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Psychologists search philosophical mind for bullshit detector, find “friendship deterrence system” instead

with 27 comments

An unfortunate philosopher and his more unfortunate interlocutor fall victim to a friendship deterrence system out of control.

Philosophers pride themselves on being “bullshit detectors,” as having the capacity to recognize and expose bullshit at first sight.  Intrigued by such self ascriptions, a team of psychologists at the University of Washington conducted a study of 37 philosophy professors and graduate students from the US and Canada. Their results will be published later this year in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  While no bullshit detector was found, they did identify what they call a “friendship deterrence system.”

The team’s lead investigator, Ian Hammersmith, explains: “We were looking for a mental module that automatically deploys in the presence of confused or unclear thought, that seizes on and exploits the dialectical weaknesses of others, and that makes the difference between an easy-going conversation partner and a hard-nosed philosopher with a killer instinct.  We didn’t find a bullshit detector, but we do believe we’ve located a friendship deterrent system, or FDS.”

When asked about the difference between a bullshit detector and a friendship deterrence system, Hammersmith explains that while a bullshit detector is active in the presence of bullshit, a philosopher’s friendship deterrence system is active in all social contexts.  To illustrate, he pulls up a post from Philosophers Anonymous.

Early on the first day of the APA, I was in an elevator in the conference hotel that was headed down to the lobby. As the elevator came to a stop, an older man addressed two young guys in sport-coats; he gestured towards the right and asked “Is the philosophy conference that way?” It was clear the the man was asking whether the registration for the APA was off in the rightward direction. But here are the replies he got:

Guy in sport-coat #1: “Sounds like a category mistake.”
Guy in sport-coat #2: “Uh… Philosophy is everywhere.”

Old man in reply: “Good luck with the interviews, boys. You’ll need it.”

“Notice that these sport-coated youngsters aren’t even calling out actual bullshit,” Hammersmith continues, “they’re just being dicks.”  A second important difference between a bullshit detector and an FDS is that the former merely mediates the attempt to diagnose and alleviate confused thinking, while the latter usually contributes to the denigration of the confused thinker.

The FDS does, however, appear to play an important role in promoting critical thinking, just as the bullshit detector had been supposed to.  To illustrate, consider this log entry—one of many recorded at the behest of Hammersmith’s team—made by a male philosopher in his early 30s.

Saturday, 8pm.  Went out with friend-of-a-friend Marla for dinner and drinks.  Went fine, until conversation turned to her legal problems.  Tried not to, but told her that, no, her shitty private-practice lawyer isn’t violating her right to due process by being shitty, her court-stenographer father doesn’t count as a legal expert, and there is no such thing as “the first amendment right to freedom.”  She decided she couldn’t stay for drinks, after all.  I went home and did philosophy for the rest of the night.

“This typifies a pattern we saw over and over again when analyzing the daily activities of philosophers,” Hammersmith explains. “The FDS plays a crucial role in the professional life of a philosopher, providing time to contemplate things such as the meaning of sex, love and friendship without distraction by things such as sex, love and friendship.”

Hammersmith emphasizes that, while they didn’t find a bullshit detector within the philosopher’s mind, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.  If it’s there, however, it’s certainly not as salient as the FDS.  “Frankly, I’m surprised psychologists hadn’t previously discovered the FDS,” Hammersmith confides.  “It sticks out like a sore thumb—or a philosopher at a party.”

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Written by fauxphilnews

February 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm

27 Responses

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  1. [...] Psychologists hunt a philosophical mind for jive detector, find “friendship anticipation system”… [...] [...]

  2. Reblogged this on mentalkibble and commented:
    ”The FDS plays a crucial role in the professional life of a philosopher, providing time to contemplate things such as the meaning of sex, love and friendship without distraction by things such as sex, love and friendship.” = Excellent!
    Had to chuckle at this one!

    mentalkibble

    February 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm

  3. It’s true. My daughter’s at Oxford studying philosophy and she’s almost unbearable. We cannot have a ‘normal’ conversation anymore. However I appreciate that she has forced me to think through my ideas. Perhaps this is the function of a philosopher in society- to challenge us to think better. If philosophers think so well though, maybe it would be worth their time to think on how to accomplish their function without alienating people. They could be more effective. So, what it comes down to is, is it an ego trip, or do philosophers care about others and wish to have a vital role in society?

