When we are frustrated, we sometimes think, “Geez, you should be more open-minded about things!”

If we argue with someone, defeat every single one of their points, even to their own admission, and they don’t respond, we think: “You’re so closed-minded!”

Open mindedness is generally viewed as a good thing, and closed-mindedness is generally viewed as a bad thing. We tend to see others as closed-minded, and ourselves as open-minded.

I’m going to argue that this view of the world is incomplete. I’m not going to argue for closed-mindedness or open-mindedness. I’m going to argue for what I believe we actually do: Selective Open-Mindedness. And I’m going to argue that it’s necessary for the PassagesOfPerspective to work.



This is the easy one:

Being closed minded all the time is a problem. BusyPeopleLackPerspective.

It’s dumb because we never change our mind, because we never learn anything new, because we can never change our course. It’s dumb, it’s dangerous, you all already agree, so I don’t need to explain it any more.


Being open-minded all the time is a problem.

This one may require a little more convincing. Isn’t open-mindedness good? Well, we’ll see.

Being Open-Minded all the time opens you up to DenialOfService attacks. Briefly: Anyone could paralyze you, by requiring that you answer all of their challenges and questions, or by claiming that you need to try and experience yet another something.

If someone wanted to stop you in your tracks, they could say, “Wait! Have you considered… this could all just a conspiracy of secret service men posing as some our friends?” Or they would say, “How can you claim that meditating for years doesn’t help you learn about the world – have you tried?

If you are Open-Minded all the time, you’re either not going to be able to do a whole lot, because so many people will ask you for a piece of your attention, or you will waste your time doing a whole lot of unproductive things because people willask you for piece of your time. A lot of people will be doing that because they are in the important phase of teaching their discoveries to others. See PassagesOfPerspective.

And you’re going to have a hard time making rapid decisions – which is required if you want to perform acts. Which is important. If you’re going to learn things about the world, you’re going to have to perform actions. (See also: ThinkTalkAct.)


There are probably others. This is just a quick explanation, to get you to the “okay, I follow what you’re saying here” phase. “Please continue.”

Selectively Open Minded

What we actually want, I strongly believe, and what we actually do, (because it works!), is “selective open-mindedness.”

You hear me right: I’m arguing for something that you already do! Why do such a thing? Because there is a disconnect between what people do, and what many people believe they do. Whenever you hear “You need to be open-minded about things,” from someone, you are hearing a confusion. The person we are complaining about almost certainly is open-minded about things. The person likely engages in communication, after all, and has been persuaded of things before. You may not like the things that they can be persuaded about, but the fact remains: the person is open minded. Only selectively so. Just like you and everybody else.

But, anyways: selective open-mindedness –

It means that you are closed minded about some things, and open minded about others.

The decision of what’s closed and what’s opened changes with time. We sometimes revisit old things, from a new light, that can see a subtlety or a complexity (IdeasLikeStarsAndSymphonies) that we hadn’t noticed before, or hadn’t been able to see, because of the way our mind was structured at the time.

Only by opening and closing, opening and closing, opening and closing, can we make forward motion in the PassagesOfPerspective.

When you close your mind, you have layered down some thoughts that you can use to build new thoughts. (see: ArgumentPyramid.) If you cannot layer down base ideas, you can’t build more advanced ideas.

When you open your mind, you open yourself to improvement. Perhaps you layed something down that is hindering your ability to go to some other place. Perhaps you layed something down that, you didn’t know it, but it turned out to be wrong. If you can’t open your mind, you can’t respond, you can’t improve, you can’t change.

It is by building, tearing down, and rebuilding, (your ideas,) that you are able to make progress.

Odds & Ends

Mental Discipline: Catching the Trap

How do we “catch the trap?” How do we know when we’re inappropriately casting someone as closed-minded?

When you hear someone criticize “You’re so closed-minded!, … stop. Ask yourself: “Wait, if the person who’s speaking is open-minded, how is it that they are criticizing someone else for being closed-minded?”

“I mean, shouldn’t that person be busy considering…”

  1. …that it is they themselves who are wrong, about whatever subject it is that they care about? Aren’t they going to be open-minded?
  2. …and not only that, isn’t it a bit closed-minded to think that people should be open-minded?

