What single-celled organism are you? How Klingon are you? Why should anybody else care? If you have a Facebook account and friends, there are no less than one trillion quiz websites dedicated to helping you discover (and more importantly, share) the answers to these questions (except for the last one). I’m sure you’ve seen the results of these quizzes pasted on your social media friends’ walls: I am Jules Garfunkel! (in response to the question “Which Lesser-Known Sibling of a 1960′s Folk Icon Are You?”) or I am Hageman! (“Which Blood Clotting Factor Are You?”). Recently, there have been a spate of quizzes which assign you some percentage instead of giving you a yes/no, either/or answer. For example, you might learn that you are 71% antidisestablishmentarianist, or maybe 38% lactose intolerant.
Now in my opinion, these quizzes are generally a harmless – and pointless – diversion. The image above, though, was spawned by a quiz – “How Open-Minded Are You?” – that is a little more interesting than its kin. There are few concepts so widely misunderstood and abused in logical arguments as open-mindedness. Whenever somebody is trying to sell you a load of baloney, and you’re not biting, they’ll encourage you to be more open-minded. In common parlance, the entreaty to “be more open-minded” is essentially the same as asking somebody to accept your arguments without critical thought of any kind.
Before we turn our microscope on the quiz itself, I invite you to spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with what it really means to be open-minded, care of YouTube user QualiaSoup:
QualiaSoup’s discussion is largely limited to claims of the supernatural, but I think his definition of open-mindedness is applicable in all situations: open-mindedness is the willingness to consider new ideas, but not necessarily to embrace them without critical thought or supporting evidence.
The quiz asks ten questions to determine how open-minded you are, but do the questions really evaluate open-mindedness. Let’s take a look at each one and find out.
Your friend asks if they can choose an outfit for you to wear, one that is radically different from your own style. You…
- laugh in their face. No way.
- grudgingly let them pick an outfit, but refuse to wear it in public.
- reluctantly try the look out in public.
- LOVE this plan! So much fun!
I viewed the source code for this page and determined that the quiz thinks choice 4 is the best answer. I disagree. Completely submitting yourself to the opinions of others may count as open-minded to some, but it is also uncritical and potentially dangerous? Is there any harm in letting your friend pick an outfit for you? Other than potentially looking foolish and being uncomfortable, no. But what if you uncritically accept your friend’s advice on romantic partners, business ventures, and health care? That goes well beyond open-mindedness and into the realm of uncritical thinking.
I know, I know…just because you let your friend pick out an outfit, that doesn’t mean you’re going to let her choose your spouse. I just don’t think this question (and the provided answer choices) are really indicative of open-mindedness. But there’s more to come, so let’s press on.
You discover that your favorite author is an out-spoken misogynist. You…
- never read his books again.
- feel a little upset, but continue to read his books because you enjoy them.
- like him even more…because you’re a misogynist too!
The preferred answer is choice 2. Again, I’m not sure that’s an open-minded decision. It’s a personal decision – a decision that might be right for one person but not for everybody. I feel that choice 1 should carry equal weight in this question.
You strike up a conversation at the park with an old man who seems a little senile. You quickly realize that he’s got some surprisingly racist beliefs. You…
- chew the old man out for being close-minded.
- get up and walk away.
- understand that there could have been many factors that led to him thinking this way, and gently try to open his mind.
- discover that you two have a lot in common!
It’s not too hard to guess that the quiz’s best answer is choice 3. I appreciate that the quiz awards open-minded points for understanding, and I think it is an admirable goal to try to reform an old racist. I can’t speak highly of the prospects for success, but hey, at least you tried, right?
What do you think about books/movies/TV shows that feature an uncertain ending, where the audience/reader is left to imagine what happens next?
- I think it’s great sometimes.
- I think it’s lazy writing: No thanks.
