The Secret of Open-mindedness

“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” ~ Niels Bohr

The secret of open-mindedness is having a healthy understanding of the concept of probability. Moreover, it is the ability to take things into consideration rather than simply believe in them. Belief can be blinding, and so it has a high potential to lead to close-mindedness.

A more reasonable strategy is to have a healthy skepticism so that we’re open enough to accept radical new ideas, but not so open that our brains spill out.


The best way to maintain a healthy skepticism is to take things into consideration rather than believe in them. Taking things into consideration is superior to belief, as it pertains to open-mindedness, exactly because everything is allowed to be possible.

But just because (on a long enough timeline) everything is possible, doesn’t mean that everything is probable. That’s where probability comes in, and gives us something we can hang our hat on.

For example: I’m only close-minded about one thing: being close-minded. I don’t technically “believe” in anything. I simply consider some things more than I do others.

The only thing I’m certain of is that certainty is useless. Probability, however, is exceptionally useful. Everything falls along a line of probability. From the .0000000001% probability that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is God and a Jewish Zombie saved us from our sins, to the 99.999999999% probability that the earth actually revolves around the sun and isn’t flat.

Everything from ghosts moving through walls to bats being made of wood (or flesh) falls in between. I may take evolution into consideration more than unicorns, but neither one will I have absolute certainty in. Certainty just leaves us reeling in myopic inertia and prevents us from thinking outside the box, or breaking a mental paradigm, or stretching comfort zones. It stifles our creativity and leads to close-mindedness.

Certainty is for amateurs and close-minded people, anyway. Like renowned physicist Richard Feynman said, “I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure about anything.”

Being genuinely open-minded is no walk in the park. It requires enormous courage. This is because true open-mindedness compels us to force our head over the edge of the abyss and to embrace our insecurities about what it means to be a fallible creature vainly attempting to perceive an infinite reality using finite faculties. But it’s a double-edged sword.

The other side of the sword is enchantment and awe with the adventurous unknown and a deep pleasure in learning something new, whether or not it turns out to be “true.” We can always choose to be superior to circumstance by being ruthlessly circumspect through the use of probability. This way we’re never “caught” and we’re always “open” to new ideas.


Genuine open-mindedness is a state of constant enchantment. Enchantment develops when we are lost, re-found, and lost again in the continuing cycle of the human leitmotif. It is exactly this sense of inner-lost-and-found – this balance of self-exploration and self-negation – that keeps us adventurous, curious, and open to the many vicissitudes of life.

Indeed, it is this that has the potential to transform us into autodidacts of the first order, armed with open-mindedness, spiritual plasticity, and a hunger for the unknown. We allow ourselves to be the improbable being that is Human Being.

It’s when we cling to beliefs and clutch at certainty that we prevent ourselves from progressing forward with a healthy curiosity. Like Alan Watts said, “What one needs in this universe is not certainty but the courage and nerve of the gambler; not fixed conviction but adaptability; not firm ground whereupon to stand but skill in swimming.”

If allowed progressive transgression, this hunger for the unknown eventually actualizes itself into the concept of moral fallibilism. Where we are essentially “found” through the unfounded nature of reality, but where there is still understood to be an inherent order to things (though un-provable).

Ascending to a state of being found is the realization that all things are infinitely unfounded, and all the more joyous and enchanting because of that fact. But it’s when our curiosity has been squashed that aspects of our ego calcify and become rigid and extreme while other parts dissociate.

Tragically, fundamentalism becomes primary and curiosity secondary. When humans are convinced of their certainty and no longer question their worldview, the truth quest comes to an unfortunate end.

The adventure is over. Like Louis G. Herman wrote, “Every time we think we have certainty about life – whether that certainty comes from mathematics, logic, religion, politics or ideology – we have lost the primary experience. We have deformed our essential humanity and closed down the search. Disaster looms.”

“Doubt,” wrote Voltaire, “is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

Seek not certainty, but absolute uncertainty. The meaning of life is about making life meaningful, not about getting lost in the meanings we bring to it. We just need to remain flexible and adaptable to change, because the highest probability of all is that things change. Knowledge should never be seen as a given, but as a gift; a gift gleaned not as a certainty but as a proper humility in the face of what we think we know.

Like the great Carl Sagan said, “Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science- by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans- teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us.”

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Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.


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