The Dangers of an Open Mind

When I was young, I loved maths and science. I got asked a question and knew I could give a right answer. I couldn’t stand the foofiness (pronounced foo-fee-ness) of say English Language, where I was asked to interpret a poem, and then told that my interpretation was wrong, as if the teacher had been there conversing with Shakespeare himself as the sonnet was being constructed.

As I went to University and studied engineering, this concept of “there is a right answer” became more hazy as we did a series of complicated equations to calculate the exact stiffness required of a specific strut, and then just added a factor of safety on top, “just in case”.

As I read and learn more and more, the cliché of “the more you learn, the less you know” becomes more and more apparent and this in itself begins to force you into a more open-minded approach to things. We’re always being told to be a bit more open-minded so this is a good thing right?

Too much of a good thing

When I was in Portugal this summer, I watched over 9 hours of a series of documentaries on the pyramids. I really got into it. I remember sitting at dinner and explaining to James Williams about how this guy thought he had worked out how the pyramids were built, how he could levitate limestone blocks using two cones which worked on frequency, how this related to numbers and the universal constants and how the pyramids weren’t tombs, they were actually battery based power stations for the world to generate frequencies of energy to help enlighten us all. James looked at me like I was an idiot.

The documentaries were actually put together in a really cohesive and congruent way, and made a much more convincing argument than you could possibly believe. And herein lies the problem, too open a mind can lead you to be convinced in any direction as long as the argument makes logical sense and enough of the conflicting information is left out.

Any belief that is not the mainstream can be poo-poo’ed as a “conspiracy theory” no matter how convincing the argument.

“If you’re facing in the wrong direction, progress is going to involve going backwards” (a quote from someone far more intelligent than I, who’s name escapes me)

The analogy

The closed-mind is like a castle, the moat is full, the walls are high and the drawbridge will be lowered only to let in information which is familiar and will get along well with the townsfolk already within the castle walls.

The open-mind has filled in the moat and knocked down one of the walls, freely allowing extra information in, pretty much willy nilly. What you need to is deploy your troops, allow the wall to stay down, but have a battalion of your soldiers defending the opening, applying critical thinking and previous knowledge to decide who comes in and goes out. If that involves changing all of the residents, then so be it.

Its this approach which makes me really annoying at conferences.

European Speed Conference

This weekend it was the European Speed Conference in Birmingham, and there was a very Sport Science flavour to the event. This made it more interesting and more frustrating in equal measure. There is absolutely no doubt that a researcher knows their field inside and out, what they don’t know however is the application into the practical world of sprint coaching. This is where acceptance and interpretation becomes the skill.

There was a selection of talks to choose from, but if I just openly accepted the information relayed to me at the various talks I attended, I would immediately change my training so I was doing a very low volume of sprint work, I’d make sure all the sprint sessions were varied with different surfaces and different speeds, there’d be far more core and coordination work than I’ve ever prescribed before, everyone would be doing heavy eccentrics to stiffen their tendons and I’d have all my athletes seeing psychologists so that they didn’t get CNS fatigue any more and could train all day every day.

I will not be doing this.

At the moment however, my battalion are working hard to decide who gets in and who doesn’t, who fits into the existing framework, and which of the information is congruent with my over-riding philosophy and will bring benefits to the table. I’ll try and save comment till I’ve made these decisions, unfortunately I find it difficult to do this at the end of a presentation when they open the floor and ask for “Any questions?”

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