Monday, August 27, 2018

On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit

I want to thank MindBlog reader Mike Walterman, who sent me an email pointing me to this article (which won an Ig Nobel Prize) and commented on his experience with "Flow Genome Project" which I reviewed in a Nov. 17, 2017 post titled "Modern flimflam men? - The Flow Genome Project". In commenting on this post, Mike described his experience of signing on for some classes with FGP:
I read your commentary on the Flow Genome Project (FGP) with great interest. Your suspicions about this "effort" are spot on, and I wish that I had your insight before taking two of these classes from the FGP. By the way, Steven Kotler is an alum of UW-Madison!!
The first class (Flow Fundamentals) was a great community of people, and I learned much from them, and nothing from the FGP personnel. The second class (Flow Performance) was pseudo-profound BS (PPBS.) There is a great paper that won an Ig Nobel Prize titled "On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit." ... The paper perfectly described every aspect of this class!! The instructor - Jamie Wheal - is more interested in impressing people with PPBS than realaying any useful information. Also, each class is prefaced with the promise that "All the secrets of Stealing Fire will be revealed in this next class." I stopped when this promise was not delivered in Flow Performance; but, was promised for private coaching (at an extremely high price).
Here is the abstract from the Pennycook et al. article on pseudo-profound bullshit:
Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”). Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge bullshit statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief). Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements. These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims. Our results also suggest that a bias toward accepting statements as true may be an important component of pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity.

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