Open-minded vs. hungry-minded

by on February 27, 2017 at 12:59 am in Books, Current Affairs, Philosophy | Permalink

From Dan Wang:

Let me take this opportunity to register a complaint with the term “open-minded,” which is increasingly praised as an important virtue.

I’ve started to dislike the term. First of all, it’s unobjectionable—who would profess he is not open-minded? More importantly, it’s not always clear what the term refers to, and this is worth thinking through. It might indicate the state of being “soft-minded,” in which one would readily be swayed by better arguments. But often it tends to connote “empty-minded,” in which one accepts anything and retains little. Many people are indeed open to different cultures and ideas, but they’re not necessarily conceptualizing their experience, nor active in seeking new experiences out.

I would like for everyone to be “hungry-minded,” in which one realizes that there is so much to know.

Much (by no means all) of the post is a review of The Complacent Class.  Dan of course is an excellent reader:

By introducing little oddities in the text, Cowen makes room for claims that are too difficult to baldly state; in other cases, watch for occasions in which he’s offering commentary on something other than what he’s directly writing about.

I am envious that Dan is now in Kunming again…

1 Kingdom February 27, 2017 at 1:19 am

Nice description of “minds”

2 anon February 27, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Yes, also a nice related piece here:

Why the American Public Seems Allergic to Facts

3 anon February 27, 2017 at 1:13 pm

And yet another, this one noting negative social media effects.

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-death-of-expertise/

4 ha2 February 27, 2017 at 1:31 am

It’s disappointing, but like so many descriptors, open-minded immediately gets hijacked. Being open to new ideas is good, but it immediately becomes used as a cudgel whenever someone doesn’t like any particular one. Why don’t you believe there’s a chance that aliens did 9-11? Aren’t you open-minded, isn’t there a chance?
;
Be open-minded, but not so open that your brain falls out…

5 Ethan Bernard February 27, 2017 at 2:32 am

Yes. In my experience, open-minded means “unwilling to pass judgement on ideas.”

6 Jeff R February 27, 2017 at 9:08 am

It’s a dress up for cultural relativism, too, sometimes. “Maybe there’s something about growing up in Somalia that makes it a perfectly rational decision to perform clitoridectomies on young women without anesthesia. I’m trying to keep an open mind on the subject.”

7 Hazel Meade February 27, 2017 at 10:26 am

Open-mindedness should mean you’re willing to consider the perspective of Somalians on the issue, but not necessarily that you’re forbidden from having a position on it. It should mean “willingness to be persuaded”, not “officially neutral on the subject”.

8 Jeff R February 27, 2017 at 11:16 am

Thank you for making my point.

9 anon February 27, 2017 at 10:17 am

There is a term from social science called “crystallization of belief.” When I first heard it, I cringed. We need beliefs to operate, but crystallization seems going too far, to something that must be shattered to change.

Nonetheless, we see many with crystallized beliefs all around us, reinforced by social networks.

To go there, Pressed for what evidence exists, Spicer would say only that Trump “has believed that for a while based on studies and information he has.”

That was laughed at in the “facts require proof” community, but as I was saying yesterday, we have whole social media that work another way. “Retweet this to make it true.”

10 Hazel Meade February 27, 2017 at 10:44 am

Reality has a way of shattering crystalized beliefs, eventually. It took 75 years for communism to collapse, although it was painfully obvious it wasn’t going to work within 10 years of the Bolshevik revolution (and every other communist revolution everywhere). People become deeply attached to trying to “win” and being “right” in the face of all evidence.

Speaking of social networks, there’s enough horrible stuff Trump is doing that there’s no need to invent fake news or focus on trivialities, and yet my news feed is full of shit like “Did Trump staffer make a secret hand sign in this press briefing (photo)?” Come on people, FOCUS. It’s impossible to have a coherent opposition if you’re constantly distracted by trivial dumb shit.

11 anon February 27, 2017 at 10:47 am

I am no Trump fan, but I definitely have to screen out a lot of suspicious or inconsequential crap. Like where Sean Spicer was born. WTF. Who cares?

12 Brian Donohue February 27, 2017 at 11:50 am

Sounds sort of like the idea of ‘consilience’, though, from the real sciences. EO Wilson wrote a whole book about it. Pretty good description of how we hit on natural selection I think. Maybe heliocentrism too.

13 Art Deco February 28, 2017 at 11:20 am
14 Tagore Smith February 27, 2017 at 1:41 am

Can we now come up with a euphemism for closed-minded? I’m 45 now, and think it would take very persuasive arguments to move me much from my current convictions. Can I start calling myself “resolute-minded?”

