Open-minded and Judgmental

Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?

-George Carlin

Often, “closed-minded” and “judgmental” are labels applied only to people or positions you disagree with.

It’s not closed-mindedness per se that’s the problem—it’s just that someone’s mind is closed to the correct view, perspective, or opinion.  I’ve never heard someone sincerely accuse another person of being too open-minded—it’s just about agreement on a particular issue.

If you label a person or action “judgmental”, you are passing judgment on the person or action.  If you label someone as “close-minded”, you are closing your mind to their views and perspectives.

Take the example of gay marriage.  People who disapprove of gay marriage are labeled “judgmental”.  But of course, approval of gay marriage is itself a judgement.  Unless you never consider an issue or form an opinion about it, there is no escaping judgement.

Opponents of gay marriage are criticized for being “closed-minded”.  However, supporting gay marriage is necessarily closing your mind to conflicting perspectives, to some degree or another.  Should supporters of gay marriage “open their minds” to the possibility that the Old Testament is correct about the immorality of gay marriage (Leviticus 20:13)—that god himself spoke out against homosexuality?

The use of these terms sets up a false continuum.  The incorrect position (judgmental, closed-minded) is at one extreme, and the correct position (non-judgmental, open-minded) is at the other.

Labeling a position as closed-minded or judgmental is not an argument against that position; it’s just a label, like “bad”. When people use these terms they are simply stating that you are on the wrong spot on this continuum, instead of arguing why their place on the continuum is justified.  They are, in Carlin’s wording, calling you a maniac or an idiot, without saying why.

Open-mindedness means seeking to understand positions you don’t hold, accept, or understand, in spite of the fact that you don’t hold, accept, or understand them.

Of course there are people who are closed-minded: they have not sought to understand another’s position, considered an issue, or heard the other side’s evidence.  But because “closed-minded” is so often used as a synonym for “wrong”, it’s more useful to say that directly.  For instance, “They are unfamiliar with the other side’s position and their supporting reasoning.” Or “They’re not familiar with the latest evidence”, etc.

Non-judgement in some Buddhist sense may also be a virtue (a topic for another discussion), but that’s not the sense in which people use the term.  Everyone is judgmental about everything, and pretending that your judgement isn’t a judgement is unhelpful.  Maybe “That judgement is incorrect because….”.

Ambient Findability by Peter Morville, 2005

…ambient findability, a realm in which we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime.  p. 65

Date Completed: 7-22-17

Amazon Link

New technology allows information to be discovered, stored, and disseminated at an incredible pace.  It allows us locate information and objects in their digital and physical locations.  But there is so much information available that it’s hard to know what to look for, and to find something once you know you want it.

Morville believes that new devices, as well as new methods of organizing information that librarians and information architects can implement, will help to overcome the challenge of finding things.

Information, and physical objects that are being connected to the web, surrounds us almost like fog.  We are inside of it, with many pieces of information nearby, enveloping us.  But it can be hard to see where we’re going and to find what we hope to find.  This is where we stand now, in the fog.

It’s possible that our tools and information architecture will, in some sense, allow the information we are searching for to manifest itself out of the cloud surrounding us.  The right information will sort of bubble up, to give us what we need, almost like Amazon recommendations taken to the next level.

I enjoyed the book, especially the beginning where he talks about navigation/findability in the physical world.  The discussion of how information could be curated in such a way as to foster ambient findability was pretty difficult for me to follow, and in some ways I feel I’ve missed the meat of the book.  I feel like I understand the outcome he’s seeking, but the method is opaque.

There are many similarities to Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger, but Weinberger’s story arc was easier for me to follow.  The works do complement each other well, but I would recommend starting with Miscellaneous.

Ideas per Page:1 3/10 (lower)

Related Books: Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger; What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

Recommend to Others: see above

Reread Personally:   no


First, ants possess the biological equivalent of an odometer that tells them not just how many steps they have taken but the ground-level distance traveled during each segment of the journey.  Second, ants possess a skylight compass that relies on the position of the sun as indicated by polarized light to compute direction.  By combining knowledge of distance and direction, ants have a basic ability to retrace their steps independent of landmarks.  18-19

…Norwegian seafaring hackers learned to bring ravens on long voyages.  When they thought land was near, the sailors released the birds, which had been deliberately starved.  The ravenous ravens often headed “as the crow flies” directly toward land.  22

Libraries exist at the very intersection of physical and semantic space. 34

Full text is biased toward description.  Unique identifiers such as ISBNs (and Zip Codes) offer perfect discrimination but no descriptive value.  Metadata fields (e.g., title, author, publisher) and controlled vocabularies (e.g., subject, category, format, audience) hold the middle ground.  52

-RFID tags can be read from a distance through walls, packaging, clothes, and wallets.  There is no minimum requirement for line of sight between label and reader.

