“Are you open to durian ice-cream” & an Open-Minded look at Open-Mindedness (I)

How Durian Ice-Cream Caused An Existential Crisis

You walk into an ice-cream shop.

Before you utter the name of your favorite flavor: vanilla, the owner at the counter smiles at you and asks: “Are you open to durian ice-cream? It’s a new flavor we just added today!”

Durian? You think scream to yourself, Did he just say durian?! Suddenly, you see the flesh of this yellow fruit laid bare in front of you, drowning and overpowering you with its signature smell, awakening that memory of the nauseous feeling you suffered when you ate durian fruit for the first time…

I love durian ice-cream by the way

You clear your throat, forcing the image of the durian out of your head, and are about to say a polite “no”, when you catch yourself. Somehow, the way the owner asked the question makes you hesitate.

“Are you open to durian ice-cream” was the question posed to you. Somehow, you have this uneasy feeling that saying “no” not only means “no, I am not open to durian ice-cream“, but also implies “no, I am not an open-minded person willing to try new things“. Oh my, this question is harder than it sounds.

You swallow. You look up into the smiling eyes of the owner. In those eyes, you doubt whether you also read judgment. Suddenly, a simple decision of ice-cream flavor ballons into an existential question about who you are:

Are you an open-minded person?

Open-Minded = Open to Trying New Things?

That’s one camp of view: open-minded means open to trying new things, and here new means something you’ve never experienced before, e.g., durian ice-cream. Let’s take a close (but not close-minded) look at this view – does it make sense?

Coming back to the ice-cream example (because we all love ice-cream), is there a difference between these two scenarios:

  1. I consider durian flavor as an option (among other available flavors), and, without trying it, decide to stick with classic vanilla;
  2. I try the durian flavor ice-cream, find its taste confirms my worst fears, and vow to stick with vanilla for the rest of my life.

Does the action of trying in scenario #2 make my decision a more open-minded one vs. scenario #1?

We love ice-cream

Let’s re-frame the question: is my taste preference something I can predict with a reasonably high degree of accuracy a priori (i.e., independent of any experience), or something I can only find out a posteriori (i.e., requires experiencing)?

I’d say it’s the former in the durian ice-cream example. While it’s true I have not tried durian ice-cream – and hence cannot say with certainty whether I will like it or not – my judgment that I will not like it is based upon reasonable assumptions / logical analysis. To put it simplistically, my reasoning is as below:

  • Fact: I have a strong dislike for the smell & taste of the durian fruit;
  • Assumption: the taste of durian ice-cream will closely resemble that of durian;
  • Decision: I decide not to try durian ice-cream, as I am reasonably confident that I will dislike its taste.

While my mental taste model of durian ice-cream is not based on first-hand experience, you would probably agree that it does not deviate too far from reality – since my imagination is based on other highly relevant & similar experiences (i.e., eating the durian fruit). I could be fairly confident that my imaginary taste of durian ice-cream nicely maps to its actual taste. Therefore, I could argue that I have considered my option in a logical manner. Therefore, turning down durian ice-cream without giving it a try does not make me less open-minded.

If we modify the example above, and imagine I have never tried durian before – moreover, I have never even seen a durian nor heard of it. I have had zero exposure to the concept of “durian” prior to visiting the ice-cream shop. Should I give durian flavor a try? If I do give it a try, does it signal I am more open-minded? I am inclined to lean to “yes” in this scenario, because I do not have a reliable model that maps to reality.

The crux of the issue, I believe, is whether I make my decision based on a model that is reasonably reliable, i.e., with strong evidence suggesting the model resembles reality.

Back to the question: if I am open to trying new things, does that make me a more open-minded individual? The answer is: it depends. And of course, this is THE most open-minded answer one could expect to give (insert innocent smile)!

Disclaimer: I love durian and durian ice-cream. The examples used above are for illustrative purposes only.