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Science

Why Some People Think Total Nonsense Is Really Deep (washingtonpost.com) 411

Earthquake Retrofit writes: The Washington Post has a story about Gordon Pennycook, a doctorate student at the University of Waterloo who studies why some people are more easily duped than others. "Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena" was one of many randomly generated sentences Pennycook, along with a team of researchers at the University of Waterloo, used in a new, four-part study (PDF) put together to gauge how receptive people are to nonsense.

Those more receptive to bull**** are less reflective, lower in cognitive ability (i.e., verbal and fluid intelligence, numeracy), are more prone to ontological confusions [beliefs in things for which there is no empirical evidence (i.e. that prayers have the ability to heal)] and conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.

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Why Some People Think Total Nonsense Is Really Deep

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @05:35AM (#51039681)

    I think that someone who doesn't understand the difference between i.e. and e.g. has no business criticising others.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why do you think they don't? I've read the "i.e." as "that is" and it makes perfect sense.

    • I think that someone who doesn't understand the difference between i.e. and e.g. has no business criticising others.

      Good catch! ;-)

      I call bullshit on Pennycook's characterization of randomly generated nonsense as B.S, which he uses as a pivot of his 'study'. Here we have a generalization and judgement, an i.e. if you will, of something that can only be evaluated on an e.g. basis.

      Identifying a scrap of apparent nonsense as profound is NOT a final judgement. It is a declaration that something is worthy to remember and consider, a state of unresolved investigation. We strive to find pattern and meaning and when we glimpse

      • by Bongo ( 13261 )

        There's something called the Pre/Trans Fallacy. It says that because neither nonsense nor supersense are common sense, the two get easily confused.

        So a brilliant intuition can be taken for rubbish, and rubbish can be taken for a brilliant intuition. But there is a real difference: the brilliant intuition can be looked at rationally and carefully, whereas the nonsense, on closer examination, remains rubbish.

        So I don't know whether their study was looking at whether people can recognise supersense when they s

      • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @08:27AM (#51040305) Journal

        There is a long list of cognitive biases to which ALL humans with biological brains and nervous systems are susceptible.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        Many of them come down to nonsense and noise appearing to make sense.
        Because that is the primary function of our brains - making sense and information out of completely random stimuli generated by the world around us.

        It's not a game.
        It's a necessity for a crushable biological entity to quickly make sense of those vibrations it's sensors are picking up.
        Is it thunder, wind or is something heavy coming down on it from above?
        Quick! Milliseconds mean life or... too late.
        We get pareidolia cause those who didn't recognize that bear-shaped object in the distance didn't make it through the evolutionary process.
        Not cause we adapted to think that teddy bears are cute or so that we could interpret smileys and emoji.

        And when we can't make sense of some stimuli - we start getting anxious and afraid. And that makes us stupid. And then we get hurt and then we die.
        Which is why we'll jump on any quick and easy explanation like "ghosts" or "aliens" or conspiracy theories.
        Cause they can provide easy and simple solutions to ANY unsolvable problem. And they provide it quickly.

        Why am I poor? Because secret world government keeps me that way.
        Why am I ugly? Because aliens made me so.
        Why did I get an incurable disease when I'm really a nice person? Because chemtrails.
        Why will I and everyone else I love eventually have to die? So we can live forever in a much better place.
        Why did my tire blow out? Bad luck. Or gremlins.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      I think you are a superficial moron that is unable to differentiate between important and unimportant things.

      • Important and unimportant things vary wildly between people. I'm not going to tell you what I think of you because it is just unimportant to me.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ever look at a curriculum for a non-STEM degree?

    "Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena" sounds like it belongs there.

    But hey, we make them feel "safe".

    Make them think? No so much.

    • by tehcyder ( 746570 ) on Thursday December 03, 2015 @11:48AM (#51050317) Journal

      Ever look at a curriculum for a non-STEM degree?

      "Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena" sounds like it belongs there.

      But hey, we make them feel "safe".

      Make them think? No so much.

      Translation: I am an eighteen year old in the first year of a Computer Science degree and think that I am godlike.

      Mind you, that applies to at least half the posts on slashdot.

