Open-Mindedness: Pros & Cons

There are a few labels that describe my relationship to belief and knowledge: weak atheist, agnostic, weak agnostic, militant agnostic, agnostic gnostic, gnostic, Fortean, epistemological anarchist, skeptic, zetetic, philosophical pessimist, truth-seeker, and I’m sure I could add a few more. Basically, I trust both personal experience and intellectual inquiry more than collective belief, trust facts and rationality more than appeal to authority.

I, of course, consider my position to be superior to the alternatives… and, besides, it’s just my way of seeing and thinking about the world. Ever since a child, I’ve always been a questioner… and conventional answers tend not to satisfy me. I don’t have a choice but to be who I am. But, for the sake of argument, let me present the pros and cons of my attitude.

There are two main pros that come to mind.

First, I have no particular beliefs that I have to defend at all cost. This makes it easy to have a debate with someone who feels compelled to defend their beliefs. Having no absolute beliefs gives me room to shift my position.

Second, this gives me a more open attitude toward knowledge. I don’t have to worry about new data challenging my assumptions. In fact, I seek out new data to challenge my assumptions. In a sense, I can’t lose a debate as long as I maintain this open position because I have nothing to lose. Any debate is an opportunity to learn something I didn’t previously know and I’ll simply adapt my arguments to that new data.

Now for a couple of cons.

First, this may seem like an easy position to maintain, but it actually takes a lot of effort. I never accept anything on faith or on authority. I’m constantly seeking out new info and new perspectives. I’m constantly double-checking what I think I know and verifying claimed facts. This is an endless effort. I might spend hours or even days researching a single point. I honestly try to understand all sides. Because of my values and ideals, I hold truth above all else even when the person I’m debating doesn’t. Depending on time and energy, I’ll often try to understand someone else’s perspective even if they merely dismiss mine.

Second, it can be psychologically difficult living with endless questions and no certainties. At least, I live in a liberal community and so don’t have to defend my lack of belief and ideological certitude. I’m very glad I wasn’t born into a religiously fundamentalist society. Still, even in a liberal community, maintaining a lack of belief isn’t easy. There is something in human nature that makes us want to grasp onto a worldview. A sense of certainty (even when that certainty is vague and/or superficial) can be one of the most comforting things in the world. There is a reason religious people tend to be happier and live longer. Thinking and questioning might be good for social progress, but it’s not necessarily good for personal gain.

I’d say that, if you want to be happy and healthy, you probably should choose to be a closed-minded ideologue. But such isn’t the choice most of us face. I doubt most people choose their psychological attitude towards the world. Such things are a combination of genetics and experiences (especially early experiences), both of which aren’t generally within our control. I couldn’t choose to be a closed-minded ideologue even if I tried. Maybe in the future they’ll have drugs and genetic engineering that will help people to question less and think less independently. Until then, we freethinkers will have to suffer the burden of rationality (it’s similar to the white man’s burden except that it’s open to all races).

7 thoughts on “Open-Mindedness: Pros & Cons

  1. The first one is what the vulgar, prude community calls deception. Are you sure your face is not on some Wanted poster somewhere? Uh-oh, I saw your cat’s picture in my inbox with the label ‘…or his cat’. Lol.

    I remember vividly my interview as the time when the con nearly undid me. Questions on ethics, which have had a bullseye on them ever since I learned to throw, Christ, them topics which I would usually smash suddenly became unbeatable for here was an establishment and for an antiestablishmentist and anarchist like me, it didn’t bode well. Definitely a con of this behaviour.

    This behaviour makes it difficult to simply be a professional for those are fields where values are the authority. You’re lucky you’re not in one, you’ll probably blow your mind. Curiously, I marvel people who can believe off the bat like that. Looks to me that their lives are simpler.

    But the thing is I just not am one of those for after all, they believe in what another man has brought. It could as easily be me being the ‘believed’. One thing that exonerates me when I go against the grain is the fact that the things in question are artefacts and my allegiance is not to man at all.

    Plus, I’ve been doing some catharsis of late.

    • There are certain fields that having an open mind can have benefits, but for most professions it’s probably a disadvantage. From a practical perspective, there is really no personal advantage at all in questioning conventional beliefs and social norms.

      My job is decent for someone like me. No one generally asks my opinion about anything and so there is little opportunity for conflict.

      You’ve been doing some catharsis? I get e-mail notifications when you post on your blog and I have noticed you’ve posted a lot lately. I’ve enjoyed your series of quotes. Is all the posting related to the catharsis?

  2. As for me, I’ve never really been sold on the whole genetics business, alludes too much to Adam & Eve story, although I know you have no tight ties as well, I just wanted to intimate that metaphor.

    Thing is, according to Jung work, I am an introvert, no question. The more time I spend in institutions, rules, groups, clubs, the more I dim. No wonder I never liked school, each term always began nicely then decayed slowly that to end it was a task. Having come into contact with Blake has delineated that which was just mist at first. You might be wondering how I can dislike school and be educated. Fact is, I was virtually home-schooled by my big sister. So, I was reading by 5 or 6. And I had completed grade school work by 7 or so. I remember taking my bro’s uni books to read by 10/11. I went to school on the side but I just, as I said, ‘went’, I wasn’t schooled. In fact I chose what to pick.

    It’s not easy being that way in Africa or anywhere at all. Now that evidence has colonised the world. This certificate, that paper, this science or that evidence.

    • When I speak of genetics, I’m referring to specific scientific research I’ve read about. It’s a complex field. There is no such thing as a single cause for any aspect of human behavior and psychology, but in certain areas a strong genetic link has been found. However, there has also been a lot of research that have shown non-genetic causes that have powerful impact: chemical pollutants, nutrition, parenting style, peer influences, etc. But, no matter the cause, basic personality seems set early in life and research shows it doesn’t tend to change much throughout the rest of life.

      You had a fortunate childhood with a sister willing and able to educate you and reading material available to you that challenged your young mind. My early experience was different, but similar results. I disliked school and generally got bad grades. At the same time, my parents are well educated. They taught me a lot and there were plenty of interesting books around the house.

      I actually learned to read late. I had a learning disability that made word recall difficult. Once I went to therapy for that, my reading ability excelled. I certainly didn’t complete grade school by 7 or so. Schooling almost killed my love of learning. The only thing that saved me was my discovery of libraries. I’ve always had a fondness for reading books I choose to read.

  3. That last comment is related to the first, I guess we were writing concurrently.

    Sure, the posts are cathartic. Generally, my blog shows change over time which I won’t say is progress but illumination how ever it is described.

    I have to stop hiding. My masks are getting stuffy. They’re suffocating now.

    • Yeah. I figured your comment wasn’t in response to the one I was writing at about the same time.

      Good luck with your mask condition. We all suffer from that condition. They can be stuffy, but it can be even more painful to try to remove them.

  4. Well, you may say that, since I completed the work but I didn’t really finish grade school by then, just the work. Had I had no sister to help me, I think I would have had bad grades in school too. I did have problems in math cos we were just to memorize the operations not to analyse them. But, thankfully, I would chance upon explanations and that really helped. I was the ‘why’ kid and my sis even wrestled to get the education into me. I carried my ‘why’ with me everywhere.

    My life is littered with these chance occurrences and I thank God for them. Without them, I wonder, but maybe it’s just my eyes that are sensitive to em.

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