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What Is an Open Mind?

Why is an open mind like an open well? Because it is easily contaminated by anything the wind blows in. This is the problem with what many call an open mind, in any case - like someone who is considered open-minded because he believes in visitors from space, bending spoons with mind power, and "remote viewing" using ESP. This, however, is more a sign of a gullible mind, so let's look at a healthier definition of the term.

A Better Definition

Of course, we usually like to think that we are open minded, and that this is a good thing. According to a couple different dictionaries this means: 1. Being receptive to new and different ideas or the opinions of others; 2. Not narrow or conservative in one's thought, expression, or conduct.

We might want to fit those definitions, and why not? However, some take this to mean that we must entertain any idea regardless of merit, or that believing in unlikely things is a sign of being open-minded. That gives too much credit to faulty ideas and unsupportable beliefs.

I watched a program on crop circles the other day, for example. Circles and other geometric shapes of flattened crops appear in fields around the world on occasion, and for years many speculated that alien spaceships, "energy vortexes" and other outrageous things caused these. Paranormal "experts" claimed that they could not have been caused by humans, because the crops were not crushed. Many people bought into this hype in the name of having an open mind.

Interestingly, when several individuals and groups finally claimed responsibility, and even showed exactly how they made the designs, they were largely ignored. So much for believer's open minds. They certainly were not open to the most likely scenario - the one with the most evidence. Obviously, many wanted a particular answer (space aliens) or wanted to keep the mystery alive. As a result, to this day tricksters make their designs in fields, only to have paranormal "experts" stomp into the fields the following day and proclaim that "no human could have made these," even going so far as to claim that the films of the circles being made were faked.

Now, being curious about the mystery, and speculating about possible causes is good. And being "receptive to new and different ideas" is also a good thing. But what about adopting beliefs without supporting evidence? I am certainly receptive to the idea that previously unknown forces can cause things to happen, but I think it would be very closed-minded to exclude the possibility that there are more normal explanations - especially when the bulk of the evidence points in that direction.

What does having an open mind mean then? Certainly it means to be receptive to new ideas and to avoid narrowness of thought. But it doesn't mean accepting ideas that make no sense, or adopt beliefs without any reason or evidence. And being open minded has to at least mean being open to the possibility that the explanations we would like or which are more interesting may be wrong ones.

Your brain can analyze various possible explanations for anything, and an open mind may assure you that you consider all those possibilities. Still, it shouldn't prevent you from discarding those explanations without evidence in favor of those there is evidence for. To put it another way, being open minded should never be an excuse to believe anything in the absence of thoughtful analysis.

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