22 February 2012

Wednesdays Words 4 - On Open Minds

For today’s Wednesdays Words, you get three quotes for the price of one. Which would be a good deal were it not for the fact these things are free anyway.
This was the quote found in my weekly offerings which spurred on increase:
“A great many open minds should be closed for repairs” – Toledo Blade
It reminded me of this quote:
"The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it." - Terry Pratchett
And in turn, this quote, whose origins aren’t quite certain, but who most people mistakenly attribute to Richard Dawkins, after he quoted it in his book, and tv show:
“By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.”
Quotes such as this, and many others concerning open minds and freedom of thought, have been finding a lot of purchase the past decade due to the New Atheism movement, and more importantly the staunch totalitarian opposition they find in religion.
Religion runs afoul of the open mind because it has what it believes to be a monopoly on truth, and an aversion to the alternative thinking that open minds can foster.
But what do we mean by an ‘open mind’, and just how open should they be? As the above quotes attest, there are problems with open minds being too open. But perhaps what we mean here isn’t such a simplistic view of the open mind.
Rather than thinking of an open mind as a room with an open doorway, free for anyone or anything to enter, I would like to think of an open mind as still having a studious guard at the door. The guard of reason, who filters through the riff-raff of religion and superstition, after they fail to present the appropriate identification.
An open mind should be thought of as a retronym for a closed mind, not as a description in itself. It is a strike back against the idea that there is a closed system; a set of what is right to think about, and what is wrong.
An open mind is open to ideas in that it is open to consider them, much like how a single person is open to advances by potential partners; it doesn’t mean that any new idea that swaggers along will be let in.
On the other hand, we can see a bit of sharpness to the other edge of this sword and need to be wary. After all even the most open minded proponent of reason and logic will have to concede that there should be some form of thing essentially closed for debate. After all to seek to have reason as the defining filter of what enters the open mind, you would have to put this form of rational analysis beyond contestation. Sure you could argue that such a system is demonstrably reliable, and philosophically persuasive, however then you have only effectively moved your crutch back onto the reliability of these methods. The question of whether such logic and reason are known to be true, or if we are just relying on a form of inference and experimental history to show this is so, still remains open.
When forming our own personal philosophies, there are a few ways we can go about it. As in the past it seems that these days many people find it easier to defer their responsibilities in this regard, and simply outsource their philosophical development and standards off to an external source, such as religion. However as I am an atheist I prefer what I believe is the more pragmatic (though also perhaps more taxing) method of having an open mind, and putting in the effort of manning the door with reason; a hopefully unbiased arbiter who is less likely to indulge those selling divine revelation or personal experience to get inside your mind.
At the end of the day, I am not denying that there are a great deal of religious people out there who are very open minded. However somewhere in one’s mind, there must be a seed of unmovable thought which we build our thoughts and values upon; some axiom which we use to define what we are and what we believe. In this case I believe that it is best to set this kernel in tune with the rational concepts of reason, scepticism and logic, rather than faith, obedience and submission.

And that’s my rant for the day. I don’t know how coherent it is, but perhaps now that I have opened my comments up so that anyone can reply I will get some interesting rejoinders.
Well, what do you all think; are open minds good, or bad, or a bit in the middle? Click on the comments link below to let me know.

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