“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”
Variations of this quote have been attributed to a number of different people such as Richard Feynman, G.K. Chesterton, Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russell. However, having recently debated a literalist Christian on this blog, I have realised that it sounds rather crude.
My detractor claimed that I don’t have an open mind, which is why I will never understand, let alone accept the assertions in the bible. In hasty retort I quoted the line that precedes this post.
So as I’m currently re-reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World – Science As A Candle In The Dark, I was reminded of that encounter in a chapter titled The Marriage of Skepticism and Wonder, which I think perfectly settles this conundrum.
As I’ve tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes – an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. The collective enterprise of creative thinking and skeptical thinking, working together, keeps the field on track. Those two seemingly contradictory attitudes are, though, in some tension.
There, now everything’s clear as daylight. Thanks Carl.