15 TMC February 27, 2017 at 8:28 am

“Experienced” 🙂

16 A Definite Beta Guy February 27, 2017 at 10:41 am

“strong priors”

17 Horhe February 27, 2017 at 11:57 am

GK Chesterton – “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

18 peri February 27, 2017 at 12:13 pm

+1
Being an oracle like Chesterton blows away being either open-minded or closed-minded.

19 prior_test2 February 27, 2017 at 1:48 am

‘who would profess he is not open-minded’

Apparently lots of Americans – take young earth creationists who are in no way, shape, or form open minded when it comes to evolution, for example.

‘I would like for everyone to be “hungry-minded,” in which one realizes that there is so much to know.’

The idea that using the term hungry minded would somehow be useful in terms of the noted young earth creationists is just hilarious.

‘By introducing little oddities in the text’

One hopes that Prof. Cowen isn’t blasting any floodlights in his text, however.

20 dan1111 February 27, 2017 at 5:26 am

A typical example highlighting why it’s a useless term.

Lots of people believe various things strongly. Some people believe very strongly that the earth is billions of years old. Some people are immovable in their conviction that God does not exist. Some people firmly believe that humans evolved from primitive life forms. And so on.

The reason you selected young earth creationists is not because they are less open to persuasion than myriad other groups, but because they hold to a belief which you believe is stupid.

21 Jack February 27, 2017 at 7:06 am

+1

And another +1 for this

“The reason you selected young earth creationists is not because they are less open to persuasion than myriad other groups, but because they hold to a belief which you believe is stupid.”

(And I tend to think young earth creationists hold to a belief, which I find stupid!)

22 anon February 27, 2017 at 10:22 am

The age of the earth and the fossil record tally in evidence 10,000 ways to Sunday.

Do you really want to put on equal basis: examining that evidence, or declaring it a supernatural conspiracy?

(Pressed on the geologic or fossil record, young partners will name God or Devil as the one who laid a trap for nonbelievers.)

23 Hazel Meade February 27, 2017 at 10:34 am

Yes, this is a perfect example of the stupid use of “open-minded”.

“Open-minded” doesn’t (shouldn’t) mean a false pretense that all beliefs are equally plausible. Stop using it that way.

24 dan1111 February 27, 2017 at 10:52 am

As you hint at in your last sentence, young-earth creationism is a non-falsifiable proposition. Creationists posit a God who can create anything out of nothing. Such a God could easily create dinosaur bones in the ground, light already travelling partway from stars to earth, etc. In fact, this would be no harder to create than anything else. There is no piece of evidence that could disprove young-earth creationism.

As I stated, it’s not about a particular level of commitment (against the evidence). It’s about commitment to beliefs which you make a value judgement to be bad/stupid/implausible/whatever.

25 anon February 27, 2017 at 10:58 am

Most Christians, including the Pope, actually disagree. That is, they accept the Enlightenment recognition of an old earth, and It does not preclude their faith.

https://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Found-Time-Discovery/dp/0465013376

Young earthism is disproved by its own contortions. As Hazel says, don’t be intentionally stupid.

26 dan1111 February 27, 2017 at 11:12 am

My single point here is that young earth creationists are called “closed-minded” is based on a value judgement of their beliefs. People keep responding to that by making yet more value judgements of those beliefs.

Just to be clear, I’m not a young-earth creationist, and I find the doctrine implausible for the very reasons you state.

27 Hazel Meade February 27, 2017 at 11:39 am

It’s difficult to believe that young-earth creationists are open minded, given that the evidence is so overwhelmingly against them. If they were open minded, they would have been persuaded by now, as most Christians have been.

28 anon February 27, 2017 at 10:27 am

Note: one of the answers to my question discards the whole of the Enlightenment.

29 JWatts February 27, 2017 at 11:11 am

“The reason you selected The reason you selected young earth creationists is not because they are less open to persuasion than myriad other groups, but because they hold to a belief which you believe is stupid.”

Also, prior_test’s post are often as much about moral preening as about anything else. He loves to repeatedly bash certain groups over the head and brings them into posts on any tangential excuse. Apparently it was too contrived to connect this topic with the Koch brothers, the Mercatus institute, GMU or the state of VA, so he went with a back up target.

30 thfmr February 27, 2017 at 2:13 am

Self-congratulatory could fit right up there with self-recommending.

