I know some people who believe some pretty ridiculous things.  I know people who buy into astrology and tarot cards.  I know people who insist the Earth is only 6,000 years old.  I’m friends with someone who believes the Moon Landing was a hoax, and recently I had a conversation with a 9/11 truther. That conversation got uncomfortable real fast.

The thing is, whenever these people find out I’m a huge science enthusiast, they always end up throwing science back in my face. It’s a basic principle of science, isn’t it?  You have to keep an open mind, don’t you?  Scientific theories have been disproven before, and scientists should be prepared to admit when they’re wrong.

Whenever I get the “keep an open mind” lecture, I respond with a quote that’s often attributed to Carl Sagan: “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”

Because in science, the consensus opinion does change.  Old theories do make way for new ones (though it’s rare for a well established theory to be overturned in its entirety). It does pay to keep an open mind, but that doesn’t mean switching off your critical thinking skills.  And when a hypothesis doesn’t stand up to questioning and scrutiny, when it doesn’t agree with experimental or observational evidence, it’s probably not because my mind isn’t open enough; it’s probably because your hypothesis is wrong.

Just my two cents for today.

11 responses »

  1. K.J. says:

    I think that scientific logic can be applied to so many things. As soon as anyone hears that I write, they espound their words upon me while try not to let my brains leak out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kate Rauner says:

    I read somewhere that superstitions form when an event is random or out of a person’s control, but also very important to them. They seek a pattern or a cause/effect to provide some control, and find one no matter what!

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      I’ve heard things about that as well. It makes sense. We wouldn’t have made it far as a species if we didn’t find patterns in nature and recognize cause and effect relationships. But we also tend to find patterns that aren’t really there, so a healthy dose of skepticism is important too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kate Rauner says:

        That may be why it’s so hard to follow a proper scientific method – the first rule is not to fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool! Science is not intuitive for us humans. We seek the tiger in the pattern of shadows in the grass. Even if you can be rigorous in one field, you fall back to intuition in others. It’s too hardto keep a grip all the time

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ry Yelcho says:

    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (2 Jan 1920-1992)

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      The U.S. once had a political party called the Know-Nothing Party. People aren’t always that overt about it, but yeah… anti-intellectualism is a big part of American culture. I don’t expect that to change, though I do think it needs to be resisted as much as possible.


  4. I had a couple of conversations late last week along these lines. I think it’s worth attempting to explain what science is actually about, but there’s a short limit on how productive a back and forth will be with people like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”

    I’m totally stealing that, you know.

    Liked by 1 person

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