Inquiring minds don't want to know

By Tess

This past weekend Hungry Minds had a lively and interesting debate on GMOs. Walking away from the meeting, what I found most intriguing was the nature of the discussion and the very obviously different approaches the attendees took to the subject. To me, it spoke to what it means to have a hungry mind and to what this group really tries to foster in all of its discussions. 
The central issue, I believe, has to do with what it means to inquire about a subject. It is exceedingly difficult in today’s world to decide what information or opinion to take as credible. I believe that the tendency for the vast majority of us is to trust those who tend to hold a common core set of values that we also hold dear. For some of us, this adherence to a core set of values turns into a blind acceptance and preaching of the cultural products of this school of thought without questioning or pushing back against the narrative. Over time, it becomes a matter of faith and the way that we discuss a subject simply turns into a predetermined answer to trigger phrases -often quoting the experts that have told us what to think.
I know that I have hot topic issues that I have a gut reaction to and I find myself drawn to those who validate and give me words to express that gut reaction in the most persuasive way. However, I have come to be very suspicious of my relationship with those topics that I feel that gut reaction to -those topics that I feel an emotional need to argue about. I’ve found that I can become very knowledgable and very persuasive in the subjects that I really care about, but I am very curious about my motives. Do I really care to explore the subject and keep an open mind or do I wish to prove a point, to prove my point?
That is what I found to be only slightly hidden under the surface of the GMO debate. The tension seemed to revolve around those who were sure about what they knew about this topic and those who were wondering if the issue wasn’t so black and white. Yes, there is the science and there is what the science says but an inquiring mind wonders who the scientists and their funders are as well as what might matter more than the science. Also, what questions can science not answer, such as the proven effects of GMOs on the individual and the ecosystem over hundreds of years. Personally, I feel that the focus on the pure science and healthy or not healthy argument makes the issue seem too simple and opponents too easy to dismiss. There are much more important questions that need to be addressed.
I was so proud of the group as they used the opportunity last weekend to explore so many different paths and inquiries. I heard people continuously say that they are wondering, they are questioning, they are intrigued by. I heard a group of people looking dead into the face of nuance and not flinching. That lead me to the conclusion that inquiring minds don’t want to know because knowledge infers certainty, it infers a closed book. Rather, inquiring minds want to push the boundaries, read from every angle, wonder about what they read and wonder about the people who wrote what they read. Inquiring minds usually understand that there is very little in life that one can actually have certainty about and they are okay with that. An inquiring mind holds this fact of uncertainty and still pushes forward in searching for some level of understanding. An inquiring mind has a hard time saying that they are on one side of an argument or another because they see points on both sides or they are more interested in understanding why the argument exists in the first place. There is a common adage within the study of history that the more you learn about an era, the less you feel that you actually know about it. I think that this could be used for pretty much everything we really find value in investigating. 
We often joke at the end of our meetings at Hungry Minds that we haven’t resolved anything, and I don’t think any of us would ever want to change this. We keep coming back to the group time and time again because it is a source of learning for us -we draw on the unique and interesting viewpoints of the other people there and get a chance to get out of the echo chamber that our own little world can so often become. A hungry mind is an inquiring mind and we all really know so very little.  

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Comments: 4
  • #1

    Richard (Thursday, 03 March 2016 09:53)

    Thanks for the observations Tess.

    I would add a comment made to me a few years back by an wise acquaintance. She was a philosophy professor at a university in Mexico. She said, "I cannot determine how I live my life based on the principle of contradiction."

    We all strive and seek some certainty that guides us on how to live.

    Food for thought? (For Hungry Minds....)

  • #2

    Josh (Thursday, 03 March 2016 19:04)

    I like where you're coming from here, Tess. I tend to think that most cases the best we can do is make our beliefs stronger as opposed to reaching some absolute state of "knowing". But I also understand that speaking in such qualified terms all the time is impractical, and that people have questions which are "live" for them at some moments but not others.

    Strong claims of knowledge put me on guard, but I'm glad to say I've rarely felt the need to take that stance in discussions with this group.

  • #3

    Carol (Friday, 04 March 2016 11:55)

    Very well stated Tess. :-)

  • #4

    Barry (Monday, 07 March 2016 07:04)

    Thank you Tess for your eloquent reflections here. Individually, we must navigate our own biased minds (thoughts of The Righteous Mind, The Unpersuadables, and Thinking Fast and Slow here). As a society I feel we live with managed thought narratives, and hidden agendas (one example being the extent of corporate influence over public standards for food safety, including GM foods). These influences may be so unpleasant to face directly that we as a society retreat into willful blindness. It is a pre-existing resistance that can figure into how we rationally explore a topic such as GM Food safety. Challenges, indeed.