  • I don't think... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmeraldBot ( 3513925 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @05:46AM (#51039707)

    Well, remember, what exactly is considered profound is up to each person. For some people, they may not consider the statement itself to hold any wisdom, but the vagueness might prompt themselves into a philosophical state, and so they associate that with the phrase itself. And honestly, at the end of the day, this whole article is really talking about imagination, is it not? Look at children, for those of you who have any: they can go on adventures with nothing but a few sticks and a rock. Likewise, I am sure that for some people, their minds can evolve meaning even out of nonsensical words. I don't think having an active imagination is really all that much of a vice, as they tend to be people who can come up with some very creative solutions and answers that most would dismiss as impossible.

    That being said, going with the article's thesis, I agree. I could totally see them being more likely to believe in a religion for precisely the reason stated above, to see a pattern out of unrelated events, and once you believe there's an all powerful god, it becomes much easier to believe in the others listed. Ultimately though, we all have our vices, and I don't think naivety is all that bad of one to have in the grand scheme.

    • by John Allsup ( 987 ) <doctor.inna.house@al l s u p .co> on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @05:58AM (#51039759) Homepage Journal

      The biggest problem in religious belief is unconditional acceptance of dogma and a tendency not to question what one is told. Modern atheists often have their own dogmas, and all the same problems.

      • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @06:46AM (#51039887) Homepage
        I guess, that

        Modern atheists often have their own dogmas, and all the same problems.

        falls either in the bullshit or in the dogma category.

        First, most atheists I know are quite undogmatic. They just don't have a religion, and they don't miss it. They've grown up without every being challenged about their (non-)religiousness. Being without religion is just some kind of natural state for them, the same as for instance being 5'10" or born in 1972. There is just nothing to be questioned about it, it is to them as it is. (Full disclosure: I am neither 5'10" nor born in 1972).

        Second, it might be different in an environment where the majority of the population is religious and thus the minority constantly has to explain that they aren't, and that to them it's fine, and there are valid reasons for not being religious. If you don't stop questioning people about why exactly they (don't) believe what they (don't) believe, sooner or later everyone will sound dogmatic to you, but all they really are is being angry at you for continuously bothering them and not knowing when to stop.

        • by c ( 8461 ) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @08:37AM (#51040399)

          (Full disclosure: I am neither 5'10" nor born in 1972).

          The atheist reader who is 5'10" and was born in 1972 is probably looking over his shoulder thinking "how did he know... ?"

          (Full disclosure: can't be me; I'm just over 5'11").

          • (Full disclosure: I am neither 5'10" nor born in 1972).

            The atheist reader who is 5'10" and was born in 1972 is probably looking over his shoulder thinking "how did he know... ?"

            (Full disclosure: can't be me; I'm just over 5'11").

            No, because atheists are good at separating coincidence from purpose. Someone who is religious or spiritual might think it is "spooky" and believe that the OP has ESP but the atheist will know that it is just happenstance. It isn't atheists that are being featured in news stories about being bilked out of thousands of dollars by psychics.

        • I don't think anyone is born 5'10".
        • First, most atheists I know are quite undogmatic. They just don't have a religion, and they don't miss it. They've grown up without every being challenged about their (non-)religiousness.

          Here let's test that;

          RSS data has shown that there has been no statistically significant Global Warming for 18 years, 9 months.

          now watch the dogma fly!

        • Re:I don't think... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by scamper_22 ( 1073470 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @11:31AM (#51041721)

          I think there is a certain nature of movements.

          Originally the pioneers are normally more 'consistent and true'.
          However, as a movement becomes more general, it is going to get people belonging to it just as another other group.

          For example, I left my faith of Islam. It's a huge deal. I was highly religious in my youth. It's not to my benefit in that sense. Loss of community support. Ostracized... But my brain is such that, once it sees it, it can't go back. It's been a real mental struggle fought with philosophy, identity, social belonging, truth, rationality...

          Now, eventually, the agnostic/athiest movement will become the norm among Muslims, the same as it has in the West with Christianity (Bible Belt aside). And you will have people attaching itself to that agnostic/athiest label just because it is their team. They 'new athiests' will likely not be any less prone to irrationality/total nonsense than anyone else.

          Let me give a little software example.
          The originators of Agile were really well versed in Agile. They saw all the problems of Waterfall. Came up with a new ideology and set of practices. They probably used it to create some really good software.

