How to become better at smelling and avoiding the many varieties of bullshit

[Read the post]

1 Like

I took some logic courses in college and they were great at helping me not only sense bullshit from outside sources, but also in helping me find my own bullshit biases.

The only down side is a social one where I’m politically aligned with someone but their reasoning or rhetoric on said subject is predicated on fallacy. Because then I have the choice of ignoring those fallacies, thus enabling logical counter-arguments from those I’m not in agreement with or I can point out the fallacies and risk alienating an ally.


For a cast (generally a very good cast) focusing on biases, faulty thinking and other holes in our perception and cognition, this episode in particular seems somewhat loaded with exactly such lapses.

I’m a third in and I hear: “This programs strings together random sentences which sound profound but are in fact nonsense.” Well, that’s not necessarily true. Just because something was put together randomly (and the output really doesn’t feel truly random - more like remixed actual quotes) doesn’t mean the result will be nonsensical. It lacks a human intention to communicate a certain meaning, but may carry a meaning never the less. You know, thousands of monkeys typewriting Shakespeare and such…


“nonsense” is pretty hard to operationalize. We’d need a solid theory of semantics in order to do it, not to mention a theory of pragmatics, and there are huge and wonderful holes in both fields. (Thank goodness! Such holes in theories is where tenure hides.)


Profundity is a straightforward process
It’s easy enough if you know what to do
You simply combine, in appropriate doses,
The blatantly false and the patently true
-Piet Hein


Wonder Woman fixing the “bullshit meter”.

1 Like

if there was ever a face that needed a solid, wet, frothy fish slap, it’s his. i just can’t understand how steven merchant and gervais put up with him. he is probably the kaufman of our time and taking the piss out of all of us.

Do we really? If a random sentence generator spits out “Cloudless sky is blue at noon.” do we require solid theories of semantics and pragmatics to decide whether it is nonsense or not?

Damn. I was actually hoping the getting better at smelling part might be even partially serious. I’ve got a weird sense of smell. I smell things accurately that other people don’t, but sometimes I smell things inaccurately, too. So I don’t know if that’s noise or something useful.

Anybody got some links to ways of testing general olfactory ability?


To avoid bullshit, do I need to smell better or worse? Is my powder-fresh-scent deodorant good enough, or should I switch to an Axe body-spray? Are hippie-rocks rubbed on my pits an even better solution? Does it make a difference if I refer to them as salt-crystals instead, or does it just improve my aura?

The title is unclear.

1 Like

Woo, my alma mater! Blocked from work though, will have to check it out when I get home.

Also, came in to make a snarky comment about the homepage containing a link to this story, as well as a link to the BB store, but I’m too tired now.

His obliviousness is the joke. An ubermensch of the common man, prime example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

You know how there are jokes that deep down you know they are jokes, but are still unforgivable? Yeah, him and Larry David. Fish slaps for the both of them.

We would need to know it was supposed to be in English.

1 Like

This is a really interesting point.

One answer is yes - we judge by a given language. But why? It’s a random generator. It doesn’t understand what it is doing and has no intention to impart a particular meaning anyway, English or not. So why limit the test to an arbitrarily selected mode of coding? And if the answer randomly comes up in your native tongue, would you really say it has no meaning?

On the other hand, if we say no - this is just a special kind of an ad hominem1 attack, the validity of the statement should be inspected regardless of its origin and therefore exclusively by the subjective understanding of the receiver - then, given an infinitely large universe with likely an infinitely broad spectrum of languages, any statement is thus guaranteed to make sense in some of them… And therefore no statement, no matter how garbled, up to and including smashing one’s head on the keyboard, could be said to have no meaning at all. Because it could mean something truly profound to the Qwxptzls of planet Snorf. Humpf…

1 Obviously not hominem in this instance, but the principle is the same, I believe.


A related article appeared in Aeon:

As noted in the comments there, while there is much talk of detecting and avoiding bullshit, there is actually a very high demand for it; it is often crucial for success in business. If you doubt this, take a moment to consider the content of the average kind of political discourse, advertising, marketing, sales call talk, or other persuasion. They say money talks and bullshit walks, and this is so: bullshit gets ahead.

The demand for bullshit is very great and someone should look into its godlike power and ubiquity. Why do people demand bullshit, if it is not good for them?


Maybe also interesting:


1 Like

Anyone can decide what a sentence means; that’s called communication. But if you’re going to do a study, deciding what a sentence means isn’t good enough. You need to operationalize “meaning,” so that others can replicate the study. Just because a sentence is put together of random parts doesn’t mean that it can’t mean something in some particular context, and due to the co-operative principal, we’re very good at finding meaning even in random patterns of words.

1 Like

and sounds, and lights, and tea leaves.