Modernism, Post-Modernism

Modernism is a bit like being closed minded. “We’re building this.

Post-Modernism is a bit like being open minded. “Wait, are you sure about that?”

It seems right that a society should alternate between modernism (dreams, building, development, constructing, moralizing,) and post-modernism (hesitation, skepticism, analysis, questioning, taking apart, doubt.)

It need not be lock-step, “everybody agree, now everybody disagree, now everybody agree,…” And it need not be confusing, like it has been. (People have sincerely believed, in their heart of hearts, that one or the other was intrinsicly good or bad.)

I have faith that progress has happened, and can continue to happen.


If you are trying to explain something to someone, but you know that their selective open-mindedness cannot extend now to what you want to explain to them, all is not lost: You can work within the realm of what they are open-minded about.

Look at the kinds of things the person agrees with you on, and that they have decided on – that you two are both closed minded about.

Now, see if you can draw a path from those ideas, to the types of ideas that you are explaining. See where that path crosses from:

Then without ever mentioning what the other person is closed minded and disagreeing about, make arguments in the realm of open mindedness.

This requires receptivity. You have to feel out, (with the other person’s approval, of course,) what kinds of things they are open to, and what kinds of things that they are closed to.

PeopleAreReasonable?. Explain, in terms of what you both agree on, why you think they should make a particular decision about something they are closed-minded about.

If you are a friend, if you are good, and if you make a strong argument, based on what the other person accepts already, then there is a good chance that they will come to be closed minded (and in agreement) about something that they were previously open-minded about. This is the goal! You are trying to persuade them to become closed-minded about something.

That will open up the door towards the thing you are really concerned about. After they become closed-minded about the thing that they were open-minded about, they can make more complex thoughts, and they may see that it’s time to re-open something that they were previously closed about.

Reason is the Security of Mind: Preserving Progress in the Passage of Perspectives

All this opening and closing: It can sound like we’re not getting anywhere. It sounds like we’re closing ourselves into one room, then getting out and closing ourselves in another room, and then going back and closing ourselves in the first room again!

Ah,… But it’s not quite like that.

If we do revisit an older decision, and older thought, it’s usually with a much deeper, subtler, understanding. After all, we’ve seen it from different angles, we passed through here before. And like walking through a big mansion, there’s always new stuff to see. Maybe it’s in how the rooms connect – context, or it’s in the small stuff you can now appreciate – details.

What you learnt before will allow you new experience, which will allow you to learn more. People make progress, throughout their whole life. It may be fast progress, it may be slow progress. But it’s almost always progress.

Now: There is something interesting here. How do we know we aren’t duped? How do we make sure we’re not just being pushed arround by people that can fast-talk us into whatever they want?

The answer is stubborness – simple inertia of the mind. Instinctively we resist. That’s why it’s so damn hard to convince anybody of anything. Because they don’t want their life’s work to be wasted in some rash spurious idea. They don’t want to believe just anything they hear someone clever sounding say.

They want to think about it for a while, before they change their mind. Most people believe there are smarter people than them, on whatever subject. The people they trust. When they hear good arguments from you – even if you best them, they want to hear what their trusted person has to say about it, too, before they change their mind. Perhaps you just made good sounding arguments, right? Perhaps they just didn’t have their best reasoning available to them, at the moment. Right?

This doesn’t mean don’t argue with people – you should. But you should allow your thought seeds to germinate in their own private time. Present your side. Present your thoughts. Counter their arguments. Listen, too, to what they say. And then part ways. Conviction will happen later, in silence, when there is nobody trying to talk them into something.


Man, these things are just way too freaking long.

I have a problem:

  • I have these big complicated thoughts.
  • They’re easier to read when they’re broken up into multiple pages, I believe.
  • But I want to put them on one page, in order to prevent a ForestFire, should there be disagreement.

This page should have been 3 pages, at least:

PassagesOfPerspective should have, similarly, been 3 pages. (At least.)

And, there is a lot of networking between the various ideas here.

The reason I don’t make them 3 pages at once, though, is because there may be conflict, and disagreement.

