ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Outlines Of An Open Mind

Updated on April 5, 2017

(Note: I didn't originally want this hub published in the "Atheism & Agnosticism" category, but the publishing template required a sub-category, and offered no suitable "philosophy" category. So here we are).


When it comes to extraordinary or outrageous notions, one of the most common counsels is to “keep an open mind.” In principle, it's sound advice. After all, one cannot truly know if one's own position or understanding is correct without comprehensively exploring all points of view.

But the challenge to be “open-minded” is often issued with a misunderstanding of what it truly means. Most commonly, it seems to be mistaken for a philosophical prohibition against EVER rejecting an idea (especially the particular notion one happens to personally favor).

Put simply, open-mindedness is intellectual flexibility -- a consistent and practical readiness to impartially examine new ideas (or re-examine old ones), and a willingness to have one's own ideas or beliefs examined or challenged. What matters most is not one's conclusions (if any) regarding an idea, but the process that leads to them.

Still, it's one thing to be 'open-minded.' It's quite another to be so 'open-minded' that one's brain falls out! For example, another common misconception regarding open-mindedness is the implication that we must start over from 'scratch' when confronting each new idea. But this is both impractical and irrational.

In truth, we approach each new notion with a template of knowledge and understanding shaped through experience and prior conclusions. We compare and contrast new ideas to those we've already analyzed. We learn which resources are dependable, and which modes and methodologies are most helpful.


The most common obstacles to open-mindedness are personal or ideological biases, and the most pernicious are dogmatic religious and political philosophies, which make certain ideas or paradigms sacrosanct. One is so committed to one's presuppositions that every observation or experience is filtered, limited or adapted to fit them.

By contrast, the open mind strives for objectivity. It seeks to honestly test one's ideas and arguments against facts, evidence and even opposing points of view, changing them or abandoning them altogether if they fail. As the atheist author and debater Sam Harris reminds us, “I don't want to be wrong for a moment longer than I need to be.”


One key to objectivity is recognizing the difference between what we KNOW and what we BELIEVE -- two terms that are often mistakenly used interchangeably, or considered merely gradations on the same scale (as if “knowledge” were simply a more certain level of “belief”). But they are different intellectual approaches to reality. “Knowledge” is merely an awareness (an ac-knowledge-ment) of objective facts, while “belief” is a subjective perception of reality.

In practice, what one “believes” should be grounded in the objective facts one “knows.” Conversely, what one “knows” should be totally independent of one's beliefs. In any case, it seems the actual state of belief isn't a conscious choice. Even Blaise Pascal, in his infamous theological 'wager' understood this, and suggested that non-believers “act” as if they believed, in the expectation that one can eventually “cure” one's self of unbelief.

What we DO choose are the criteria, methodologies and modes of thinking we employ in our examinations of the world (and just as importantly, we choose whether we'll apply them consistently and honestly). Three of the most useful are skepticism, logic and the scientific method.


Far too often, skepticism is mistaken for close-mindedness. But in truth, skepticism is merely the practical exercise of doubt in the absence of evidence, not a defacto rejection of new or unique ideas. Uniformly rejecting every new idea creates an incapacity to learn and leads to intellectual paralysis. And uniformly accepting every new idea (especially those that are mutually exclusive) is the pathway to intellectual incoherence.

It seems self-evident that rational human beings occupy the reasonable middle ground, accepting some ideas while rejecting others. While it is not necessary to make up our minds about each and every idea to which we are exposed, we must inevitably draw conclusions about SOME things. Conclusions -- the practical function of the thinking mind -- are the building blocks of intellectual awareness.

Ultimately, the key to objectivity is applying our skepticism to ideas and arguments that AGREE with our biases as well as those that disagree!


Rules of logic are tools that help us navigate our way to the truth more consistently. Understanding the difference between tautologies (statements that are necessarily true, i.e. -- “something is or is not”) and contradictions (“something is AND is not”) can help avoid common logical fallacies and help ensure the consistency of premises in one's reasoning.

For example, if we follow the premise that “everything must have a cause” with the premise that “there must be a first cause” (the cosmological “prime mover”) we are not only failing the tautological test (because it is impossible to know if either premise is necessarily true), we are employing contradictory and mutually exclusive premises (because the truth of one will disprove the other).

