Open-Minded Versus Gullible

I work hard to challenge my beliefs and I like to think that I’m a very open-minded person. But then I think about all the people who are way more open to crazy ideas than I am. What about all of the conspiracy theorists who think the moon landing was faked? Or that lizard people rule the government? What about flat Earthers? They are open to ideas that I would never entertain. Does that make them more open-minded? I had a brief moment of panic when I first considered the implications of this question. What does open-minded even mean? Is it just a scale of how gullible you are? Is it desirable to be less open-minded? Wouldn’t an ideal thinker already have an extremely accurate model of the world in his mind, and therefore be less open to new ideas? Someone with vast knowledge and an astonishingly accurate worldview should be able to quickly recognize and dismiss ideas that don’t fit, right? So he would be fairly closed-minded?

To resolve this confusion, I suggest there are two relevant skills in play:

1. The ability to engage with ideas that your brain is initially defensive towards. (This is the one I’m talking about when I talk about open-mindedness)
2. The ability to accurately update/calibrate your beliefs when you encounter new evidence.

Consider Bob. Bob is a huge Apple fan and loves everything the company has ever done. He has an ten-foot tall painting of Steve Jobs in his living room. Then one day he sees an article claiming that Steve Jobs faked his own death and is still alive today. Bob wants to believe, but he checks the source and decides that it is not credible. Later, Bob finds an article that says Steve Jobs spent years denying paternity of his own daughter. Bob checks the sources and sadly decides that he believes the claim, and must reevaluate his opinion of his hero. Bob is open-minded but not gullible. If you’re searching for people with good judgement, look for the ones who have both of these skills.

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