-With barcodes, every can of Coke has the same universal product code (UPC).  With RFID, each can has its own unique number.  It’s classified as a can of Coke but also identified as a unique individual object.

-RFID spills beyond identification into positioning.  The same radiofrequency technologies that support communication (e.g., Wi-Fi, UWB) also enable the precise location and tracking of tagged objects.

As information volume increases, our ability to find any particular item decreases.  86

In 1998, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a report detailing the prevalence of surveillance cameras in New York City and found 2,397 government and private cameras on the streets of Manhattan.  87 [from Surveillance Camera Project].

In fact, the percentage of information we actively pull toward us is relatively small.  Most of our knowledge is pushed toward us…  116-117

We write, not just to communicate, but to enhance our own findability.  142

Not only is the desired person or document six/nineteen links away, but so are all people or documents.  143 [quoting Linked: The New Science of Neworks by Barabasi]

1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.




Vantage Point

Cherish sunsets, wild creatures and wild places.

Have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth.

-Stewart Udall, fmr. Sec. of Interior 1961-1969

Standing on Paintbrush Divide, life was simple.  The decision that led to this moment happened a few months earlier.  In the summer of 2016 I was writing my PhD dissertation and planning a late summer getaway to celebrate the culmination of this effort.  I was putting together logistics, along with my brother David and his fiancée Ashley, for a through-hike of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains.  We planned to stay high, hugging the continental divide as we followed the loose outline of a route described by backpacker and writer Alan Dixon.  On paper our goal was simple; hike the 80+ miles from the Green River lakes in the north to the Big Sandy Campground in the south.  In doing so, we would traverse what Dixon has called, “the finest non-technical Alpine route in North America.”  In practice, this feat wouldn’t be so simple.  The Wind Rivers are some of the most heavily glaciated mountains in the Rockies, and our route was to be largely off-trail.  We’d be carrying 9 days worth of food for three people in bear-resistant containers and spending most of our time above tree line, out of natural shelter and exposed to the elements.  This was exactly what we craved, a test of our mental and physical endurance.

On September 2nd, my 28th birthday, we set up camp in Forest Service land at the southern edge of the Winds, planning to catch an arranged shuttle to our northern start early the next morning.  We had arrived well past dark and hurriedly set up our tents in a thunderstorm.  As it turned out, this wouldn’t be our only night in the rain.  We were repeatedly drenched as we ascended through the early portion of our route.  Our first high pass, through a field strewn with car-sized boulders, was also marked by a violent storm.  We were well above the trees and could see the clouds approaching.  Soon our vision was limited to several feet and the three of us, alone in the mountains, also found ourselves isolated from one another as we each sought a way to maneuver over these rocks.  The snow came first, then the hail.  Next was thunder, like a wave rolling through.  I couldn’t see my brother, but I could hear him yelling instructions.   Remove your pack.  He was right, the lightning was too close, we had to be proactive.  I took off my backpack, slid it away, and sat curled up in a ball.  Hail and snow filled the air, caught in the wind.  Though I couldn’t see the sky, each strike of lightning was obvious as the small visible world around me was suddenly illuminated, like the flash bulb of a camera.  The thunder was instant.  We each sat alone, waiting.  As the storm began to give way, we shouted to one another from our individual perches.  This storm was past, but more would follow.  The rest of our time in the Winds followed suit.  After an overnight snowstorm, our route forward over a talus field was too dangerous.  We were forced to make a decision – wait a day and hope for an improvement in the weather or turn around now and hike out.  With limited food and a tight schedule, we ultimately chose the latter option.

Despite our disappointment at the early turnaround, the Winds were a strikingly beautiful range.  We used our newfound extra days to spend time hiking and camping in Grand Teton and Yellowstone.  This unexpected opportunity has become one of my most cherished memories.  What I took home from this trip was bigger than the stories or the pictures.  It was the recharge that only wilderness can supply.  After hiking up Paintbrush Canyon in the Tetons, where we were forced to wait while a bull moose grazed along a narrow section of trail, I found myself standing atop a large rock on the exposed pass.  We were halfway through a loop that would descend through Cascade Canyon and around Jenny Lake.  The final push up the pass was, as is frequently the case, a grueling ascent over rocky trail.  Snowfields dotted the landscape both above and below our vantage point.  Standing on the pass was euphoric; it was only from within the Tetons that I could feel the true magnitude of these jagged peaks strewn with glaciers and warm green lakes.  On my rock perch the wind relentlessly threatened to knock me over, filling me with a sense of smallness.  Nothing is as grounding as nature, a grand display of geological feats that have formed over a time scale hardly imaginable to the human mind.  There is a comfort to be found in the vastness of the wild, in the realization that nature is both beautiful and harsh.  Millions of years have passed and countless lives have come and gone while these mountains have endured.  Here I am nothing, and that means everything.