    Christie O'Grady

    February 27, 2012 at 11:14 am

    • Good question. From my experience (almost PhD in … Philosophy… somehow regretfully), it’s totally and uniquely an ego trip.

      frenc

      February 27, 2012 at 3:33 pm

  4. I don’t think that all philosophy students or lecturers are like this, but I’ll have to admit a lot are.
    We could think “Philosophy makes them this way, makes them challenge others or be picky about phrasing”, or more likely that arrogant people who want to undermine others are attracted to studying philosophy. Probably because they think it will give them this superiority.
    I met a lot of people like that when I studied my undergraduate degree in philosophy, and my friends who were fairly normal and kind (you can’t be totally normal to want to study philosophy :p) stayed that way. And, the insensitive arrogant people just got more insensitive and more arrogant.

    nihonbecca

    February 27, 2012 at 2:31 pm

  5. Bullshit dedector? Why didn’t they look for the bullshit producer module??

    ps nice post.

    frenc

    February 27, 2012 at 3:39 pm

  6. wonderful. love it.

    scott

    February 28, 2012 at 11:31 am

  7. ”Frankly, I’m surprised psychologists hadn’t previously discovered the FDS,” Hammersmith confides. ”It sticks out like a sore thumb—or a philosopher at a party.”

    I think we did discover the FDS, but we refer to it as the set of autism spectrum disorders…

    I love your stuff!

    Léon

    February 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm

  8. “A second important difference between a bullshit detector and an FDS is that the former merely mediates the attempt to diagnose and alleviate confused thinking, while the latter usually contributes to the denigration of the confused thinker.”

    I think Socrates has been rolling in his grave (is he in a grave?) for a long time on account of the behavior of philosophers. At least this will make him roll with laughter.

    Brett

    March 2, 2012 at 8:33 am

  9. [...] Psychologists search the philosophical mind for bullshit detector … Intrigued by such self ascriptions, a team of psychologists at the University of Washington conducted a study of 37 philosophy professors and graduate students … fauxphilnews.wordpress.com/…/psychologists-search-the-philo… [...]

  10. [...] I do happen to believe that, all things considered, the evidence counts against the existence of God, at least an omnipotent and omnibenevolent one. Lots of people I know have views that I believe, all things considered, to be false. That their kids are the most adorable ever. That their spouses are making them happier than anyone else in the world ever could. Unless those false beliefs are actually hurting anyone (someone whose spouse is making him truly unhappy, someone who is withholding medical treatment from a child because of religious beliefs), do we have an obligation to point anything out to them? Seriously, how annoying would that be? [...]

    Atheists, Don’t Unite!

    March 26, 2012 at 8:51 am

  11. As a non-philosopher named Marla, married to a philosopher for many years now, I can vouch for the existence of the FDS system but can also report that, with diligent efforts, it is possible to vanquish its protective shield.

    Marla Carlson

    March 26, 2012 at 10:29 am

  12. It is psychologists who mix up correlation and causality, can’t even believe they think they are scientific

    Stewart

    May 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm

  13. When they stop mass prescribing psychotropic drugs and stop listing grief as a mental disorder i will respect their opinion

    Stewart

    May 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm

  14. “and stop listing grief as a mental disorder i will respect their opinion” – Agree!

    Most psychologists, or students of psychology, I know need help themselves. They are just nutjobs calling labeling everyone else to feel good about themselves. A psychologists could easily be replaced with a label-gun.

    Michael

    May 28, 2012 at 6:31 am

    • sorry for my grammar mistakes- I’ve been awake for over 24 hours. Read around it.

      Michael

      May 28, 2012 at 6:33 am

  15. [...] For some unwary souls, entering into a conversation with the philosopher can feel like an attack or assault. The philosopher’s favorite hobby is critical discussion, and this is almost guaranteed to be — shall we say – annoying. (Indeed, I am tempted to say that if it weren’t annoying, it would be a sign that something has gone wrong — that the conversation is becoming stale and irrelevant.) Ordinary folk, on the other hand, generally try to do what it takes to get along with others, which means being polite and trying to smooth over conflict, and it may seem as though the philosopher has terrible manners for asking too many uncomfortable questions. And the ordinary folk are sometimes quite right. Indeed, sometimes what passes for philosophy really is just a trivial bloodsport, a pointless game of denigration and insult with no productive bottom line that is disguised as disinterested inquiry (as illustrated by this hilarious spoof article). [...]

  16. Haha, so true. Even in situations philosophers try to be nice they come across less romantic. If a philosopher “can’t image a possible world without you” he will just say “It is necessarily true that we are together.”.

    Maarten Derickx

    September 8, 2012 at 1:45 am

  17. Perhaps we could run an experiment on philosophers. They will be presented with two stimuli in tandem on a computer screen. One stimulus will be the picture of a person, the other stimulus will be a fallacious argument. The philosopher is then required to indicate which of the two stimuli they dislike the most. I figure that if they choose the person, then the FDS is at work, while if they pick the argument, then the BDS is at work.