31 Li Zhi February 27, 2017 at 2:21 am

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Well, at least as long as they’re not on a university campus or political rally. In the USA. As long as the PC police aren’t around. Until we can actually monitor and control what they’re thinking… But it is sad that Dan thinks that one size fits all. That having a flexible belief system is the optimum belief system for any and all contingencies. I think he’s wrong. (Although he didn’t actually claim specifically what I’m accusing him of.) I think we’re stronger with a variety of belief systems. I don’t want our unit military commanders to be too open-minded, for example. I wonder about Dan’s background: whether he ever led troops in combat or headed a mission critical team or even founded a successful start-up. And I also agree with ha2 that Dan’s attempt to hijack the term was unimpressive, contrived, and conceited. Or so it seemed to me. I think there’s a time (and place) for making a decision, and a time and place for executing a plan. I’ve forgotten the platitude from (after?) the Second World War, something like if academic scientists had their way, the planes would never have been built. We need academic types, but to think that other types are less effective in ANY context is clearly nonsense. Something about if you have a hammer all you see are nails, I guess.

32 Zeitgeisty February 27, 2017 at 4:36 am

So in other words there is a Straussian reading to Tyler’s new book

33 P Burgos February 27, 2017 at 11:30 pm

That seems to be obvious. Though why Cowen believes esoteric writing to be appropriate to whatever case he is trying to make is beyond me. Texts were written with esoteric messages to protect some readers from harmful truths, to protect the author from angry mobs, or as a pedagogical tool to train receptive minds, or some combination of those reasons. If I had to guess, it is the first of those three. Cowen has tenure, and I would guess that he isn’t so venal as to fear for his sinecures were he to express an unpopular opinion. He is a scholar, not a philosopher in the grandest sense, and accordingly isn’t capable of shaping minds and souls in the manner of a Socrates or Plato. So that leaves the first option as the most likely, assuming that there isn’t a better explanation not mentioned.

34 Highgamma February 27, 2017 at 6:44 am

I’ve always preferred the term “curious” which is the opposite of “defensive”.

35 rayward February 27, 2017 at 6:48 am

“I am envious that Dan is now in Kunming again…” Kunming is where China’s high speed rail project, the Kunming-Singapore Railway (or Pan-Asia Railway Network) begins, China reaching out to connect to its neighbors, through Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, all the way to Cowen’s favorite Singapore, while America plans the construction of walls on its borders. Dan Wang: “As I mentioned above, I’ve become enthusiastic for the idea that positive vision of the world is important for growth. To get to a more technologically advanced world, first people have to imagine one. That requires thinking hard about technologies of the future, and then taking the steps required to make them real. We can’t be optimistic in a merely vague way, and pin our hopes on policies that supposedly create room for innovation; instead we should be more direct.” In America today, the mood is dark, pessimism abounds, fear pervades, hope for a better future has been dashed. I’m convinced that pessimism is the natural state for humanity, that a positive vision requires effort. I choose a positive vision.

36 rayward February 27, 2017 at 7:17 am

China’s high speed rail is both a metaphor and an advanced transportation system. Why China and not America? Complacency, but narrower than what I suspect Cowen means. In America, the ruling class is the wealthy class, as our politics is dominated by money. Why would the ruling class invest in high speed rail when the ruling class wouldn’t use it, traveling instead by private jet. An that same dynamic applies to all infrastructure, and public goods generally. In China, inequality is even higher than in America, so why the difference, why would China invest in new technology like high speed rail? It’s because politics in China, the ruling class, isn’t determined solely by the wealthy class; indeed, there is a constant tension between China’s billionaires and China’s political elite. In America, we don’t lock up billionaires in the dark of night; in China, they do. No, I’m not suggesting we lock up billionaires. What I’m suggesting is that we open our eyes and see, see that the ruling class, the wealthy class, is the complacent class, content with rising asset prices, an accommodating political class, and, yes, a complacent working class content with competing against itself for fear of losing what little they have. No, the billionaire Trump is not the voice of the working class, for his appeal is fomenting the fear, the pessimism, that has America stuck in place. Some of Cowen’s colleagues believe only a reset will render America great again. If you don’t know what I mean, you aren’t paying attention.

37 The Original D February 27, 2017 at 6:38 pm

In China the wealthy are also the political elite. Many “public servants” will make lots of money off those trains.

38 TMC February 27, 2017 at 8:33 am

” In America today, the mood is dark, pessimism abounds, fear pervades, hope for a better future has been dashed.”

You haven’t been paying attention for the past few months. Things are looking up. There are people smiling now that haven’t for a while. Enjoy, even if you don’t understand why.