I feel like there should be more answer choices. What about the people who respect other peoples’ enjoyment of open-ended entertainment, but feel a personal need for closure? And what does this have to do with open-mindedness anyway? The quiz awards points for choice 1; but isn’t that close-minded in that it shuts the door to other opinions without critical evaluation? Talk about lazy writing!
Would you be willing to try a strange new dish in a foreign country? For example, if you were offered pig brain fritters in Cuba, or cold donkey meat in Beijing, would you try it? (For vegetarians, imagine being offered an unusual fruit that smells rotten.)
- Sure, I’ll try anything.
- I might try *some* weird foods, but not all.
- No weird food for me, weirdo.
First: Beijing is a city, not a country.
The “best” answer, according to the quiz, is choice 1. I disagree. Being willing to try anything is not open-minded; it’s foolhardy. Being open-minded in the culinary sense requires you to occasionally push your boundaries, but it does not require you to eat any abomination that’s placed in front of you. You have to think critically about what your palate can withstand. If somebody offers you a plate of strange gray meat surrounded by purple, oddly-shaped vegetables, look around. Is anybody else eating the same thing? Do they seem to be enjoying it? Do you know enough about the ingredients to ensure that you’re not allergic to any of them? Do you have plans for later, just in case your culinary adventure lands you on the porcelain throne for the rest of the evening? These are things you have to think about. Opening your mouth is not the same as opening your mind.
Do you believe your nation could learn something from other parts of the world?
- Sure, there is always room for improvement.
- I doubt that very seriously.
The best answer, of course, is choice 1. I get what they’re doing here. Conservatives might argue that this question rewards liberal attitudes. Strangely enough, I agree, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Moving along.
Have you ever had a real conversation with a homeless person?
According to the source code, you’re more open-minded if you’ve taken the time to converse with a homeless person. I’m not sure I understand the logic. What if you’ve never actually seen a homeless person in real life? That’s conceivable, especially for people living in sparsely-populated rural areas. Are they automatically less open-minded because of their living situation? I feel uncomfortable making that conclusion.
Do you sometimes find yourself changing your mind about important social and political issues as you learn more about them?
The question contains the word sometimes, which means that choice 2 should be a lock; however, the quiz awards less credit for choice 2 than it does for choice 1. I think that’s both confusing and backwards: for true open-mindedness balanced by healthy skepticism, the answer should always be sometimes.
I know: since the question says sometimes, if you say “Sure”, you’re also saying sometimes. But it’s ambiguous and should be rewritten.
True or False: In life, there is almost always a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things, and it’s easy to see the difference between the two.
The quiz awards points for answering “False”, and I agree with that assessment. I understand the relevance: open-mindedness requires you to contemplate various ideas, and it can be difficult to determine which idea is most valid, especially when both sides present convincing evidence. And the question contains the words almost always, which denotes a true understanding of the vagueness of real life. So I’m going to let this question slide. For now.
Finish this sentence: “It’s been done this way for 500 years, and…”
- it will always be done this way.
- probably for a good reason.
- it’s probably about time for a change.
- I’m sure we could come up with a better way to do it.
The quiz’s best answer is choice 4. I’m ambivalent about this one. I think choice 4 would be a better answer if it said “we should evaluate whether the method we have is actually the best way of doing it, then draft a better solution if necessary.” Still, I give the author points for understanding that the old ways are not always the best ways.
Does this quiz really evaluate your open-mindedness? Well, it determines if you meet the author’s definition of open-mindedness, which, in my opinion, could use some tweaking. I’d like to re-emphasizing what I believe is the best description of open-minded thinking: open-mindedness means you are willing to consider new ideas, but not bound to accept them. As always, critical thinking and skepticism should be your tools for making important decisions.
If you answer all the questions “correctly”, your result tells you that you are 100% open-minded, and gives you this advice:
Your mind is like 7-11: Open all the time, baby. There is almost no idea too crazy for you to consider. But be careful of people who might exploit your worldview: Earth is a dangerous place for people willing to try anything!