The questions on hand today are:
(1) How susceptible to bullshit are you? And …
(2) What can you do about it?
The answer to number 1, it turns out is that we are all bullshit-susceptible to some level. This is probably no surprise. We are human beings, so we come complete with our own sets of biases and preferences, and our basic desire not to have to think too hard about things unless we are forced to. This is valuable to know and agree with, because it means that 100% of people reading this can benefit from the answer to question #2.
However, as this article reports, and as I’m sure most people would guess, some of us are more susceptible than others. The article is an overview of a study of 800 people, titled: “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit.”—a document that comes complete with its own fairly reasonable and scientifically measurable definition of bullshit.
All right, I have to admit that I’m going to be a sucker for just about any study that both discusses and actually defines bullshit. (I suppose this means I may be susceptible to bullshit about bullshit). Regardless, the definition that the study used was:
Bullshit: statements that are meant to imply deep meaning but are actually vacuous.
I can buy that. It sounds good, at least. Doesn’t it?
Anyway, it turns out that, when presented a series of statements that are randomly created but sound profound, some of us are more likely to think they have a deep meaning than others.
If you want to learn more about how susceptible you might be, I suggest you read the article and the paper. It will take valuable time away from your normal internet skimming, but it’s worth it. Otherwise, you could skip it. Since we’re all susceptible anyway, you could say “screw that, just tell me what should I do?”
It turns out the answers are pretty self-evident. Here is the money shot from the article in question:
Based on the preliminary research we have conducted so far, two general remedies for being overly receptive to bullshit are to receive more education—especially about what constitutes a good argument and evidence—and to more frequently engage in reflective critical thinking.
Other things they suggest, and I wholeheartedly agree with:
- Resist clickbait
- Stop spreading articles that lack reasoned, evidence-based arguments.
- Respond to others in ways that encourage reflective thinking.
- Work to fight our own biases and instinctual reactions. Think twice before buying something. Or, what the heck, think three times.
Having been a fan of George Carlin, of course, I’m now feeling the great need to post a few of his bits on the subject. So, what the heck, eh? Have fun … and, if it turns out you’re not a Carlin kind of guy, well … don’t worry, it’s probably all bullshit, anyway.