What does it mean to be openminded?

saganbrainmindA few weeks ago I was considering going to a dinner party called “Conscious Collective Gatherings: Non-Denominational Conversation”. It sounded pretty new age hippie-esque, which is totally not me, but I figured “hey, I might meet a few people there that are intellectually curious and not necessarily the left-wing equivalents of young earth creationists”.

Since the organizers didn’t know me – I knew one of the people they knew – one of the organizers wanted to chat with me first before formally inviting me. Perfectly sensible as it is at their house. So, in our Facebook chat conversation, she asked me why I was interested in attending. I responded something to the effect that I am very interested in philosophy, values, and mindfulness and such and I’d be interested in meeting others who may be similarly interested. What happened next was somewhat interesting. She told me that the people who would be attending would mostly be a bunch of “young namaste hippies”, and that as long as I can “keep an open mind” everything is good. I assume that she must have been tipped off to my strong orientation toward scientific rationalism by cues peppered throughout my Facebook profile, because I’m pretty sure that I didn’t say anything that would suggest that I’m a member of the Richard Dawkins fan club (I am, by the way).

I am quite confident that the person who wanted to make sure that I could keep an open mind wasn’t actually concerned about my openmindedness. Rather, she was concerned that I may stir the pot. Rock the boat. Challenge cherished beliefs of other attendees who just want to “go with the flow”, “connect with their spirit-soul”, and other such laid back ethereal activities. Continue reading

What is the most misunderstood idea of all time?

Every year, Edge.Org asks prominent thinkers a big picture question on thought and knowledge. In 2005, they asked What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it? In 2006 it was What is your dangerous idea? In 2008, the big question was What have you changed your mind about? Why? In 2009, they asked thinkers to speculate on What will change everything? This past year, they asked What is your favourite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation? In In the interest of reader participation, here’s a fun question:

What is the most misunderstood idea of all time? Continue reading

Is belief in God a choice?

The following satirical video, “Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene”, pokes fun at the concept of a “gay gene” and religious opposition to homosexuality.

The proportion of people who believe that homosexuality is chosen is decreasing. That’s not to imply that homosexuality is the phenotype expressed by a “gay gene”. Just that whatever makes one gay – e.g., some range of interactions between genetic, hormonal, neurological and/or social/environmental factors – it’s not the sort of conscious deliberations a teenager makes when choosing which college to attend.

Part of what makes the video above funny is that it suggests that being Christian is not a choice. To me, this invites the question (ignoring the particular religion)

Is belief in God a choice?

Can you simply choose to believe or not believe? Continue reading