          But as it became a movement, a lot more people just joined into it. They don't get the intellectual aspects of Agile. They just attach onto it as a movement. It gets all the bad aspects that come with any movement. Scrum becomes the most important part. Just as say not eating pork becomes the main part of Islam. It becomes a sense of identity and belonging no different than anything else.

          So while I think there are varying stages to movements and at certain times, a particular movement might be 'more true or consistent', I have a general belief that overtime, every movement becomes prone to non-sense as it becomes generally accepted.

        • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@p o e t i c .com> on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @01:02PM (#51042749)

          actually I do think, and I liked this comment:
          "Being without religion is just some kind of natural state for them..."

          Which reminds me of a similar statement- 'a man without religion is like a fish who has lost his bicycle'. Is this a serious dilemma?

          I, for one, am often the subject of well meaning concern from (mostly christian) religious people. They pray for my soul, of course, and gently try to convert me by quoting from their holy books. I would happily quote Nietzsche in return but that would create an interminable discussion which leads to no good end.

          A blind person can be dependent upon his cane, a cripple on his crutches, and an emotionally confused individual on his god. But the first two don't try to encourage others to have the same dependence.

      • The biggest problem in religious belief is unconditional acceptance of dogma and a tendency not to question what one is told. Modern atheists often have their own dogmas, and all the same problems.

        Is this a clever rephrasing of the old "Atheism is a religion" chestnut?

      • Modern atheists often have their own dogmas, and all the same problems.

        There is no such thing as a "modern atheist" any more than there is such a thing as a "modern person who doesn't collect stamps."

        Atheism isn't a religious choice.

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @06:13AM (#51039799) Homepage

      Its supposed to be something that gives you a deep insight into some area of knowledge that you didn't possess before. Its NOT supposed to be anything that you don't really understand but is grammatically correct and uses a lot of impressive multisyllable new age/religious buzzwords and phrases.

      • Its supposed to be something that gives you a deep insight into some area of knowledge that you didn't possess before.

        Actually, I think this misses some nuance in the use of the English word "profound" and the source of "profundity."

        What makes something "profound" is often the same kind of thing that makes a mathematical proof "elegant": a certain kind of generalization combined with terseness or compactness. Often the problem with "elegant" proofs and with "profound" statements is that they don't explain their complexity explicitly. An elegant proof can therefore be rather non-intuitive, or even if it makes sense, it'

    • Well, remember, what exactly is considered profound is up to each person. For some people, they may not consider the statement itself to hold any wisdom, but the vagueness might prompt themselves into a philosophical state, and so they associate that with the phrase itself. And honestly, at the end of the day, this whole article is really talking about imagination, is it not? Look at children, for those of you who have any: they can go on adventures with nothing but a few sticks and a rock. Likewise, I am sure that for some people, their minds can evolve meaning even out of nonsensical words. I don't think having an active imagination is really all that much of a vice, as they tend to be people who can come up with some very creative solutions and answers that most would dismiss as impossible.

      That being said, going with the article's thesis, I agree. I could totally see them being more likely to believe in a religion for precisely the reason stated above, to see a pattern out of unrelated events, and once you believe there's an all powerful god, it becomes much easier to believe in the others listed. Ultimately though, we all have our vices, and I don't think naivety is all that bad of one to have in the grand scheme.

      That is so deep.

      I believe you completely.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    means our insides are overlooked? wmd on credit zionic nazi psychopath religious abuse training leaves participants both suicidal & homocidal at once...? truth + mercy = justice unchallenged universal spiritual axioms,,, in the moms we trust... ask ed snowden your questions here on /. continues........ give until it stops hurting... see you there....

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @05:49AM (#51039719) Homepage Journal

    Thick people are less intelligent, claims report. Film at 11.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @05:50AM (#51039725)

    n/t

  • by codeButcher ( 223668 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @06:14AM (#51039801)

    From The not-very-proFound Article:

    The precise reasons that people see profundity in vague buzzwords or syntactic but completely random sentences are unknown.

    I think a large reason for the phenomenon (accepting the premise of around a quarter uncritical test subjects uncritically for the sake of the argument) is for the same reason that a whole city, save one child, all said how nice the emperor's new clothes are (despite all seeing his imperial nakedness): not wanting to look foolish/out-of-fashion/contrary to society in the eyes of their peers.

