Martijn Schirp • • 6 min read
Why Open-Mindedness Should Go Hand In Hand With Skepticism
De omnibus dubitandum est
Our stream of consciousness is constantly bombarded by harmful information. Propaganda, advertisement, manifestos, popular cultural values and questionable theories of what life is really about. Information that wants to do everything but inform. Because it’s not about whether they are true or not. It’s about getting you to do, think and be what they want you to do, think and be. It’s about your attention. They want it and they want it bad. Because without it, they would cease to exist. They feed themselves with your attention and they mold you so you are willing to give even more.
Can they be held accountable? Yes, in some cases they should be. And so, when society represses equal rights for both man and women you wage war against those values untill they harm no more. When advertisements litter public spaces to brainwash you, you change and re-use it to unmask their true intentions. Life is war, for good things to exist, bad things must perish. If we want fresh air, pollution must go. If we want corruption to stop, transparency must win out. Life is war, and these parasites of the human condition don’t have the right to exist.
But it’s not only the external world we must look out for. We must also clean our own minds. We can do this in a multiply of ways. Some, let’s call them conservatives, propose we hold onto one perspective and look the other way when contradictory information shows up. Sure we will still have problems, but at least we can get used to that, cover it up a little, and don’t have to deal with new ones in the future. But it’s obvious that this life-denying attitude already gives up before trying.
Opposite of this close mindedness we find open mindedness, the willingness to consider new ideas. This is a good trait that keeps your eyes open and face reality as it is, not as you want it to be. And if we ever want to learn what works in life and what doesn’t, we have to keep an open mind. However, this doesn’t automatically mean we accept every new perspective as a truthful perspective. We will only consider it. We take it as an experiment. Because life itself is an ever going on experiment.
So we keep an open mind and use experimentation to test whether the information is valid or not. Experiment in the broadest possible sense: a course of action tentatively adopted without being sure of the eventual outcome. This can be both a scientific experiment (exoteric) and a personal experiment (esoteric). So, in essence, these experiments work to filter out what can be used as a truthful perspective, and what can’t. It separates the noise from the occasional valuable idea.
For example, when an advertisement for the newest deodorant enters your consciousness, you keep an open mind. You will consider the idea that this new formula will turn you into the person you always wanted to be and that it will bring you all the girls. But before you accept this as a truthful perspective, you employ either a thought and, if that is not sufficient, a practical experiment. Does the advertisement have any reason to lie? Do other people who use the product get all the girls? Is there any causal connection between deodorant and being who I want to be? If you’re not sure about all this, you can try the product yourself, and see if what it promises hold true.
Being skeptical to what it is
This skeptical attitude will prevent you from being gullible. It reduces the power outside forces have over your actions and identity. An open mind that doesn’t have this filter, will let in an awful lot of crappy ideas, since there is no way to distinguish between valid and flawed ideas. And even worse, if you take a random, societies or your perspective as the perspective, in other words, if you stop being doubtful about your own truth, you immediately stop being open-minded. You can’t consider new ideas that don’t mix with the already established truth. If you are not skeptical, you are close minded!
For instance, if the history channel claims that old ruins, that can not be explained, are evidence for ancient alien intervention, it would be wise to take a skeptical attitude. Because this is a false dichotomy. Because failing to explain something does not make it proof for something else. You can’t go from ‘I can’t explain something’ to ‘I can explain it’. There could be a dozen other explanations, some of which are more coherent with what we already know. If that is the case, then Occam’s Razor applies. Ancient aliens aren’t necessary to explain the ruins. Now this is not to say it is impossible, but the burden of proof lies with the ancient astronaut theory, not the people who dismiss this claim.
Reality is ambiguous
The point where most people go wrong is thinking there is only one way of gaining truth, one perspective that fits on every bit of data. But describing a painting in terms of its chemical composition can be just as truthful as describing the same information, the painting, from an artistic point of view. Since they both talk a different language, they can never make a claim about what the other is saying. You can’t falsify an inner experience with scientific evidence, nor can you falsify scientific evidence with inner experience.
Consequently most new age people talk in scientific language without a scientific filter, and thus their filters let too much through. In that case it’s impossible to distinguish what is valid and what is not. On the other hand, some have their filters too tight. Like the stereotypical atheists who can be way too skeptical of inner experience, even though their own inner experience taught them this skeptical attitude. They fail to see there is no scientific evidence that all truthful perspectives should have scientific evidence (it can’t justify itself according to its own terms).
And that is a problem. Because everything should be justified on its own terms. Science by science, contemplative science by contemplative science, art by art, personal anecdote by personal anecdote. Failure to do so, will just get the truth covered by shit.
An example of this would be Out Of Body Experiences (OOBE). When someone claims to have experienced an OOBE and you object that such a thing is not possible, for science indicates you are your body and thus the body can’t leave the body, you are making this mistake. Because an OOBE is possible, as experienced. You can’t deny this with scientific evidence. But of course the opposite also holds true, when the experiencer claims he actually left his body he is making a scientific claim, and this can be rejected or accepted on scientific grounds.
Creating room to grow
Once you have an open mind and put the skeptical filters in place there is one more thing left to do: getting rid of social conditioning. Social conditioning are filters that are not necessary true, but only hold true for that society, in that time and age. But throughout history, different values, different moralities, different meanings of freedom, good and bad etc. have existed. This conditioning is what society has to do in order to survive. Because without it, there wouldn’t be any norms to follow (and thus no society). But if a certain society is too anxious to let conflicting ideas roam free, it might reject the one idea that solves its problems. It could lead to close mindedness, not being able to adapt to a new norm even if ones life was depending on it (capitalism and the ecological crisis anyone?) Needless to say, to an individual this can have a suffocating effect, because taking a societies perspective as the boundary of knowledge prevents the potential to think outside it.
It’s necessary to take a retreat out of this constant information overload so you can take a step back, without being constantly influenced by it, and take a more objective look. It’s good to run some fresh water with nothing in it through your mind. So all the old habits and information can go through the newly put in place filters. This re-evaluation of cultural norms are basic necessities for a healthy mind. You might realize there are alterntive ways of living. So if you can, go find a meditation retreat center nearby, take a day walk in the woods, get a boat and float around a lake. Get out of the grip of society and create room for your own truth. Better yet, create your own truth while never stop doubting it!
And why should you care about all this? Because reality is worth fighting for.