maybe this was just because I was new.
I've quickly realized that no matter how good a point you make, the other readers retaliate with negative votes. Actually, I've found the more negative votes, the better the comment. It's easier to just vote down, then present an effective argument. Negative votes are a disguise for ad hom, poisoning the well, and strawman arguments insulated by anonymity.These are people who are really frustrated they can't delete your post.Consider your score a badge of honor. Now I look for high negative scores for rock solid opinion.
BTW, you made some great points! Atheists hate nothing more than hearing they're just as dogmatic as religious zealots. Never metaphorically state that science is a religion that worships truth, either!
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written by BillyJoe, December 23, 2009
Iaursaurus,

If I were you I'd ignore the voting.

I rarely find that it is of any value in deciding which posts to read or in sifting the wheat from the chaff as regards the quality of the posts.
There is also no point in getting upset about a negative vote when the person giving it does not give the courtesy of a reply.

As regards this particular argument: if you try to explain a complicated concept by degrees, you often start off saying something that sounds different from what you end up saying. To my mind, this is what happened here.

regards,
BillyJoe
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