I may be wrong. Someone can make a counter-argument, and then I have to retract three pages.

Possible solutions:

  • None. Just keep writing MEGA-pages.
  • Relax a bit. Don’t worry so much about how many pages.
    • If a ForestFire comes, choose one page to interact on, then. Perhaps the original poster should pull in the other two pages temporarily, until the conflict ends.
  • Have AlexSchroeder concoct a TechnologySolution.
    • The “ClusterCommit?,” or something like that, which can be collapsed into a single entry, or something like that.

I like long new pages with permanent anchors for section titles where it makes sense. Then I can read it in one go. simpler!

I’ll try to selectively cut out a section or two that I feel is unnecessary. This kind of editing is difficult to get right, however, since I don’t want to change rambling Lion-speak into terse Alex-speak. PlainTalk and all that. :)

Stuff I removed that you might want to reuse elsewhere:

  1. I believe that the security mechanism of the process is reason. I believe (I’m repeating myself) that we are ReasonablePeople?. I believe that everybody is thinking. They’re optimizing, reflecting, thinking. I don’t think that the capability for thought is really all that much different, by and large, in people. Smart people think just like ordinary people, they just do it in different domains, so it seems to me. (Einstein: “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” …and, he said something like – “All I do is the same kind of thinking people do in their everyday life, just applied to this particular domain.”)
  2. they are a living guardian of progress
  3. People transfer authority of their thinking over to others. For good reason – there is a lot of stuff to be doing in life, and we have to economize on everything, including thinking time.
  4. When you can call the persons arguments, clearly, within your own mind, and compare them against the arguments of the side you have been holding, as well.
  5. Reason is the security of the mind. It is the reason for stubbornness. It is the guard of progress.

I am both sympathetic to Lion’s plight and supportive of some type of assistance based on technical tools, since I too am struggling with the issues of “What is a page anyway”, and am currently trying to define a set of personal page styles. What I have found so far…

  • TransClusion is amazingly useful since it allows me to take any piece of text an Include it within many other pages (some of which even have radically different contexts).
  • Nesting this transCluded pages allows me to create (what appear to be very large pages) that are appreciated by those readers that simply want to scroll down to see it all. So far, I have tested as many as 12 levels of nesting, but have found 4 to be a practical maximum for most audiences.
  • Making use of a naming convention for Pages and their local anchors is very useful. A trivial example…
    • I have pages named DYMMDD where (D=Decade, Y = Year, MM = Month, DD = Date)
    • Enclosed in pages such as 2007-07-0 (think of the the trailing ‘0’ as a ‘decimal fortmight of about 10 days that make up the 4 possible date ranges in a month)
    • Enclosed in 2005-07
    • Enclosed in 2005
    • Enclosed in ‘200-’
    • These enclosed pages also use standard anchors that allow me to jump directly to any date or level of date from the nested tables that I include at the top of a page recognizing the wisdom of AboveTheFold.

I’m going to cut this off since I’ve made the point that I’m interested (to the extent of being willing to help define these issues better) and I don’t want to hijack this page. One last point, I have found this approach to be particularly helpful in supporting a particular Point Of View, by creating a specific ‘wrapper’ page that simply collects all of the supporting Included pages for a target audience, especially when I want to provide a relatively unsophisticated audience with in-line text as opposed to a set of hyperlinks.

To my amazement, more than a year has lapsed since I posted the preceding block. However, the additional work that I’ve done with MicroContent in the interim, has reinforced my opinions that both Open-Minded and Close-Minded states have value. The analogy that I’ve used in discussing this recently is drawn from my interest in photography and compares the Open-Closed (mindedness) to the use of a zoom lens. All zoom lenses allow me to chose the breadth the related Depth of Field, and with that choice, a variable range of subjects come into “good” focus. Photographers generally come to understand that the “zoom” control on a telephoto lens is one of the several inter-related “artistic” control available to them that makes the difference between a creating a “snapshot” and creating an outstanding “photograph”.

Applying this to what I’ve noticed about my thoughts (one thing being that they are qute different depending upon the environment (or context) I am in), I’ve come to understand that I think differently about things when I am in different environments. So much so, its actually worth noticing which contexts are most productive for any particular line of thought, and then ensuring that I position myself in the appropriate context to achieve my objectives as efficiently as possible.