    In other words: I read a random phrase that is touted as being (at least mildly, score 1) profound. It contains some multi-syllable words. I don't really understand it, but I guess it must be somewhat profound - philosophy have for ages given new meanings to existing words and fixed combinations thereof (heck, the media does so every day these days), so maybe this is another example where those words mean something that I haven't encountered yet in my academically undistinguished career - so just to be safe and not the laughing stock of all those ivory tower dwellers, I give it a score of 3 or 4.

    And voilà!

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @06:19AM (#51039809)

    Open YouTube. Search for "Flat Earth". Wonder how some people can breathe without aid.

    The world is a vastly complex place. Too complex to grasp for even the most learned and intelligent people on our planet, how much more overwhelming does it have to be for someone with, let's put it kindly, limited mental resources? It's dwarfing and people don't like that. So what they are looking for is easy answers for complex problems. And of course they will get them. Usually such answers involve some scapegoat, some big and nebulous enemy and a huge conspiracy around it all.

    Fuck, I'm in the wrong business. I should start writing books for those idiots and get rich off them, too.

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @06:21AM (#51039821)

    It makes sense that people who don't require empirical evidence would be more likely to believe in dogmas/supernatural/paranormal/gods, and alternative medicine. However I object to the term 'ontological confusions', some people's philosophies aren't founded on logic; if logic is cast aside, then internal/external consistency aren't necessarily valid ways to judge a philosophy's validity. As a metaphor, someone might say "I do not recognize the validity of this court."

    If confronted with facts contradictory to your beliefs, you might believe that the facts were fabricated as part of a conspiracy to suppress The Truth. If given supporting facts, then the conspiracy must be even larger. This proves your beliefs must be true, and is the source of True Believer Syndrome.

    Understanding of the psychological root of religiosity is worth pursuing, particularly to priests. If it turns out to be dimwittedness and cognitive disorders, they can just say that their flock has been "blessed by god to see the truth." Most people suffer from several minor cognitive distortions; I wonder what would happen if all the sub-clinical cases were cured...

    • by aaaaaaargh! ( 1150173 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @06:58AM (#51039911)

      if logic is cast aside, then internal/external consistency aren't necessarily valid ways to judge a philosophy's validity.

      As a philosopher and logician, I fail to see why someone's "philosophy" shouldn't be judged on the basis of consistency like everything else, just because that person refuses validity, consistency, etc for him- or herself. Surely you must try to understand someone else's position first, but that cannot mean that you can only evaluate that position by adopting it - that would make no sense. Besides, it is my experience after 20 years of doing philosophy that people who refuse logic and mathematical method in general really just do so out of laziness, fear, and sometimes even hatred against things they believe they can't understand. Their criticisms are practically always insubstantial and uninteresting, and have been discussed within the discipline extensively before.

      Anti-logical attitudes are particularly amusing and depressing at the same time, because for most purported criticisms of logic there is already a logic as a remedy. (A valid criticism may be that there are too many logics, but you rarely hear that one from non-logicians.)

    • Giving them credit for attempting to also test blind cynicism by adding actual commonly accepted profound statements, I think the conclusion identifies the quarter who accepted BS but doesn't similarly characterise the percentage of cynical idiots who fail to recognize the profound.

      Would you rather be with someone who accidentally positively scored 50% more statements as profound, or someone who marked 50% of the actual profound statements as non-profound? And how interesting would you expect the "revers

      • I could imagine an intelligent defense of the wholeness quiets infinite phenomena phrase... and the person able to find meaning in it would score lower than the cynic who finds fewer statements profound.

        Right. Wholeness does quiet infinite phenomena, namely, the phenomena associated with incompleteness. An audience as technical as Slashdot users surely has plenty of experience with those phenomena. There's a lot of them.

        Like the man says, colorless green dreams sleep furiously.

    • However I object to the term 'ontological confusions', some people's philosophies aren't founded on logic

      I object to your obvious confusion about the terms you're using. Why would anyone believe ontology has anything whatsoever to do with logic??! FYI, the things religious people believe has everything to do with metaphysics. Otherwise, nice massive Strawman fallacy of a post there!! And then more ridiculous people mod parent insightful? I know you think you're deep, alright, but you should stay in the shallow end.

    • INFIDEL!... you make some good points.

    • There IS a biological root for FAITH.
      Or as call it when not talking about magical creatures and forces - instinct.
      When we "feel" something is a certain way but can't quite put our finger onto why we think it is so.
      When we have faith that something is a certain way.

