I think I am jealous of Tim Minchin

I absolutely adore what I know of Tim Minchin’s work, he is pretty much the perfect public personality for me. I see him as socially liberal, logic and science based, and hilarious. My introduction to Tim Minchin was his Storm video. It is an animated comedic beat poem about his skepticism of a woman’s pseudoscientific beliefs. I highly recommend it, watch it if you have not.

The other day I was watching this (even more likely to offend people) video and cackling with glee. I had a desire to post it on some sort of social media but was held back by a fear of pissing people off (instead I just emailed it to my mom, hi Mom). I talk and think quite a bit about being kind in debates and arguments. I often present my opinions with qualifications so as to soften them and make them more palatable. I do think this is often a good thing, but I also often wish I had the confidence to put my opinions out there, consequences be damned.

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On being open minded

Defining being open minded in my last post opened a can of worms, and I am still trying to pare it all down and get to the root of why I am perceived by some as not being open minded (because it is all about me!).

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Nobody is completely open minded about everything. Someone gave me the example that if a pedophile tried explaining why pedophilia is ok she would not be open to said arguments. We all have some issues we are unwilling to consider (often with good reason!). Maybe being open minded when seen this way is not an either/or option, but a scale where no one is at the absolute end of the scale in either direction.

Then there is the question of what happens after one listens and is receptive to new ideas. There need to be some guidelines for what ideas one adopts as one’s own in the course of being open minded (else chaos and contradictory ideas ensue). If one is using some guidelines it stands to reason that being open minded does not necessarily equate agreement in the end. For me those guidelines are evidence. I think my need for evidence is part of the sticking point in people seeing me as closed minded.

This is all further complicated when considering things I have already researched. I used to be pretty open minded about the idea of qi energy, then I spent quite a bit of time researching it so as to be fully informed and ended rejecting the idea. Does being open minded mean I need to start from an unbiased place every time the conversation happens? As a more general question, is being open minded harder when one has trained oneself to think critically? I see it as informed open minded-ness. In the face of new evidence I will reevaluate, but I need the evidence. Even if it means I am perceived as closed minded by some.

While researching this I fully enjoyed and agree with this YouTube video.
Though in a less charitable moment it did made me cackle with glee to hear Stephen Merchant say to Karl Pilkington “We are open minded to good ideas, to sensible thought, to intellectual considerations. We are not being open minded to this utter drivel.”

Defining ‘open minded’

What does being open minded mean to you? To me it means being willing to change your mind. I consider myself quite open minded, as in the face of compelling evidence I am not only willing, but usually excited to change my mind. It has been insinuated, and sometimes flat out stated, that I am not open minded. How does this dichotomy happen? Am I working with a different definition than others? Am I falling for a confirmation bias where I am only remembering instances that show my open mindedness? Is it that everyone wants to be considered open minded and fits the definition to themselves?

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The first step is getting an actual definition. These are the first three that showed up in my google search:

Definition 1:
willing to consider new ideas; unprejudiced.

Definition 2:
1. having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments.
2. unprejudiced; unbigoted; impartial.

Definition 3:
Open mindedness is when even if you think you are right, you know that you can be wrong and are always willing to listen to and hear an opposing or contradictory view.
Open minded people have views but know that their views do not have to be held by everyone. Open minded people also know that their views can be wrong.

Since a dictionary definition is not always what people mean when I proceeded to ask everyone that was willing to talk to me for long enough. There were some long conversations, hopefully I can pare it down to salient points.

-Being willing to change one’s mind
-Being objective (with the caveat that it is impossible to be completely objective)
-Not making judgement till one hears all of the argument
-Being open to hearing all evidence
-Trust in others knowledge, opinion and experience
-Being open to more than measurable
-Being open to anything not ‘known’
-Willing to consider any and all ideas
-Being mindful of predispositions

Some of these are quite relevant to the issue, others (to me) are beside the point. So far I am sticking with my definition, perhaps adding a willingness to listen to evidence and an attempt at objectivity (I kind of thought them implied at the start, but clarity is always better). What is your definition?

Quick and by request

Far too often things I read on the internet rouse my intellectual suspicion. I have a couple of good friends who tell me I have an exceptionally developed bullshit meter (thank you friends). Figuring out exactly what triggered it and explaining in detail with logic is way harder and takes quite a bit of time. Hours and hours of notes, multiple open tabs on my browser, and talking to myself. This is why I have a really long list of ideas/half written posts. I rarely have that many hours.

I have another friend who occasionally tells me about/sends me links to get my opinion. I think we have a different base of what we believe, but she respects and seeks my opinion anyway (bless her face).

