Why Bullshit Is No Laughing Matter

Speaking of bullshit, this piece by Gordon Pennycook for Aeon is excellent:

To understand how we investigated bullshit empirically, consider the following examples:

The invisible is beyond new timelessness.

As you self-actualise, you will enter into infinite empathy that transcends understanding.

These statements are, definitively, bullshit. I can say this directly because they were generated using two websites: wisdomofchopra.com and the New Age Bullshit Generator. Both select buzzwords at random and use them to form sentences. They have no intended meaning and use vagueness to mask their vacuity. They are bullshit.

Across four studies and with more than 800 participants, we found that people consistently rate blatant bullshit such as this as at least somewhat profound. More importantly, this tendency — which we referred to as bullshit receptivity — was more common among people who performed worse on a variety of cognitive ability- and thinking-style tests, and who held religious and paranormal beliefs. Put differently, more logical, analytical and skeptical people were less likely to rate bullshit as profound, just as you might expect.

And an important conclusion:

Bullshit is much harder to detect when we want to agree with it. The first and most important step is to recognise the limits of our own cognition. We must be humble about our ability to justify our own beliefs. These are the keys to adopting a critical mindset — which is our only hope in a world so full of bullshit.

(Via Michael Lopp.)

Thursday, 29 December 2016