      Some stimuli has triggered something somewhere in our evolutionary and personal memories and our brain is telling us that... just not in precise terms.
      Will the rope hold? It feels like it might. Will it rain? It feels like it might. Will this hurt

    • However I object to the term 'ontological confusions', some people's philosophies aren't founded on logic; if logic is cast aside, then internal/external consistency aren't necessarily valid ways to judge a philosophy's validity. As a metaphor, someone might say "I do not recognize the validity of this court."

      Hogwash.

      A person who's philosophy does not recognize the validity of gravity is still subject to it. Whether a person believes a thing to be true or not does not change objective fact.

  • Fake it till you make it
    Synergize the opportunities
    Agile paradigm shift
    Synthesize community norms and mores
    Postmodern science

    Wow this is really quite a good bit of fun, It gives me a whole new way to laugh at people who are busy looking down their noses at others.

  • Doctorate? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Big Hairy Ian ( 1155547 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @07:15AM (#51039965)
    If this is what his doctorate is on his PHD thesis should be about the stupid things people get qualified in!
  • For an endless cycle of vapid platitudinal phrases we call bullshit [atrixnet.com]! Mmmm mm mmMMMmmm, yes, more please!

  • Wouldn't a million monkeys on a million typewriters eventually write something "really deep"? It's nice to use randomly generated strings of words but first of all you'd have to run them through a filter to make sure you didn't accidentally create one that really did have meaning, right?
  • "The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth." -- Niels Bohr
  • As likely as lightning striking in the same place twice

    Walk away safe.

    Capacity Factor.

    Clean, cheap, efficient.

    Yes, I can see how certain people fall for this bullshit.

  • Democracy for all.

    Freedom of speech.

    Freedom of association.

    Right to protest.

    The free world.

    Left and Right wing politics

    Elected Representative.

    Your vote matters.

  • We're certainly familiar with the Emporer's New Clothes. Not all of those who don't call BS don't recognize it as such.
  • Actually, yes sometimes there is wisdom in "total nonsense". That's why we loved Yogi Berra. Wisdom, like art, is what you take out of something, and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what the person put into it.

    Case in point are Spam Haikus. Once a lot of people started using Baysean filters on their incoming email, spammers started trying to fool them by just inserting random text that had nothing to do with the ad. Some of these were passages lifted straight from books, but a large amount se

  • Stupid people are made obvious by their stupidities, as has been known since forever. The real problem is that there are so fucking many of them.

  • Timely and accurate reporting.

    Fair and balanced.

    The people have a right to know.

    An educated and informed populous.

    Unbiased reporting.

  • When you work in a corporate environment, you see evidence of this at the highest levels. Examples are people who insist on using flowery words to describe something to make themselves sound more intelligent when simple words are sufficient. Also, people who insist on creating acronyms for every project.

  • This may explain every girlfriend I've ever had.
  • Amen, brothers!

  • A New Age Bullshit Generator

    http://sebpearce.com/bullshit/ [sebpearce.com]

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @12:22PM (#51042299) Journal

    A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet.

    Cynical, but undeniably true. In my opinion, the day that the vast majority of human beings alive on Earth look at things like religion and superstitions and say "That doesn't make any sense!", will be the day that the Human race will start truly becoming what I consider to be 'sentient' and 'civilized'.

  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @12:50PM (#51042595)

    I don’t know about some people, but I’ve gotten a lot of good ideas from bullshit. Yeah, I know what I’m reading is poppycock, but for bullshit to be believable by ANYONE, it has to have some plausibility. So if you run with some of the plausible parts, you can come up with a wholly different idea that isn’t bullshit. Some people feel that their creativity is enhanced when they listen to white noise or the sounds of the ocean or rain. With bullshit, there is not just meaningless noise but some actual information content, even if it’s mostly wrong.

    When I was in grad school, I was not smarter than my classmates. But having industry experience, I could code rings around them. My secret to success was not that I could come up with better ideas. In fact, they were mostly worse. However, I could implement and fully rule out the bad ideas a lot faster, and what was left over were ideas that were not only good but already provably good with some of the experimentation already done. So in this case, I was my own bullshit generator, and I used empirical analysis as the bullshit filter, and I had tiger blood and won.

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