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What word best describes a person who has the ability to understand two opposing opinions?

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    "Open-minded", for starters, but I'm sure there are some better terms. And the proper word depends in part on whether you're looking for a technical/philosophical term or a "popular" one. – Hot Licks Apr 9 '18 at 21:19
  • Barak Obama, perhaps? – Tuffy Apr 9 '18 at 21:59
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    Another word worth considering (but that few people will consider) is "scientist". – Hot Licks Apr 9 '18 at 23:06
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    @haha naha, that ain't it. :) It's close though. – Mari-Lou A Apr 10 '18 at 1:28
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    considerate. independent. objective. judicious. even-handed. impartial. comprehensive. holistic. disinvested. unbridled. unencumbered. – dandavis Apr 10 '18 at 2:01
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If you look at the common dictionary definitions for scientist you get something along the lines of:

A person who is engaged in and has expert knowledge of a science, especially a biological or physical science. Free Dictionary

So, looking for a definition of science, we find:

Science is the study of the nature and behavior of natural things and the knowledge that we obtain about them. Collins

But this is a rather unsatisfying definition. It implies that you're a "scientist" if you (eventually) learn to avoid some of the things that tick off your wife, or how to "read" the traffic and pick an alternate route on the way to work.

It's also at the center of the conflicts tearing apart our society.

Here is a better definition, written by scientists:

A scientist is someone who systematically gathers and uses research and evidence, making a hypothesis and testing it, to gain and share understanding and knowledge. A scientist can be further defined by:

  • how they go about this, for instance by use of statistics (Statisticians) or data (Data scientists)
  • what they’re seeking understanding of, for instance the elements in the universe (Chemists, Geologists etc), or the stars in the sky (Astronomers)
  • where they apply their science, for instance in the food industry (Food Scientist)

However all scientists are united by their relentless curiosity and systematic approach to assuaging it.

But this still doesn't get at the meat of the issue (and its relevance to this question).

In any "rational" discussion of opposing points of view what we call "evidence" will be presented by both sides. Even after you discard the evidence that both sides will (eventually) agree is laughably invalid, you are still left with evidence which the other side cannot accept. The problem is, if one participant does choose to (tentatively) "accept" evidence of the other side that conflicts with evidence which the participant is confident is true, a condition known as cognitive dissonance occurs, and this creates significant psychological stress in the participant. So the "natural" thing to do is to ignore the conflicting evidence (or declare it "fake news"), to relieve this stress.

But when one thinks of scientists such as Copernicus, Galileo, Pascal, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, this is not how they approached things. Whereas most humans naturally recoil from situations which will create cognitive dissonance, good scientists such as these don’t simply exhibit curiosity, but rather they revel in the sensation of having their preconceived notions challenged by new evidence. In fact, it seems to me that the definition of “scientist” should be “one who seeks contradictions”.

Certainly no one (even a great scientist) can live out his (or her) entire life in a state of constant dissonance, but a scientist must, by definition, be open to recognizing and exploring inconsistencies in what he “knows”, at least in his areas of specialty. Someone who merely collects and applies knowledge may be an excellent researcher or engineer, but he is not a scientist.

What this implies for public policy is that the scientific community needs to challenge people in the broader population (and especially students) to become “scientists”, by learning to appreciate the pleasures (yes, there are pains too, but the pleasures are there) of dealing with (and not simply suppressing) dissonance. The joy a scientist experiences in an “Aha! moment” is soul-sustaining, and, more importantly, learning to value rather than discredit evidence that contradicts ones pre-existing beliefs leads to enormous emotional and intellectual growth. Humanity would never have progressed to this point without scientists of this ilk, and without them its future is in grave danger.

This is the heart of a scientist.

  • I gave this a thumbs up, because, despite it not necessarily being the best word, I do think it helps the question. I haven't thought of a word yet and I'm not sure there is one, but I feel that it is more than 'neutral' going in', and certainly not a consensus builder. A person who can understand and accept conflicting positions without trying to water either down, to me, would be best desribed as some sort of scholar. perhaps scholar would be broader than scientist. I'm also tempted toward "anthropologist" but that might be a tad too disinterested as I mean it. – Tom22 Apr 10 '18 at 1:14
  • BTW, I love your description of a scientist! – Tom22 Apr 10 '18 at 1:16
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There are several terms depending on context: fair, impartial, neutral, but "unbiased" comes to mind and seems to fit best. "they are unbiased" or "they have unbiased judgement"

unbiased "having no bias or prejudice. If you describe someone or something as unbiased, you mean they are fair and not likely to support one particular person or group involved in something."

  • There is no clear and unbiased information available for consumers.

  • The researchers were expected to be unbiased.

From TFD - "Unbiased implies absence of a preference or partiality: gave an unbiased account of her family problems."

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a judicious person TFD

having or exhibiting sound judgment; prudent

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Mediator: noun 1. a person who mediates, especially between parties at variance.

Mediate: verb (used with object)...1. to settle (disputes, strikes, etc.) as an intermediary between parties; reconcile. 2. to bring about (an agreement, accord, truce, peace, etc.) as an intermediary between parties by compromise, reconciliation, removal of misunderstanding, etc....(used without object)...4. to act between parties to effect an agreement, compromise, reconciliation, etc.

Word Origin and History for mediator n. mid-14c., from Late Latin mediatorem (nominative mediator) "one who mediates," agent noun from past participle stem of mediari "to intervene, mediate," also "to be or divide in the middle," from Latin medius "in the middle" (see medial (adj.)). Originally applied to Christ, who in Christian theology "mediates" between God and man. Meaning "one who intervenes between two disputing parties" is first attested late 14c. Feminine form mediatrix (originally of the Virgin Mary) from c.1400.

From Mediation and Society: Conflict Resolution in Lebanon, by Cathie J. Witty, c.1980 Academic Press, Inc.:

Mediation is defined as the facilitation of an agreement between two or more disputing parties by an agreed-upon third party [known as a mediator].

  • A mediator was required to reconcile the two factions whose opposing viewpoints made it impossible for them to reach an agreement on their own.
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Impartial

An impartial person.

not partial or biased; fair; just

or...

Rational

A rational person

having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense

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