Interestingly, I first noticed the impact of Context on Thought as I moved through various physical environments. More and more though, I now achieve this by simply looking at the same MicroContent (usually just a simply text) block in a different context. For me, this is one of the truly wonderful things about TransClusion. Namely, I get to argue with myself, by simply looking at the same “point” within two different pages. That way, when I lose the argument, its not nearly as publicly humiliating and (bonus!) I generally have a “worthy” opponent. :-)

It’s interesting that you say this; I often revisit our conversation at the Greek diner (in Toronto,) when you told me exactly this thought. The stars aligned such that it was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment, and it left a strong impression. Very recently I visited this memory.

This morning, I was invited (and accepted the invitation) to visit a Swedenborg church service. The subject of the service was “creating sacred space.” It asked, “How do the spaces you are in affect your thoughts?”

The FederationOfDamanhur, takes this logic to great effect: They put enormous attention on the subjective affective powers of artistry, geometry, shape, sign, symbol, and you can definitely feel it when you are present there: It feels as if the ground itself were exuding energy, and it is as if there is a hum of beauty, friendship, and motivation, coming from every direction.

They call it, “The power of Maya,” which is to say, “The power of Illusion.” They don’t consider it a bad thing, but rather as an influence to work with.

It makes sense, really: We live in a world made of tables, chairs, doors, windows, trees, vehicles, pavement, dirt road, and other “human scale” elements of reality. To develop spiritually, simply meditate within, and then make the material world match, as much as possible, the inspiring visions that you find within. It’s kind of a no brainer, and every 5 year old kid with crayons, paper, glue, and tape figures it out pretty quickly. This is why kindergarten environments are far and away more inspiring than, say, high school environments.

So we can develop the arts of our surroundings as a vehicle for developing the spirit, the intention, the reasoning capabilities of human being. We can make environments that stir enthusiasm, the human spirit, capability, focus, brilliance, play, and charity, and live in them.

I agree with your Observations and Conclusions in this, especially since I have a long-standing habit of using the art of “music” to quickly “… stir enthusiasm, …” within myself occasionally.

On a related note, you may have read the "What you can't say" essay, which is basically about looking for things you should be open minded about. An important point is that if someone doesn’t agree with you, you shouldn’t get angry at him or think he’s evil.

When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don’t know it. In fact they tend to think the opposite.

Anyway, it’s an essay that I like.

About selective open-mindedness, I think it’s ok to be close-minded about some issues as long as other people are open-minded about them. It’s not just a question of not wasting your brainpower, it’s also about distributing the focus of inquiry in an optimal way - a kind of specialization if you want.

I also think the question of “tastes” versus “rational opinions” is important. As a recipe for open-mindedness, I tend to consider that a lot of issues are a matter taste rather than objective truth, so it’s silly to get angry if other people think differently. I don’t really expect other people to be “converted” to my position (well, of course sometimes I do).

sylvie : The idea of the recipe sounds interesting, because it mixes human perception and a common activity for each of us. Eat is necessary and it ‘s also a subjective question. Recipes are ways to share at the same time useful informations and subjective way to do.

I have read it, I strongly disagree with it.

I have a friend who always brings up that essay. He’s sexist, and racist. Since people don’t like those ideas (in the culture that we belong to,) he sees this paper as justification for his beliefs.

That seems very unscientific to me.

Believe me, I carry some whopper ideas that society absolutely hates. It’s entirely likely that few on CommunityWiki would share these ideas with me, and if they were even raised, it would harm CommunityWiki.

I keep them to myself. I believe Democracy is more important than Truth, some times. And I believe there is a timing and a process to human evolution. Now is not the time for these ideas.

Quick story:

My dentist friend Jack, talking about Santa Cruz lefties who were terrified of water floridation: “Well, I’m a dentist, and like all dentists, I’m in favor of water floridation. I don’t know a dentist that doesn’t want better teeth for everyone, for so cheap. But at the same time, I’m a Libertarian. And I think that if a bunch of people don’t want the government putting something in their water supply, I think that ought to be respected.” (With that one argument, he completely and instantly changed my mind on the subject.) What this means is that you can believe something is True, but also hold that we should be ruled by Democracy instead.

