Thursday, January 29, 2015

Keep an open mind to baseless speculation? Nope.

I just saw this image and thought it would be funny to do a little post with some stories about some of the times I've been called "closed minded" by total idiots with no clue about anything.

As usual, I went off on a bit of a tangent before getting to my original point. The tangent actually makes for a much better article than the original idea.

Anyway, let's begin.

Keeping an open mind is a good thing. But what was that old joke again? Something about being so open minded that your brain falls out?


Being closed minded to certain things isn't so bad either, though. A lot of people have a strange idea about what being "open minded" means. Being open minded would mean being willing to consider and evaluate any evidence you are presented with, and potentially being prepared to change your opinion if the new evidence is strong enough.

Somewhat ironically though, what people often want when they chastise you for "not being open minded" is for you to simply agree with them, without requiring any proof, evidence or a reasonable explanation, and in spite of your own knowledge and experiences. 

Contrary to common opinion, you do not have to "keep an open mind" to baseless speculation from random people and treat it as a credible explanation or viable possibility. Especially in cases where the subject at hand has been studied and there is a body of evidence supporting a certain conclusion or understanding. Again, you should be open to the possibility that new evidence might change that understanding at some time, but by no means does this imply that just because someone can dream up some alternate scenario we should have any less faith in the body of actual evidence and current knowledge on the subject.

Bertrand Russell's famous quote seems relevant here:
If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.
A lot of claims we're asked to "be open minded" about are similar. It's no more than an idea someone is throwing out there, and while we're often asked "how can be so sure this isn't the case?" the better question would be "what reason is there to believe that this is likely to be the case?". 

In my observation this is usually a rather disingenuous tactic to create the illusion that an opinion based on the current understanding of the body of evidence is less credible, via introducing irrelevant or imaginary concepts rather than via close scrutiny of that evidence. Either that, or you're expected to respond with something like "wow, I never thought of that. Now I am not so sure". Again though, this would assume that your own position is based on no more than casual speculation, rather than on evidence. If your position is based on the evidence, you'd require more than just "an idea" to change it. You'd also require strong and credible evidence in support of that idea.

This is turning into a much heavier blog entry than I'd intended when I started writing. I was just going to post some funny stories about when I've been called "closed minded" and by whom.

Story #1:

Being called closed minded for refusing to "just try it for 3 months and see" regarding cutting all cereals, breads and other grain based foods out of my diet. For three months. Because just because I don't have any symptoms is no reason to be close minded and refuse to accept that I am intolerant to gluten as this person has decided. Something like as follows:
Oh you're still eating grains and cereals, you should cut all that out.
Nah, I go alright.
How can you be so sure? Just try it for 3 months and see.

You're so closed minded. You think you know everything.
Really though? 

Actually I got that one a bunch of times from various different people. Random people giving me an unsolicited medical diagnosis over the internet. And I'm the one who thinks he knows everything.

Story #2:

The other story I had in mind was similar, but training related. Now, I'm a qualified and quite experienced trainer, with my own strategies and systems that I use and recommend. I train with a strategy that I enjoy and is appropriate to my goals. I had some bloke a year or so ago who was just relentless about trying to get me to ditch it all and do some fatigue chasing style workout he had devised instead. Now, this is a guy with no qualifications, no real accomplishments, 1 rep max lifts about the same as I would do for 10 reps, and so on. But I'm closed minded for not wanting to waste my time with something that doesn't appeal to me and is not appropriate to my goals.

Bottom line:

The inability to consider that what is appealing and what works nicely for you might not be so suitable for somebody else is the ultimate in closed mindedness, bordering on narcissism.  

Now, people do have their right to their opinions and to believe whatever they want. Right up until the point where they have an opinion about something that you're doing, that you didn't ask for. If you're happy doing what you're doing, enjoying it, getting results that you're satisfied with... that's enough. You don't owe it to anyone to be open to changing to something else if you don't want to, any more than they owe it to you to be more like you.