"Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science." -Georges Seurat

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Are You Open-Minded or Are Your Brains Just Falling Out? A Simple Test

I've noticed that most of the pseudoscience floating around today gets perpetuated by people claiming that they are being open-minded on an issue while the "scientific establishment" just doesn't want to disrupt the status quo or accept a paradigm shift or to shoot the goose that laid the golden funding egg or whatever. It's Mainstream Science that is closed-minded, not me, they say. I've seen this claimed by so many Bigfoot believers, climate change denialists, UFO hunters, anti-vaccine activists, etc. that it's started to rub me the wrong way. I appreciate that these folks think they are being open-minded, because it's definitely good to be open-minded about things, but like the old saying goes, not so open-minded that your brains fall out.

So how do you know if you are too open-minded? How do you know if your brains are falling out? Here's a simple test for open-mindedness that everyone should take when thinking about an issue. I saw this idea on a comment board somewhere at skeptic.com and had to borrow it. You'll find that it's spectacularly useful in cutting through layers of confusion, for debating issues, weighing reasonable arguments, etc.

The test is this: Pick a side of an argument (if you haven't already). Then ask yourself, what would it take to convince me that my position is incorrect, that I am wrong? What evidence or argument would it take to sway you to the alternative?

If your answer is "I dunno" or "Nothing would convince me" or some impossible evidential standard, then maybe you are not really being open-minded, reasonable, rational, critical, or appropriately skeptical. You certainly aren't being scientific, which requires empirical testing of all claims for refutation or verification. If you aren't dealing with a claim that is testable or falsifiable, then it is not a scientific hypothesis or theory, it's just a plain old regular everyday unsupported belief with nothing to back it up except more belief. If this is the case for your side of a debate, be open-minded enough to consider the possibility that perhaps your brains are falling out.

Let's take Bigfoot as an example. I don't happen to believe in Bigfoot, I think the good solid compelling physical evidence just isn't there when it obviously should be. But I am more than happy to admit that I would gladly change my mind once solid irrefutable physical evidence appeared, like a body or major body parts (dead or alive or fossilized would suffice). What would it take a Bigfoot believer to disbelieve, to change his/her mind? There is almost never an answer given to this question, as it's never even considered or entertained by most.  I sometimes find myself asking what's the point of arguing, or really of going over evidence and reasoned debate, since so many people are never going to change their minds anyway. They aren't swayed by evidence because their mind is made up, or they give proportionally-greater weight to evidence that is proportionally-crappier than real forms of actual evidence. And that's the problem. More often than not, in pseudoscience and in life, believers just want to believe. And that's not being open-minded, that's the close-minded version of your brains falling out.


  1. I concur with the requirement of a scientifically testable hypothesis for cases of debatable phenomena. Except for the proposition that 9/11 was an inside job. Nothing that might be advanced would convince me that this is so. My mind is NOT open to the "possibility" of it. It is closed completely on this matter.

    Forget about the mountain of evidence for 9/11 as a Bin Laden/KSM directed plot carried out by teams of jihadist "soldiers" (see dispositive Popular Mechanics article debunking the conspiracy theories), you only have to understand general & specific tendencies of human behavior to *KNOW* that 9/11 was NOT an inside job.

    If it was, then how many people do you need? Hundreds! From the single high level federal govt decision maker devising the plot & the others at that level all agreeing to it, to mid & lower level govt officials organizing the logistics of executing it, to the public & private sector lackeys handling the details in situ (bomb techs, structural engineers, building custodians, security personnel, etc., etc.), you soon realize you’d need a veritable army to pull it off. Almost all of whom would be loyal American citizens having NO problem with KILLING potentially thousands of their fellow citizens.

    And for what justifiable purpose? What political agenda could conceivably justify it?

    The idea could only have come from ONE person (Bush, Cheney, some other Neo-Con) since multiple people don't spontaneously, coincidently conceive an identical given notion at the same moment. That ONE person would then share his idea with a second person, then a third, and so on, until you have a "team" of scores or even hundreds.

    Not one of these people, situated high or low, said "No, I won't do it if it means killing other Americans on American soil." Or, if any did decline, they must have then voluntarily agreed to stay silent about it, or else have been threatened to do so.

    There are always outliers, subjects on the fringe that deviate from norms or generalities.

    Where is that ONE individual who revealed to the news media what he knew about the US govt killing its own on 9/11/2001? It's been 11 years & no one has developed a conscience (the sense of guilt would be impossible for a normal person to bear indefinitely), no one has gotten drunk & let something slip at a bar or a party, no one has confided in a spouse who might tell someone else, no one has confessed on his death bed?

    He’d only have to send an anonymous email from a public computer (library, internet cafe) or an untraceable letter via snail mail with insider info, facts, details, that can be investigated & confirmed to multiple news outfits & presto, he blows the lid off the biggest secret of all time & becomes a hero.

    But it hasn't happened & never will. Because 9/11 was NOT an inside job. Simple.

