Perhaps you have heard of taqiyya, the Muslim doctrine that allows lying in certain circumstances, primarily when Muslim minorities live under infidel authority. Now meet tawriya, a doctrine that allows lying in virtually all circumstances—including to fellow Muslims and by swearing to Allah—provided the liar is creative enough to articulate his deceit in a way that is true to him.
[. . .]
As a doctrine, "double-entendre" best describes tawriya's function. According to past and present Muslim scholars (several documented below), tawriya is when a speaker says something that means one thing to the listener, though the speaker means something else, and his words technically support this alternate meaning.
For example, if someone declares "I don't have a penny in my pocket," most listeners will assume the speaker has no money on him—though he might have dollar bills, just literally no pennies. Likewise, say a friend asks you, "Do you know where Mike is?" You do, but prefer not to divulge. So you say "No, I don't know"—but you keep in mind another Mike, whose whereabouts you really do not know.
Sam Harris poses the following question to physicist Lawrence M. Krauss:
One of the most common justifications for religious faith is the idea that the universe must have had a creator. You’ve just written a book alleging that a universe can arise from “nothing.” What do you mean by “nothing” and how fully does your thesis contradict a belief in a Creator God?
The answer Krauss gives is such an awful mess of verbiage that I will not quote a big load of it, but I will quote some of it. The reader can read the whole thing if he cares to.
1. The "long-held theological claim" that out of nothing nothing comes is "spurious." This is because "modern science . . . has changed completely our conception of the very words 'something' and 'nothing.' " We now know that " ‘something’ and ‘nothing’ are physical concepts and therefore are properly the domain of science, not theology or philosophy."
Wow! Modern science has completely changed our conceptions of something and nothing! That is something! Something and nothing are physical concepts? You mean, like mass and momentum? Please tell me more!
2. "The old idea that nothing might involve empty space, devoid of mass or energy, or anything material, for example, has now been replaced by a boiling bubbling brew of virtual particles, popping in and out of existence in a time so short that we cannot detect them directly. I then go on to explain how other versions of 'nothing'—beyond merely empty space—including the absence of space itself, and even the absence of physical laws, can morph into “something.” Indeed, in modern parlance, “nothing” is most often unstable. Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur."
There is no point in quoting any more of this stuff since it is obviously gibberish. What is not obvious, and indeed what is most puzzling, is why anyone who is supposedly intelligent would spout such patent nonsense. Or is he joking? Pulling our leg? Trying to sound 'far out' to sell books? It surely sounds like a weird joke to hear that nothing boils and bubbles and 'morphs' and is unstable with particles popping in and out of existence. If a virtual particle popped out of existence would it be even more nothing than the nothing that it was a part of?
If I tell you that I met nobody on my hike this morning, it would be a bad joke were you to inquire, "And how is Nobody doing these days?" 'Nobody' is not the name of a person or the name of anything else. If you are confused by 'I met nobody on my hike,' then I will translate it for you: 'It is not the case that I met somebody on my hike.' The same goes for 'nothing.' It is not a name for something.
The point, of course, is that nothing is precisely nothing and not a weird something or even a non-weird something. Krauss is not stupid, and he is presumably not joking. So he is using 'nothing' in some special way. He and his colleagues are free to do that. He and they are free to stipulate a new meaning for an old word. But then he is not using it in the sense in which it figures in the old principle, ex nihilo nihil fit, 'out of nothing nothing comes.' Whether true or false, the meaning of the principle is clear: if there were nothing at all, nothing could have come into being. This obviously cannot be refuted by shifting the sense of 'nothing' so that it refers to a bubbling, boiling soup of virtual particles.
The strong scent of intellectual dishonesty is wafting up to my nostrils from this bubbling, boiling cauldron of Unsinn.
If I make a tasty hamburger out of a lump of raw meat, have I made something out of nothing? Sure, in a sense: I have made something tasty out of nothing tasty. In a sense, I have made something out of nothing! But one would have to have hamburger for brains if one that ought that that refuted ex nihilo nihil fit.
"Not only can something arise from nothing, but most often the laws of physics require that to occur." This is just nonsense. Whatever the laws of physics are, they are not nothing. So if the laws of physics require that something arise from nothing, then the laws of physics require that something arise without there being laws of physics.
