Should You Be Open Minded?
By Steve Gillman
Is it good to be open minded? Most people assume that it is.
However, there are differences in how the concept of an open
mind is defined in practice. What many call an open mind is more
like an uncovered cistern - easily contaminated by the germs
of various bad ideas, mistaken beliefs and nonsense. And just
as a person's body doesn't function as well drinking polluted
water, a person's mind doesn't think as well when polluted with
You have probably met people who subscribe to this definition.
They are proud of being open minded, but take this to mean a
willingness to believe in almost anything. Such a person might
read a book on creating reality through intention alone, and
immediately adopt a belief in this. He or she may talk to the
dead through mediums, call psychic advisors, and believe in alien
When I wrote about this before, I suggested that such beliefs
were a sign of a gullible mind more than of an open mind. More
than one person wrote to say it doesn't seem gullible to think
that we're not alone in the universe. I had to agree. In fact,
given the number of other stars that have other planets, it seems
very likely that there are alien life forms out there. It's a
matter of probability.
Notice, however, that being open to the likelihood of other
life forms isn't the same as believing specific stories for which
there is no good evidence. In fact, if we consider the number
of reasonable explanations for events like the 1948 Roswell UFO
incident, it seems very close-minded to ignore them in favor
of less likely invented explanations which many people choose
to believe. It seems more likely that theirs is a "need
to believe" for reasons that have nothing to do with wanting
the truth or having an open mind.
A Better Way to Be Open Minded
Here are a couple different dictionary definitions: 1. Receptive
to new and different ideas or the opinions of others; 2. Not
too narrow or conservative in one's thought, expression, or conduct.
Now, that sounds like a reasonable person.
To be such an open minded person means to be "receptive"
then, but not to automatically take to heart what we receive.
Just as we can give any person we meet a chance and then choose
not to invite him to our party, we don't have to entertain any
idea regardless of merit. It is one thing to listen to a new
idea, and quite another to embrace it.
I always love to read about the Amazing Randi, a magician
who regularly proves psychics and others to be charlatans. For
example, he has shown many audiences exactly how those who bend
spoons with their minds do it - and it isn't by mind power alone.
Interestingly, no matter how many times Randi uncovers the frauds,
people still want to believe that some of these guys are using
telekinesis to bend those spoons or move objects.
Early in life, Randi was placed in charge of a astrology column
for a newspaper in Canada. He simply cut out and shuffled up
old entries and pasted them onto the various signs randomly to
create each days "readings." Nonetheless, readers thought
he was right on in his astrological advice for them.
Now, many think it is simply being "open minded"
to accept that people might bend spoons telekinetically, or that
the "psychics" who write astrology columns are really
tapping into some higher forces. But suppose at some point we
learn the trick of "psychically" bending spoons, and
read about the techniques of "cold reading" and other
psychological tricks used to create astrology columns and "read
minds?" Then what will we think?
At this point we learn who really has an open and active mind.
Some people will continue to be "believers," but others
will see that the more rational explanations make more sense.
The latter is the healthier response. After all, once scientists
showed that germs cause illness, a man who continued to believe
it is caused by evil spirits would have been closed minded, not
open minded, right? And while the consequences of such belief
are clearer in such a case, there are always consequences to
being closed minded.
Our minds can analyze various possible explanations for anything,
and it is mentally healthy to consider many different possibilities
- even new and radical ones. Creativity would be stifled without
a broad-minded approach to things. But being open minded has
to also mean being open to the possibility that the more interesting
explanations, or the ones we would like to be true, may be the
wrong ones. In other words, it has to allow for critical analysis
With the proper definition then, being open minded is a good
thing. It can even lead to questions like that posed in the title
of this page.