Pseudoprofundity

by Tim Harding

Most skeptics are familiar with the term ‘pseudoscience’, which means non-scientific activities masquerading as science. Examples include astrology, alchemy, so-called ‘alternative medicine’ and ‘creation science’.

Less well-known is the term ‘pseudoprofundity’, which means claptrap masquerading as profound wisdom. Deepak Chopra springs to mind, when he uses pseudoprofound terms such as ‘quantum healing’ and ‘dynamically active consciousness’.  

‘Love is only a word’ is a more general example of pseudoprofundity which Daniel Dennett calls a ‘deepity’ – the pretension of depth. This is a phrase which sounds like it contains a great depth of wisdom by virtue of being perfectly ambiguous. The philosophical blogger Jonasan writes that on one level it is clearly false that love is only a word. ‘Love’ is a word, but love itself is not (the inverted commas are important). The fact that ‘love’ is a word is also trivially true. We are thus left with a statement which can either be interpreted as obviously false or trivially true.  Jonasan notes that by failing to exercise our powers of analysis on this statement we end up thinking about both meanings together, rather than separating them and perhaps seeking clarification about which meaning is intended. This gives an illusion of profundity.

Stephen Law has pointed out that you can also achieve this effect without the need for an ambiguity in meaning. Ordinary trivially true platitudes such as ‘death comes to us all’ can be elevated to the level of profound insight if enunciated with enough gravitas. Likewise, one can take the other side of Dennett’s deepities – that of self-contradiction – and use it without even needing the trivially true side. Law again gives us one of the finest examples in ‘‘sanity is just another kind of madness’. It sounds profound doesn’t it? Except that sanity cannot be a form of madness because they are defined as opposites.

2 Comments

Filed under Logical fallacies

2 responses to “Pseudoprofundity

  1. Dear Tim Harding,

    There are indeed a great deal of cases and examples involving pseudoprofundity.

    Even something as celebrated a statement as “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” is not immune to pseudoprofundity. That it is typifies a Holmesian fallacy is just an obvious point for those who are more informed. Unfortunately, the statement is also problematic in other ways, causing it to sound much more profound that it really is. I have written four very long paragraphs to analyze the statement in my expansive post entitled The Quotation Fallacy “💬”, which you can easily locate at the Home page of my blog.

    If or when you try to access my blog, please be informed that it will benefit from being viewed on a large screen of a desktop or laptop computer, since those lengthy multimedia posts and my blog could be too powerful and feature-rich for iPad, iPhone, tablet or other portable devices to handle properly or adequately.

    Thank you for writing this post, which I have enjoyed reading very much.

    May you have a very lovely weekend and a Happy August!

    Yours sincerely,
    SoundEagle

    Like

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