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Deepity

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Deepity is a term employed by Daniel Dennett in his 2009 speech to the American Atheists Institution conference, coined by the teenage daughter of one of his friends. The term refers to a statement that is apparently profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level and something meaningless on another. Generally, a deepity has (at least) two meanings: one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be "earth-shattering" if true. To the extent that it's true, it doesn't matter. To the extent that it matters, it isn't true.

The example Dennett uses to illustrate a deepity is the phrase "love is just a word." On one level the statement is perfectly true (i.e., "love" is a word), but the deeper meaning of the phrase is false; love is many things — a feeling, an emotion, a condition — and not simply a word.

Although he is a frequent source of deepities, the name does not come from Deepak Chopra.

Contents

[edit] Examples

[edit] You learn about nothing from philosophy

The first reading is that the study of philosophy can teach about the concept of nothingness, which is true, but trivial. The second interpretation, which is implicit, is that philosophy is useless, i.e. "You learn nothing by studying philosophy." This second sense would have profound implications, if true.

[edit] Good without God becomes 0

This is a deepity constructed from a Use/Mention error[wp], combined with a confusion of the letter "o" with the number "0", which are both represented by similar symbols.

In the first reading, we have the trivial, but true, statement that the word "Good", without the three letters "God", becomes the letter "o". The second reading, in which we consider the meanings of the words, implies that any good that is done without God is worth nothing ("zero"), which is false, but plays on your acceptance of the evident truth of the trivial first sense to misdirect or confuse. If taken to be true, the second reading would have important implications.

[edit] The Theory of Evolution is only a theory

In the first reading, the meaning is that the "Theory of Evolution" is a "theory" which is true, but trivial. This usage assumes the scientific sense of the word "theory" as a well-established scientific explanation.

However, since there is another sense of "theory", as a word which means a hypothesis or an unsubstantiated guess, this is exploited by the second reading, which brings to mind the idea that life does not actually evolve, since in their mind, evolution is not a real phenomenon, just an abstract idea.

[edit] A human zygote is a human

In the first reading, this statement is true, but trivial; the zygote is the earliest developmental stage of the human embryo. In the second reading, the statement could be interpreted to mean the zygote is a human person; this is false, but would be profound, if true. The statement is obviously false, because a person cannot be a single-celled organism, any more than he or she could be a paper shredder. The statement would be profound (if true) because a large percentage of zygotes fail to implant in the uterus, and thus, die. The deaths from this would far exceed deaths from abortions or maladies, such as breast cancer or childhood leukemia, and thus would mandate society to immediately divert massive government funds to stop the crisis. Certainly, any problem killing a massive percentage of children deserves a large percentage of NIH funding.

[edit] There is no 'I' in team

In the first reading, this statement is true; the letter I is nowhere to be found in the word team. In the second reading, the statement is meant to exhort the listener/reader to remember they're part of a group and to put aside "selfish" feelings and interests. The problem is, this doesn't actually provide a reason to support the group. Additionally, while there is no I in team, neither is there a you, we, or us; but if you scramble the letters, there is a me.

[edit] Everything is connected

In the first reading, this statement is true, since everything in the world has some kind of influence on everything else (e.g. gravity, molecules touching each other). In the second reading, the statement becomes somewhat obsolete, because some connections just don't matter much in the grand scheme of things, as in the hair color of a scientist doing scientific work.

[edit] Thought is material

On one hand, this is trivially true since thoughts have a physical medium: they are encoded as firings of neurons, which are made of entirely ordinary organic matter. But if someone uses the assertion that "thought is material" to argue that you can change the world around you simply by thinking about it really hard… sorry, but no.

[edit] Age is just a number

This timeless classic may be used to justify a romantic/sexual relationship between individuals of greatly varying ages, implying that it's A-OK because love/lust wants what it wants. While semantically true, there should be plenty of emotional and physical differences to be found between (for example) a 16-year-old and a 50-year-old. When encountering someone using this phrase, helpfully complete it by saying, "…and jail is just a room."

[edit] Extension to theology

As well as a criticism of bad prose and poetry, the term "deepity" can refer to many religious sentiments and some of the more meaningless rhetoric. Dennett argues that theology is full of deepities, and notes that the sophisticated theological statement "God is no being at all" is equivalent to "no being at all is God." Other deepities he refers to are "God is Being itself" and "God is the God beyond God."

[edit] Science

Some people are more prone to view "deep" bullshit as more profound than others. In a paper entitled On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit,[1] social scientists proposed a "bullshit receptivity scale" using randomly generated phrases out "profound sounding" words against common sayings to identify if accepting one bullshit statement as profound predicting accepting others as profound over and above a baseline level of profundity. The net results of the research is there is indeed clustering that suggests that some people are more bullshit prone than others.

[edit] Criticism

The concept is not without its critics, however. Some believe that Dennett is attacking the right of people to use metaphorical language.[2] Other critics claim that the universe and physics already exhibit "deepities" that don't bother atheists, so they shouldn't complain about religions using them.[2]

Furthermore, it should be noted: merely stating that something is a deepity isn't enough to prove that it is one.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes


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