But anyways-

No, I don’t agree with the paper. I think it’s kind of dangerous, in that it makes false justification for harmful beliefs.

We should judge the quality of ideas by analysis and argument, not ascribe virtue by unpopularity.

Some ideas are unpopular for very good reasons.

I think that document is more about considering stuff in your own head than about convincing other people. I wouldn’t consider it as evidence in favour of anything. “Unpopularity of an idea” shouldn’t be used as an argument, though yeah I’ve heard that kind of stuff (though I haven’t had anybody use that specific article in support).

Once I was talking with a Chinese friend who was saying “I can’t understand why so people still adore Mao. He was just stupid, and brought China’s economy backwards ! Worse than Hitler ! I mean, at least Hitler didn’t do that much damage to his country’s economy …” - and that was something she’d never said to another Chinese. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of Chinese that talk to each other about Mao in less than flattering terms, but there still is some social pressure – he’s a Hero and a Saint to a lot of people, and criticizing him publicly is pretty much a heresy. There was also that case of a Pakistani newspaper having it’s headquarters stormed burned down by a mob because of an article it published on Jews and Islam. There are plenty of places in the world where the balance should be set a bit more towards nonconformity if we want everyone to get along.

Now, some ideas can be dangerous. But I’d prefer them to be dealt with by reason rather than social pressure. And, what’s more, I can’t think of anything the human mind can come up with that’s more dangerous than a static, controlling, totalitarian state (1984, North Korea …). That’s something I fear more than any “dangerous ideas”.

Also, I agree with the thing on democracy and truth. The majority’s choices should be respected, even if you think they are wrong. I think “majority point of view” should have much more influence on the “Act” end of ThinkTalkAct than on the “Think” side. That works for politics as well as for an EditWar on a wiki.

(My judgement on this is probably clouded by the fact that I tend to be a cold-blooded rationalist and don’t get very emotional over issues, so I accept “rational, selective close-mindedness” but not hostility to certain ideas, which just means that whatever emotional hostility I may have, I’ll probably disguise it as reason ^-^)

(Hmm, this is getting a bit abstract and off-topic :-P)

What would it look like, if we resorted purely to reason, rather than social pressure?

Martin Luther King used social pressure to force a dialog. Wasn’t this appropriate? It seems to have worked.

I agree with criticism of static, controlling, totalitarian states. But that’s not what social pressure is.

Social pressure is a sort of law that people hold in their heads. It’s very democratic; and everybody is a judge and an enforcer and everyone is under it’s rule.

While there are things that you cannot say in public, you are allowed to convince people one on one, or in small groups. The theory goes that, with time, you are able to convince a sufficient number of people such that there are places where you can voice your thoughts in public, and receive a fair hearing.

I have difficulty thinking up a more ideal process.

There are many forbidden communications. Some are there for good reasons, some are there for bad reasons.

My principle disagreement is with his search for a general formula. Paul Graham seems to believe he’s found one: “If society is pressuring me towards one way of thinking, then I can call the pressurers zealots, and say that the other side is right.”

Actually- that’s not quite right. I do believe in a search for a general set of rules for morality. It’s possible that there are basic laws that we would find indisputable. And it’s possible that we could build from those laws a basic moral framework that everyone can agree to. It’s probably look something like “the scientific method”- a process, rather than a specific set of moral laws (a tablet with 10 commandments.) It would probably involve progressive discovery. I suspect that the Golden Rule will find a core place within this super-ethical framework. That kind of thing, I’d be all for discovering.

But I don’t think it’d be anything like: “If people are using social pressure on you, it’s because you’re right, and they’re wrong.” I mean: That just sounds like some punk on the street.

I do believe in resistance to social pressure, when you believe you are right. But I don’t think we should say, “We’re shunned, therefor we’re right.”

Let’s look more specificly at what he’s saying.

He’s basically said that women are intrinsicly inferior at math. “When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests.” And, he pulls Lawrence Summers for his answers.

