Any sufficiently advanced wisdom is indistinguishable from bullshit

byShalmanese9y20th Dec 200937 comments


In the grand tradition of sequences, I'm going to jot this down real quick because it's required for the next argument I'm going to make.

Shalmanese's 3rd law is "Any sufficiently advanced wisdom is indistinguishable from bullshit". Shalmanese's first law is "As the length of any discussion involving the metric system approaches infinity, the likelihood approaches 1 of there being a reference to The Simpsons episode about 40 rods to the hogshead" so judge it by the company it keeps.

Imagine you got to travel back in time to meet yourself from 10 years ago and impart as much wisdom as possible on your past-self in 6 hours. You're bound by the Time Enforcement Committee not to reveal that you are the future-self of your past-self and it never occurs to your past-self that this ugly thing in front of them could ever be you. As far as the past-self is concerned, it's just a moderately interesting person they're having a conversation with.

There would be 3 broad sets that your discussions would fall in: Beliefs that you both mutually agree on, Beliefs that you are able to convince your past-self through reason and Beliefs which make the past-self regard your future-self as being actively stupid for holding. It's this third category which I'm going to term Advanced Wisdom.

For everybody, those beliefs are going to be specific to the individual. Maybe you used to be devoutly religious and now you're staunchly atheist. Perhaps you were once radically marxist and now you're a staunch libertarian. For me, it was the wisdom of the advice to "be yourself". I have no doubt that I would get precisely nowhere convincing my past-self that "be yourself" is a piece of wisdom. Anything I could ever possibly say to him, he had already heard many times before and convinced himself was utter bullshit. If even my actual self couldn't convince myself of something, what hope is there that any rational argument could have penetrated?

If I were to have my future-self visit my present-self now, I would have no doubt that he would also present me with some pieces of advanced wisdom I thought were bullshit. The problem is, sufficiently advanced wisdom is indistinguishable from bullshit. There is no possible test that can separate the two. You might be told something is advanced wisdom and keep the openest mind possible about it and investigate it in all the various ways and perhaps even be convinced by it and maybe it was actual wisdom you were convinced by. Then again, you could just have been convinced by bullshit. As a result, advanced wisdom, as a concept, is completely, frustratingly useless in an argument. If you're on the arguer's side, you know that the assertion of advanced wisdom is going to be taken as just more bullshit, if you're on the arguee's side, any assertion of advanced wisdom looks like the mistaken rambling of a deluded fool.

The one positive thing this law has lead me to is a much higher tolerance for bullshit. I'm no longer so quick to dismiss ideas which, to me, seem obvious bullshit.