    Luke

    November 28, 2012 at 9:10 pm

  18. [...] Psychologists search the philosophical mind for bullshit detector … [...]

  19. [...] Psychologists search philosophical mind for bullshit detector, find …Feb 22, 2012 … Philosophers pride themselves on being “bullshit detectors,” as having the capacity to recognize and expose bullshit at first sight. Intrigued by … [...]

  20. […] and acquaintances are increasingly getting away with overgeneralizations, invalid inferences, and general bullshittery. This is the first release since 2010, when Obama tapped into the SPR in a failed attempt to head […]

  21. […] At dinner the other night we were debating some triviality or other. One of our party complained that all we’d done the whole evening was bicker over one semantic dispute after another. “I wouldn’t call this a ‘semantic dispute’,” came the objection. “It’s more of a terminological quibble.” A telling response. […]

  22. […] 1. Advocates of the “open carry” of firearms sometimes enter stores, restaurants, and other establishments, proudly and openly carrying their guns. What is the rational thing to do in this situation? Jack Russell Weinstein (North Dakota) has an answer: GTFO. Wonkette has the story. 2. The mechanism by which the brain reinforces learning has a side-effect that causes you to value the option you chose over equivalent non-chosen options. I’m sure this has no bearing on how philosophy is done. 4. Simon Blackburn (Cambridge), John Haldane (St. Andrews), and Melissa Lane (Princeton) discuss the philosophy of solitude on BBC Radio 4. 5. “Scientists rarely have the opportunity or support to step back from their research and ask how it connects with other work on similar topics. I see one role of philosophers of science as the provision of that larger, interpretive picture.” Helen Longino (Stanford) answers some questions about her last book, Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and Sexuality. 6. Michael Sandel is a guest on the latest episode of The Partially Examined Life discussing what should and should not be sold. (via Dirk Felleman) 7. Pierre Bourdieu, while a soldier in the French army, took thousands of photos of the Algerian people during the Algerian War (1954-1962). Columbia University press has posted some on their blog. They have been published as Picturing Algeria. 8. Kudos to Minnesota Monthly for interviewing Valerie Tiberius (Minnesota) for its special issue on happiness, and kudos to Professor Tiberius for being able to put some of her ideas out there in such a Minnesota Monthly-reader-friendly way. 9. Aaron James (UC Irvine), the author of Assholes: A Theory, is one of the guests on a recent episode of CBC Radio’s show, “How To Do It?” The topic: how to deal with people you hate. 10. Not new, but in case you missed it the first time around: “Psychologists search philosophical mind for bullshit detector, find ‘friendship deterrence sys….” […]

  23. […] 1. Advocates of the “open carry” of firearms sometimes enter stores, restaurants, and other establishments, proudly and openly carrying their guns. What is the rational thing to do in this situation? Jack Russell Weinstein (North Dakota) has an answer: GTFO. Wonkette has the story. 2. The mechanism by which the brain reinforces learning has a side-effect that causes you to value the option you chose over equivalent non-chosen options. I’m sure this has no bearing on how philosophy is done. 4. Simon Blackburn (Cambridge), John Haldane (St. Andrews), and Melissa Lane (Princeton) discuss the philosophy of solitude, together, on BBC Radio 4. 5. “Scientists rarely have the opportunity or support to step back from their research and ask how it connects with other work on similar topics. I see one role of philosophers of science as the provision of that larger, interpretive picture.” Helen Longino (Stanford) answers some questions about her last book, Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and Sexuality. 6. Michael Sandel (Harvard) is a guest on the latest episode of The Partially Examined Life discussing what should and should not be sold. (via Dirk Felleman) 7. Pierre Bourdieu, while a soldier in the French army, took thousands of photos of the Algerian people during the Algerian War (1954-1962). Columbia University press has posted some on their blog. They have been published as Picturing Algeria. 8. Kudos to Minnesota Monthly for interviewing Valerie Tiberius (Minnesota) for its special issue on happiness, and kudos to Professor Tiberius for being able to put some of her ideas out there in such a Minnesota Monthly-reader-friendly way. 9. Aaron James (UC Irvine), the author of Assholes: A Theory, is one of the guests on a recent episode of CBC Radio’s show, “How To Do It?” The topic: how to deal with people you hate. 10. In case you missed it the first time around: “Psychologists search philosophical mind for bullshit detector, find ‘friendship deterrence sys….” […]


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