This link on oil pulling was what I woke up to this morning. I am hoping that after I write about it I will be able to more quickly identify my intellectual suspicion triggers. I have only spent an hour down the rabbit hole of internet links associated with oil pulling (small compared to my usual). These are the notes I have taken so far:

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My notes are always messy

(Edit to define oil pulling: oil pulling is swishing oil, generally coconut oil, in one’s mouth for about twenty minutes a day in lieu of brushing one’s teeth. Sometimes as an addition to brushing.)

The first thing I saw that triggered me was talk of toxins. I never understand what the toxins oft cited in alternative medicine are. It inevitably ends up feeling like talk of balancing the humours, which in turns makes me think of blood letting as a common cure. I hope we can agree that bleeding is a terrible and ineffective ‘cure’.

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Granted, all that humours stuff is just what toxins talk feels like to me. The fact of the matter is I have never gotten a good explanation of what said toxins are, much less evidence to back up such an explanation. In absence of evidence I am skeptical.

The next trigger came immediately after, a story about her husband’s curing a cavity with oil pulling. Not even pictorial evidence to back up her story (psst: people sometimes lie on the internet). Even if we assume she is being 100% truthful from her perspective, anecdotes are useful tools in demonstrating ideas, but they are not evidence. My first thought at explaining her conclusions being possibly wrong is the difference between correlation and causation. If someone had bad oral hygiene to start with and started paying attention to them every day things would improve just by said attention. It also seems to be personal visual inspection hailing it as a cure. What if the root of the tooth is still rotting deep in the gum where one cannot see it? I could keep going on about this section, but I need to move on.

The third trigger was the assertion “God designed our bodies so incredibly”. Ok, but I am an atheist. I am up front about having an evidence based view of the world. I do not think our bodies were designed, I think they happened.

Fourth trigger is seeming contradictions. At the beginning of the post she says “coconut oil is anti-bacterial, and could pull toxins from your mouth when you swished it in your mouth for 15-20 min” (I guess implying the toxins are bacterial? Why not just call them bacteria?). Later she quotes ““That tooth decay is caused by nutrient deficiencies and not bacteria has been proven in both animal and laboratory experiments published in books and dental journals…”. So far as I can tell these are contradictory statements, correct me if I am missing something. Also, I want citations for this being proven.

Fifth trigger was the fact that she links an affiliated recommended oil, though I am pleased that she puts that info out there. Still, makes the whole post an advert to me, which in turn triggers a wariness.

There were other smaller triggers for me, plus I read a ton of other websites both in support and critically analyzing oil pulling. I am not going to go into all of that or link it all because now I am three hours in and I said I would clean the community garden and my house today. But, for my darling who asked my opinion:

It might help in some small measures, it might not. I doubt it as a new miracle cure for all the claims I have read today. It probably does not hurt (though if I did everything that does not hurt and *might* work I would have no time to write crap like this).

Ps, I am totally not leaving this for a few hours and then editing it as I usually do because I do not feel like it. There may be mistakes and some not completely thought out reasoning. Sorry.

On being kind and ad hominem attacks

For whatever reason I have seen the word gullible describing people in disagreement multiple times this week. Mostly it has been people with whom I agree on the point, but I want to grab them and tell them they are not helping their cause.

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There has been an indiegogo campaign to build and test solar roadways. I am all for solar (in conjunction with wind and hydro and nuclear power), but I doubt roads as the best application. I was happy that after about a week of seeing ‘this is the best thing evar’ to see some videos and articles critically analyzing the solar roadways plan. Then I was sad to see this sentence in the first one I read:
“They have raised over $1.8 million from people who are too gullible and decide to ignore simple physics and economics in favor of nice dreams of green energy. ”

Then there was an article I saw posted about chicken pox parties, where a child is exposed to chicken pox in order to catch it instead of getting the vaccine. The anti vax movement both angers and scares me more than most things I rant about. This comment on that post still upsets me:
“Now lets be fair here. These people a obviously both stupid and gullible.”

Besides using the word gullible the thing these have in common is that they are ad hominem attacks. Ad hominem has a Latin base meaning ‘to the man’. The basic gist is it is attacking the person instead of the argument. There are two major problems with it. First, even if one presumes that the subject is gullible that does not mean that they are wrong on any particular point. Second, why alienate people? If I want solar power why would I say nasty things to and about people excited about and supporting it? If I want education and understanding of vaccines why would I guarantee the people I want to have understanding will not listen to me because I insulted them? It is just counterproductive all around. Please avoid the ad hominem logical fallacy, give me less things to rant about.