Scientific Method

The very essence of the scientific method is a commitment to objectivity and the elimination of personal biases in investigating the world, by emphasizing falsifiability, consistency of results and critical peer review. It is self-correcting, with no “absolute truths” -- only the best currently available explanations. Its driving force is exemplified in the phrase most repugnant to the ideologue and the true believer:

I don't know.

More Than Intellect

In the end, the open mind is more than just the difference between pointless arguments and productive discussions. It's the difference between mental stagnation and intellectual growth. And at its most creative, an open mind can change the world, like the young patent clerk named Albert who daydreamed of chasing light beams and free-falling through space. Ultimately, his inspirations and insights upended our understanding of time, matter and even perspective!

Just as significantly, it's also the difference between abstract moral dictates and genuine moral understanding, for only the open mind can experience empathy (the ability to see the world through the perspective of others) -- the only genuine foundation for human morality.

More From Paladin:


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 12 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Hehe. I beg to differ. ;-) I would definitely agree that a person with an open mind can 'entertain' the cosmological argument as a possibility. Indeed, I would argue that he (or she) MUST! However, I see the the crux of the current discussion as whether or not it qualifies as a 'tautology' (and, obviously, I don't believe it does). I would say that the issue of whether it's a 'valid' argument is a different discussion.

      In any case, I apologize for taking so long to reply. It's been a busy last couple of days -- visiting Mom on Sunday and car shopping today. Both missions accomplished! :-)

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 12 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Actually, you're 'jumping the gun' a little, the discussion was on whether the argument for a 'prime cause'' in the cosmological argument is a valid one.

      The whole discussion was on whether a person with an open mind can entertain the possibility of such a thing or being can exist.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 12 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Actually, no. Every example I offered -- from Yahweh to the FSM to the universe -- has potential origins ("causes") that lay beyond our current ability to scientifically investigate.

      And with regard to deities, this will always be the case (one could even argue this is by design). Heck, we can't even seem to scientifically investigate the LOCATION of Yahweh, let alone his origins, as his residence seems to keep receding farther and farther away as we explore deeper and deeper into space! :-)

      If we completely remove the notion of "gods" from the discussion, our inability to truly know whether there was a "first cause" becomes much more clear. Without that dogmatic interpolation, we're left to admit that two distinct states of existence are equally possible -- a universe WITH a "first cause" and one WITHOUT a "first cause" (perhaps as part of a multiverse).

      Currently -- and probably indefinitely -- it's impossible for us to determine which is the truth. Hence, it's impossible for us to characterize either premise as a 'tautology.'

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 12 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't science about what can be observed and tested?

      Science tells us that everything we see, hear, feel, smell and taste has a cause.

      I'm speaking about a a cause here, not a purpose, that's a different argument.

      Therefore, if that can be tested, then it can be proved!

      If everything has a cause, then the existence of a 'prime cause' can be surmised!

      Hence it fits because it can be shown to be true!

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 12 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Thanks, Lawrence!

      As for the cosmological argument, I must disagree that it doesn't fail the tautological test. By definition, a tautology must necessarily and self-evidently be true. If one can conceive a practical exception to a premise, it cannot be a tautology.

      In the case of both premises I cited, I propose that they are both merely human intuitions, and one can easily propose a practical (and notable) exception to each.

      In the case of "everything must have a cause," billions of people believe in some eternal deity that has no cause. Since "God" would necessarily be included among "everything," a practical exception to the premise exists. So it is not necessarily nor consistently true, and is therefore not a tautology.

      In the case of "there must be a FIRST cause," there is no way to know with certainty that it is necessarily true. Merely by accepting the notion of an eternal deity, we undermine the very notion of "causes" -- 'first' or otherwise -- because we make the exception that there is no "first cause" for our chosen god.

      And we can apply this exception arbitrarily to a multitude of other notions (the universe, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, etc.), exempting them from the 'first cause' premise as well. Again, if there's a practical exception to the premise, it's not a tautology.

