Deepity

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Deepity is a term coined by philosopher Daniel Dennett, to describe a proposition that can be read as being either true and trivial, or untrue but would be amazing if it were true.

Definition

In his talk, The Evolution of Confusion, given at the AAI 2009 conference, Dennett described a deepity as follows:

"A deepity is a proposition that seems to be profound because it is actually logically ill-formed. It has (at least) two readings and balances precariously between them. On one reading it is true but trivial. And on another reading it is false, but would be earth-shattering if true."

Example

Dennett gives the statement "love is just a word" as an example of a deepity.

Read literally, this is true: the word "love" is the written (and spoken) representation of the emotion it is meant to describe, and thus "love" is merely a word. But, by definition, this is true of every word. So if the statement is read this way, it is trivial and uninteresting.

But if the statement were read to mean that the emotion described by the word "love" is itself just a word, that statement would be profound if it were true. But what we call "love" is a complex emotional state which involves more than a simple descriptive label. Under this reading, the statement isn't true.

So the statement is not profound. It appears to be profound only because readers attribute the profoundness of the second reading (under which the statement is false) to the truth of the first reading (where it is trivial).

A deepity, therefore, is a statement which lacks any actual profoundness, but due to this problem appears profound.

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