39 JWatts February 27, 2017 at 11:13 am

raywards been reading Paul Krugman.

40 JMA February 27, 2017 at 8:41 am

If your mind is too open, your brains will fall out.

41 Barkley Rosser February 27, 2017 at 8:42 am

It is an old wisecrack that an open mind is one thing and letting your brain fall out on the floor is quite another.

42 Evan February 27, 2017 at 9:25 am

Gosh you beat me to it. My mother has been saying that for years.

43 Hazel Meade February 27, 2017 at 10:35 am

Yes, we’ve all heard that joke, thanks.

44 msgkings February 27, 2017 at 3:08 pm

At least three times in just this thread.

45 albatross February 27, 2017 at 9:27 am

How about “open to evidence?”

46 anon February 27, 2017 at 10:25 am
47 Hazel Meade February 27, 2017 at 10:20 am

I think “open-minded” merely means (or should merely mean) an openness to being persuaded by rational argument.
There are some people who use it in a way that implies a willingness to believe without evidence. For example “Why can’t you be open-minded about astrology/reincarnation/paranormal activity/ESP? it could be true!”

But we do need a term that means a state of being willing to question one’s assumptions and not be driven by one’s biases and prejudices, especially right now, with the political polarization in the country. It’s important for people to have language to denote openness to listening to the other political party, other points of view.
So I think we should keep the term “open-minded” and just stop using it for stupid shit like believing in ESP.

48 yoostus` February 27, 2017 at 10:27 am

“I am envious that Dan is now in Kunming again…” We’ll always have Perris!

49 JWatts February 27, 2017 at 11:19 am

“First of all, it’s unobjectionable—who would profess he is not open-minded? ”

The phrase open-minded gets used in an offensive manner. So, much so, that it devalues the phrase. Quite often someone complements themselves on their open-mindedness in order to paint their opponent as close-minded. It’s used as a form of absoluteness.

You either are ‘open minded’ and believe what I do about topic X or you are don’t believe what I do about topic X. (and are implicitly close minded.)

50 Hazel Meade February 27, 2017 at 11:49 am

Yes. there’s definitely a number of people who pride themselves on their open-mindedness while actually being the most stubbornly closed-minded people you will ever meet. I.e. If you don’t believe that the CIA was behind 9/11, you’re a closed-minded idiot! That sort of thing. Who is really being closed minded?
I would think if you’re going to espouse a non-standard (so to speak) interpretation of the facts, and expect others to be open to it, it behooves you to be open to the possibility that the people espousing the standard interpretation aren’t just doing so because they are closed-minded. Accusing someone of being closed-minded is neither evidence nor argument.

51 Steve M February 27, 2017 at 11:57 am

“How adventurous can suburban life be when one is surrounded by people of similar socioeconomic class..”

“I currently live and work in Manhattan.”

How adventurous indeed.

52 peri February 27, 2017 at 12:05 pm

“Open-minded” = overrated. Open personality, on the other hand, is underrated.

My neighbors, who have never waved or smiled at me, have a sign in their yard proclaiming that they believe: Science is Real, Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights are Human Rights, No Human Being is Illegal, &etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud to have such open-minded neighbors, but I wouldn’t mind a little gardening or weather talk now and then. And maybe I have Samuel L. Jackson resting fart face. I obviously can’t know for sure. I was discussing this with my husband the other day. “I used to be such a favorite in the neighborhood.” He agreed and said that this newer crowd don’t seem to like me as much. (Thanks, husband!).

@Tagore Smith, my vote to replace closed-minded is “savagely indifferent.” I read once that that was the bond between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, their shared indifference to all the same things.

53 M February 27, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Funnily and appropriately enough, “Hungry minded” sounds rather a Chinese-ism.

But on the best term for a truly curious mind, of course, the genius that is Ken M – http://i.imgur.com/BOLDYxF.jpg

54 Millian March 1, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Hungry-minded sounds more PC for a Kunming-resident. “We’re interested in knowing about your democracy and free society, but happy with what we have, thanks!”

55 Jackson Layers March 2, 2017 at 10:07 am

There should be little doubt about this, we got to be open minded, it’s not possible for anyone to succeed with mindset not being positive, and therefore, it is vital for us to be positive in how we work. I trade with OctaFX broker which help me stay positive as trader and thanks to their facilities including small spreads, quick execution, bonuses and many such things, it helps me work well in major way and keeps me comfortable big time.

56 Lakesha March 9, 2017 at 3:14 am

I read your post and wished I’d wrttein it

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