      In the end, I would argue that neither premise is self-evident and impossible to 'know' beyond mere intuition or extrapolation.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 12 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      Great hub, I enjoyed reading it and largely agree with what you're saying about the open mind.

      One thing I'll point out though, the cosmological argument doesn't disagree with the tautological (as far as I can see) because it points out that everything we have observed in existence does have a cause (most of it we know how it came into being, or at least we have theories that explain them) hence we know their 'cause' and everything has a cause.

      What we don't know, is what (or I would say 'who' the prime cause is?)

      Once we establish that there was a 'prime cause' then we see the cosmological argument doesn't violate your tautological argument because they are known to exist just like subatomic particles in physics are known to exist but have not been seen or proved.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 13 months ago from Michigan, USA

      I'm sorry, Sparkster, but now you're unequivocally wrong, and it can be easily demonstrated. You say my most recent comments are "evidence" that one can be "so skeptical that you don't even consider the evidence."

      Yet you have absolutely NO means of knowing what evidence I have or haven't explored. Nor could you possibly know the critical reasoning I applied (or didn't apply) to whatever evidence I did examine.

      In the spirit of this hub, a truly open-minded person would have undertaken this discussion guided by two opportunities --

      -- First, the opportunity to educate another on evidence and knowledge that apparently isn't widely known. You would have offered links to evidence which I could have then critically examined on my own. Only THEN would you know enough about me to speculate on my skepticism!

      -- Second, the opportunity to test your own ideas and beliefs regarding UFOs by reasonably engaging someone with whom you disagree. In other words, not only educating someone else, but possibly learning something yourself!

      Instead, you immediately presumed that -- merely because I disagree with your own conclusions -- I haven't even considered the evidence. To paraphrase your own accusations, there is no clearer example of what this hub is saying than your own comments!

      So sad...

    • sparkster profile image

      Sparkster Publishing 13 months ago from United Kingdom

      That axiom "it's good to be open minded but no so open minded that your brain falls out" can just as easily be turned around with "it's okay to be skeptical but not so skeptical that you don't even consider the evidence" - see where I'm coming from? To be quite honest, your reply is perfect evidence of that!

    • sparkster profile image

      Sparkster Publishing 13 months ago from United Kingdom

      Fair enough but but you're wrong when you say the evidence simply isn't there. That's the thing you see. They don't even know about the evidence and don't even look at it!

      There's actually so much of it that it's overwhelming. I've had many experiences myself and have had multiple witnesses to those events in addition to photographs and videos and face to face contacts! Obviously, that isn't evidence but do you know that there are hundreds upon hundreds of declassified government documents which prove these visitations?

      Have you seen those documents?

      Are you aware of the physical evidence?

      I mean, if people have an explanation for the 8 month UFO event which was witnessed, photographed and video recorded by the military of Brazil, much of which is now declassified, I would love to hear the skeptic's explanations! And also for the RFID chips being pulled out of experiencer's bodies - I would love for them to explain that too! And for the French declassified Ministry of Defence documents which also confirm they made contact and even took a photo which is now declassified - can they explain that one?

      There are several countries around the world who have now declassified a lot of their information but skeptics are quick to say that the evidence isn't there when really it is and they don't even know about it! So many countries are now releasing information on this topic that it's already undeniable!

      My argument would be this:

      Do you really think that nearly every government of every country around the world has spend the last 100 years and millions of dollars researching and producing thousands upon thousands of documents about something that doesn't even exist?? Can you see how absurd that argument is when you actually take into the account the real evidence?

      What I've mentioned in this comment isn't even the tip of the iceberg! All major countries around the world are now declassifying this evidence! There are also now declassified documents which prove that they've also taken part in many psychic warfare experiments with success but despite that evidence, the skeptics still deny it because once again they are simply not aware of it - they just think they automatically know best.

      Do you also know that the CIA have just declassified 13-million documents which prove psychic abilities like remote viewing and also the reality of UFOs - have the skeptics actually gone through all 13 million of these documents to check the evidence? Nope! They are not even aware of it because they do not keep up to date with the latest scientific research.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 13 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Sparkster, though I can't offer any observations regarding your anecdotal examples (as I'm not privy to all the details), my own experience with skeptics (including myself) moves me toward conclusions opposite from your own.