    Conclusion: Because not one person (of the hundreds involved) having knowledge of 9/11 as a domestically conceived & executed plot has spilled the beans then I say that, as a FACT, the conspiracy theorists are incontrovertibly wrong & my mind is NOT open to any counter argument.

    Sorry about the essay-like ramble. But for me it's a similar analysis for Bigfoot. With thousands of "sightings" reported across 49 states (Hawaii the exception) over decades we don't have a body (shot, hit by car, dead from other causes) or even a pelt, toe bone, or attributable piece of scat. Nor do we have a single example of Bigfoot-like evidence in the North American fossil record. Nothing that can convince a skeptic to become an ex-skeptic.

    If Bigfoot exists, you must have something tangible & indisputable as proof by now. You must, if he is real. If you still believe, then you are operating purely by faith. Faith that what eyewitnesses say is Bigfoot is true. Faith that they aren't hoaxing, hallucinating, or misidentifying another animal.

    Faith is not *proof* of anything & never was.


    Windigo ~ Somewhere in the Rockies, USA

    1. Actually I think you did specify what might convince you that 9/11 was an inside job. For example, a letter or piece of information saying how and why it was done which could not be faked and must have been insider info. Or perhaps the hundreds of people that must have been involved come forward and explain it all, blowing the lid off the greatest and most pointless conspiracy in the history of mankind. So I think you have specified very clearly what your evidential standard is, and since it has not been met, your default assumption is the reasonable one: 9/11 was NOT an inside job, and this is fact until proven otherwise by actual, irrefutable, compelling physical evidence as listed above. This does fit nicely with the Bigfoot analysis, thank you for your comments.

  2. I don't believe my position is my "default assumption" (i.e., the one I hold to *until* someone comes forward to blow the lid off the official version of 9/11) for the reason that I don't entertain the possibility of a govt conspiracy to begin with.

    Two people have a hard enough time keeping a banal gossipy secret to themselves for a few hours, let alone a few days.

    "Anonymous" leaks of classified info are made all the time to the media by high-level federal cabinet members or other parties privy to closed-door policy discussions.

    During WW2, it was all the govt could do to keep the Manhattan Project under wraps, even with the federal Office of Censorship putting the muzzle on the press during the critical period leading up to Hiroshima - a different time when a phone leaker to a news org would be rebuffed in the interests of patriotism & national security.

    I don't consider it a possibility, even an infinitesimally remote one, that anyone will come forward to reveal that 9/11 was an inside job. The point I made re human nature & behavior remains valid & inarguable, as I see it: that at least one person having insider knowledge must have come forward DURING the planning of the plot or within a reasonable time (one or two years, not twelve) AFTER its execution. This did not happen, THUS there was no conspiracy.

    I am just as intransigent re the existence of Bigfoot. I outlined my 9/11 analysis (a bit too exhaustively, probably) to set up my basis for refuting any & all Bigfoot-is-real claims.

    Patterson-Gimlin footage is not direct *evidence* of BF's existence to an open-minded skeptic, nor are thousands of eyewitness claims, nor are plaster casts of huge footprints that look like muppet slippers, nor are a few "unidentified" hairs found in the woods. AFTER a BF carcass actually turns up, there MIGHT be value in reexamining the above-mentioned things (unless already proved fake) as potential *corroborating* evidence as we'd have a flesh & blood specimen to compare them against, but are not in themselves irrefutable proof since they can be faked, while a real, tangible BF corpse cannot.

    However, after 200 (or so) years, with hundreds of millions of hunters, fur trappers, hikers, campers having guns while traversing Bigfoot "territory", NOT ONE BF has been shot & presented to show he exists. So I say absolutely he does not exist. Thus the P-G film, hairs, footprints, sightings, etc., ultimately are all of no account to a closed-minded skeptic like me.

    I am so certain that a dead Squatch won't ever surface that, were it actually to happen, I will wear the same pair of socks for a month, eat them, then post the video on YouTube. There, that's my contract with the world & I can't honorably back out of it. (Such a statement DOES NOT buttress my position in any substantive way, of course, only evidences my level of conviction.)

    I see that a "researcher" recently announced in a press release that she has purported samples of BF DNA which she is testing further before posting the results for peer review.


    I know which socks I'll wear & eat (brown, ankle-high, with reinforced toe & heel) if she pulls it off & presents indisputable proof of the greatest zoological discovery since dinosaur fossils were originally dug up by someone who figured out what he really had - *proof* of enormous, monstrous creatures that once walked the earth.

    So is it my "default assumption" that BF doesn't exist until a body is found? I might argue it is not, since I do not consider it possible he is real to begin with. Meaning, a body WILL NOT be found, ever. (If someone else decides that it's 49% or 3% or .00001% possible, according to their own analysis, then their affirmative position that BF is a myth IS the default one.)



    1. And here's the pair of slippers I will eat with you: http://www.kaboodle.com/reviews/bigfoot-slippers

      Thanks yet again for your witty and insightful comments, Windigo!