Profundity is much rarer than almost every person i’ve every met would like to think. Everybody likes to utter earth-shattering insights from time to time. But what happens when your deepest thoughts go awry?
Well since 2009, we’ve had a word for one specific kind of stupid. Philosopher Daniel Dennett popularized and defined the term that his daughter invented and gave a few of the best known examples. I think it’s something that we can all appreciate.
A deepity is a statement that can be interpreted in at least two ways. The first interpretation is true but trivial while the second sounds profound but is nonsense. Here’s Dennett’s example:
Love is just a word.
If you put it in quotation marks then “love” is just a word. It is as much just a word as “cabbage” or “bark” or “aardvark” or any other word. If you leave the quotation marks out and you’re discussing the concept of love, it is clearly not just a word. It could be any number of emotional, chemical, neurological, or literary things and if this were not the case it would be serious news to human civilization. You see what I mean? Trivial to the extent that it’s true, false to the extent that it’s deep.
Here’s my best effort:
The universe is in all of us.
You see if by the universe you mean some of the stuff that makes up everything that has every been observed, then yes: each of us is made up of a bit of the universe. It’s simply a way of saying that everything is made of stuff and we are part of everything: totally meaningless. On the other hand, if you’re thinking that there is an entire universe inside each person, that’s clearly not true, at least not by any existing definition or universe, or person . . . or inside.
It’s often based on a logical mistake called a “use mention error” in which a concept and an existent object are conflated. Here’s an example:
God lives within all of us.
The concept of God exists only within the minds of those who understand the concept: only the idea is within all of us. On the other hand, if you believe in the common theological proposal that god exists outside of space and time then he can’t be inside you, I, or anyone else. It can be true only of the concept and not of the actual being.
By creating the deepity, Daniel Dennett has given us another trusty tool to identify hogwash as it spews out of the mouths of blowhards into the waiting intellects of amateur philosophers.
Readers: If you can think of any good deepities, please share them in the comments below.