      It's been my experience that skeptics who debunk "UFO" accounts are generally quite knowledgeable about the underlying science (which is why they're skeptical in the first place), as well as having a fuller comprehension of the vast cosmic scales which tend to make such events highly improbable.

      I suspect most skeptics -- definitely myself -- would LOVE for alien visitations to be true! It would be exciting and momentous -- truly earth-shattering! But the evidence simply isn't there.

      As for Dawkins, I suspect it's his proper British accent and careful articulation that makes him seem more condescending than he actually is. And I've seen nothing to suggest to me that he's a narcissist. I don't even know who Darren Brown is, so I can't comment on him.

      In any case, I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree on topics like this. Thanks again for visiting and commenting.

    • sparkster profile image

      Sparkster Publishing 13 months ago from United Kingdom

      About ten years ago I would have completely agreed with you but it doesn't seem that way to me any longer. It seems that skeptics have a habit of debunking and explaining away everything that they don't understand. They seem to think that just because one thing can be explained in such a way that it then provides an explanation for everything else in existence, despite their lack of knowledge or scientific understanding in many of those areas. I don't hold that against them of course but I do see many thinking that they can use arguments to explain away things like UFOs, manifestation techniques like law of attraction, etc when they have very little knowledge or understanding of the science or mechanisms behind how they work. In fact, I see many of them using explanations to defend their skepticism which actually prove the exact opposite, one good example being the placebo effect. They'll actually use evidence which supports the claims of believers in an effort to debunk them! I think this kind of thinking is exactly what we have been lulled into in order to cut us off from the real truth. For example, they may come to the conclusion that one UFO experiencer is delusional but will then use that to debunk the rest of them who may be having genuine experiences. It's something I see way too often and they always seem to develop the opinion that know better than everyone else and can then explain everything else, even the unknown. I really think it's that kind of thinking which appeals to the ego and which has been used to keep us subservient and to stop us from "waking up" to the truth. My two best examples would be Derren Brown and Richard Dawkins, both of who are cerebrally narcissistic and are unable to see the flaws in their own skeptical thinking and who are both quite egotistical in the way they portray their skepticism - they seem to think they know better than everyone else, even the scientists who are miles ahead of them in their understanding and knowledge of scientific evidence. That, to me, is a perfect example of not just egotism but also self-delusion which is what I think has allowed us to be controlled and manipulated for so long. Amazingly, Derren Brown has proven that mind control is a reality yet he claims to be skeptical about everything else related to it whilst at the same time actually proving them without realizing he's doing it... unless he's simply just not telling the truth, of course!

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 13 months ago from Michigan, USA

      Thank you for the kind words, Sparkster!

      In an earlier draft, I did make a reference to the more common usage of the "brain falling out" axiom (lest anyone think I was trying to claim it as my own). But I always try to keep my hubs nice and lean -- 1,000 words or less -- and it eventually got chopped with the rest of the fat.

      Unfortunately, confirmation bias is an all-too-human flaw, shared by both believers and non-believers. However I would argue that, by and large, non-believers have an easier time overcoming it. Ego notwithstanding, they tend to have much less personally invested in their atheism, while the theological bias looms much larger (by necessity) in the world of the believer.

      That aside, I see from perusing your profile that you have tons of hubs to examine, and some of them look downright fascinating! I look forward to reading (and hearing) more from you!

      Thanks again. Cheers. :-)

    • sparkster profile image

      Sparkster Publishing 13 months ago from United Kingdom

      Now this is a good article, beautifully written. You are an excellent writer. I wrote something a while ago on the importance of being open minded and in that article I made the point that the statement "it's good to be open minded but not so open minded that your brain falls out" is a misunderstanding of what it means to be open minded in the first place.

      When I was studying many psychological topics many years ago, a few times I came across the point being made that true skepticism is to neither believe nor disbelieve and to not have any opinion towards or against until you've analysed and compared both sides of the argument. I like that outlook.

      I'd also like to point out that whereas confirmation bias, etc is often a defence used by disbelievers, they are often guilty of doing exactly that themselves - they look for patterns which confirm their own disbelief and ignore everything else whereas believers often do the exact same thing.