This is a common belief. It is only a belief. You can’t say, “Look at all the women who score bad at math,” and say, “ah-hah! They are intrinsicly poor at math!”

Thinking about things this way just totally tosses out everything we know about gender role self-stereotyping that we know about. Did you know that “female secretary” is a relatively new thing? It started in the 1920’s. They used to be all male, before that. Then at some point, it became a way of showing that you were moving into the future to have a “hot female secretary” at your side. There was a shift to female secretaries, and then it became near total. Now people are justifying this in their minds, making up reasons why it has to be this way. “See? The evidence is everywhere you look.”

So, when you’re looking at things like this, the present state of society, no matter how overwealmingly the evidence may look to you, can easily mean zero.

We know that, as people grow up, they put visions of roles into their heads. And it shapes their dreams, and it shapes their practices. And we know that people skill up on things that fit their dreams. We know that this is not just true for individuals, but hoards of individuals.

We know how powerful gender self-typing is.

Frankly, the reason we hate it when people like Lawrence Summers say these sorts of things, is because they’re trying to drag us back into an old world, of the gender roles that he’s more comfortable with. We don’t share those values.

So, this results in a social pressure. It’s a social struggle.

I don’t think that this is something that can be scientificly studied. We are way too immersed in our culture to separate these kinds of things out. Where are you going to find the girl who grew up in a society where the famous mathematicians were women? Where is she going to get those dreams from? How is she going to type herself as that type, and thus gain the motivation to shape her mind in that direction?

So, no good science experiment there.

That said, I know of a number of women who thoroughly kicked us guys’ ass while attending Harvey Mudd College.

Here is what I think, specificly, on these issues:

  • outside shocking brain differences (like being mentally retarded, or missing a chunk of your brain,) people are pretty much as naturally intelligent as any other people
  • I am open to the idea that the mind might have different modules, and that there might be limits on how different people’s brains work in particular areas, but will require convincing
  • people can make dramatic gains or loses in mental ability by:
    • practice, passion
    • role-modeling, choosing heros & heroins
    • choice of habit, attitude, emotion
    • choice of media, reading materials
    • framework for thought, thinking about thinking (learning Logic, learning about the brain, psychology), self-dialog
    • environment (such as: being forced to do something, or you will be killed)
  • the dramatic changes greatly outweight the slight differences in natural ability; we know this from the dramatic differences people in people’s test scores and self-evaluations when doing different things, telling themselves different things
  • as a society, we should encourage people to develop their passions, and to follow their passion
  • we should not send messages that “you shouldn’t do that, because you’re not naturally built for it”
    • see also: Gattaca – for more on this theme, but from a slightly different angle (eugenics)
  • it is right to use social pressure to make the way safe for girls
  • the exercise of social pressure does not mean that the opposition is right; it simply means that mental force is required to assist this fragile cause

At the same time, there are places where I am on the other end of social pressure.

But I’m not a disbeliever in social pressure. Nor do I see it as a justification for my beliefs.

I do not believe in a general formula for moral fashion.

Perhaps we should spin off a page (or named section) based on Social Pressure or the paper.

"Is This Column Futile?" by Dick Meyer, 2006-Mar-14, describes some interesting research by Drew Westen at E.U. Apparently you could see from MRI brain activity that people were open-minded about some things, close-minded about other things.

I’m not convinced Meyer is interpreting the MRI evidence correctly. The MRI he describes sounds similar to some f-MRI images I saw a speaker use in a talk a few weeks ago. That speaker pointed to one image, with bright activity all over the brain, and said it was a snapshot of someone who had just started a foreign language class, trying to say something in that language. Another image, with just one bright spot in the center, the speaker said was a snapshot of the same person, saying the same thing, but months later after he had become relatively fluent in that particular language task. Only the “motor” area of the brain lit up – he was literally speaking without thinking.

Perhaps the same effect happens with “political language”.

Some illustration to the above:

Also, a link from Sunir’s page on MeatBall touching on the issue of learning:


Define external redirect: PeopleAreReasonable StagedPersuasion ReasonablePeople ClusterCommit

EditNearLinks: EditWar AboveTheFold DenialOfService ForestFire MeatBall