Deeply Dippy

Deepity (n): A statement with two interpretations, one true but trivial, the other profound but false.

The term was popularised by philosopher Daniel Dennett, after being coined by a friend of his teenage daughter. Deepities are common in self-help books, religious apologetics, and sales pitches.

* "Time is a word" - could mean "The word 'Time' is a word", or "The concept of 'Time' is nothing more than a word'.

* "God is love" - could mean "Love is good and important", or "When you feel love, you're feeling a magic man in the sky".

* "There are no problems, only opportunities" - could mean "Every problem presents an opportunity to overcome it, which may or may not involve innovation", or "There is no such thing as a problem, and only foolish people like you believe there is, wheras wise people like me know better".

* "Everything is in a process of coming into and passing out of being" - could mean "Stuff changes constantly", or "Everything is simultaneously itself and something else". It's also used to argue that "All categories are fuzzy at the edges" (obvious and trivial), or "All categories are false" (obviously trivially self-refuting).

* Jean Baudrillard's (in)famous declaration that "The Gulf war did not take place" - could mean "All that death and destruction was a lie", or "Most of us experienced it on the same level as the death and destruction of a video game".

But...what's the opposite of a deepity? What would we call a statement with two interpretations - one shallow and false, the other profound, maybe obscure, and true?

For instance, Marshall McLuhan's famous slogan, "The medium is the message". On one level, it's a basic category mistake, conflating "Television" in the sense of "The technology which makes it possibe for you to watch soap operas", with "Television" in the sense of "The soap operas you watch". On this level, it would mean "The story is the paper it's printed on" or "The grapevine is the rumour".

But what McLuhan is saying is more like "The presence in your life of all the economic infrastructure, technological skill, scientific understanding, construction centers and distribution networks necessary for you to watch crap on TV...makes more difference to how you live than the crap on TV".

So, all the preconditions that had to be in place, for me to dunk a cheap biscuit into a cup of tea with milk at six in the morning before typing this sentence on an affordable laptop...are earthshattering compared to one soggy biscuit and one impulsively written blogpost.

Maybe the opposite of a deepity is just an aphorism. Like "The fox knows many things; The hedgehog knows one great thing", or "History repeats, first as comedy, then as farce", or "Nothing causes greater adherence to an opinion than opposition to it.".

Here are some aphorisms from a blog I just found. Except some are, in my humble opinion, deepities. I've struck through those which I think are pseudo-profound. See what you think - more to the point, see where you disagree.

* Prove to me that there is a God and I will really begin to despair.

* More often the miracle is what does not happen.

* What people believe is a measure of what they suffer.

* I broke a stone to see what was inside. It was no longer inside.

* Today there is no-one to fight for. Only against.

* Few silences are unbiased.

* The purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.

* Learning too soon our limitations, we never learn our powers.

* “Pull yourself together” is seldom said to anyone who can.

* Science is a system of exact mysteries.

* A grass blade hyphenates earth and sky.

* Never take investment advice from someone who has to work for a living.

* It is a sign of weakness to avoid showing signs of weakness.

* There is this prevailing illusion that debt is a renewable resource.

* “Success” isn’t being on top of a hierarchy, it is standing outside all hierarchies.

* We idolize eagles although hens are much more useful.

* All events and experiences are local, somewhere.

* Detachment is not indifference.

* There are two endless directions. In and out.

* Narcissism is the other side of self-pity.

* I got serious; I became a humorist.

* Luck cannot be duplicated.

* Humans have stomachs twice the size of their brains and three times the size of their hearts.

* Once you have resigned yourself to your sentence, the guard always unlocks the door.

* Thinking’s the disease. More thinking’s the cure.

* Guessing is more fun than knowing.

* I don’t know how old I am. It changes every year.

* True deception goes unnoticed.

* The distance a goldfish swims is not controlled by the bowl.

* A mystery is a topic about which the more is learned the less is understood.

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