Not only is the quoted sentence nonsense, it contradicts the rest of what Krauss says in quotation #2 above. For he says that there is a sense of 'nothing' which implies the absence of physical laws. So we are supposed to accept that physical laws require the emergence of something out of nothing even if there are no physical laws?
So you've got this situation in which nothing at all exists, and then something comes into existence because the physical laws (which don't exist) "require" it. Bullshit! Sophistry for the purpose of exploiting rubes to make a quick pop science buck.
Thinking about the mendacity of Obama, Schumer, and Kyl, I was put in mind of a post of mine dated 6 June 2007 from the old Powerblogs site in which I expose some bullshitting by Mitt Romney. Here it is again. If you want to be taken seriously by intelligent people, you must never use words you do not understand in an attempt to impress. The only people you will impress will be fools. By the way, some feel Romney is a viable Republican pick for 2012. I wonder. His being Mormon may not be a problem, but how remove the albatross of RomneyCare about his neck? We have moved too far in the socialist direction. We need to move back the other way, toward liberty and self-reliance, and I rather doubt that Romney is the one to lead us.
We've lost 3,400 troops; civilian casualties are even higher, and the Iraqi government does not appear ready to provide for the security of its own country. Knowing everything you know right now, was it a mistake for us to invade Iraq?
Well, the question is kind of a non sequitur, if you will, and what I mean by that -- or a null set. And that is that if you're saying let's turn back the clock, and Saddam Hussein had opened up his country to IAEA inspectors, and they'd come in and they'd found that there were no weapons of mass destruction, had Saddam Hussein, therefore, not violated United Nations resolutions, we wouldn't be in the conflict we're in. But he didn't do those things, and we knew what we knew at the point we made the decision to get in. I supported the president's decision based on what we knew at that time. I think we were underprepared and underplanned for what came after we knocked down Saddam Hussein.
Romney's response was quite good especially given the pressure he was under. But why did he spoil it by inserting unnecessary terminology that he obviously doesn't understand? It makes no sense to refer to a question as a non sequitur. A non sequitur is a proposition that abbreviates or 'telescopes' an invalid argument. For example, 'If the war in Iraq were serious, then we wouldn't be trying to fight it with an all-volunteer force.' That is a non sequitur in that the consequent of the conditional proposition does not follow from the antecedent. Non sequitur just means 'It does not follow.' But an interrogative form of words does not express a proposition. (Possible exception: rhetorical questions; but the question posed to Romney was not rhetorical.) So to refer to a question as a non sequitur show a serious lack of understanding.
Romney should have replied simply as follows. 'It was not a mistake to invade Iraq since at the time the decision was made, that was the right course of action given what we knew.'
It is also nonsensical to refer to a question as "a null set." For one thing, there is only one null set. Talk of 'a' null set suggests that there are or could be several. More importantly, a question is not a set, let alone a set with no members. "But isn't a question a set of words?" Well, there is for any question the set of words in which it is formulated, but that set is not identical to the question. But I won't go any further into this since, although it leads into fascinating question in metaphysics and the philosophy of language, it leads away from the point I want to make.
"And what point would that be?" Never bullshit! You make yourself look stupid to people who really know. Never pretend to know what you don't know. Don't try to impress people with fancy jargon unless you really know how to use it. Concern for truth dictates concern for precision in the use of language.
To be precise, my question is whether or not there are any written specimens of bullshit produced by physicists. I submit that there are such examples. Herewith, one example. First a simple point of logic: To show that there are Fs, it suffices to adduce one F. And note: a person who produces a specimen of bullshit is not thereby a bullshitter. (A person who gets drunk a few times in his life is not a drunkard.)
The logically prior question of what bullshit is was treated in an earlier post. Briefly: a bullshitter is not a liar, although both are engaged in the enterprise of misrepresentation. The bullshitter's intention is not to misrepresent the way things are in the manner of the liar; his aim is to misrepresent himself as knowing what he does not know or more than he actually knows for some such purpose as impressing others, hearing himself talk, or turning a buck by scribbling.
. . . for centuries philosophers and theologians have attempted to settle by pure thought the issue of whether the Universe could or could not be infinitely old. That is, some have attempted to show that there is some logical contradiction inherent in the notion of a past infinity of time. And some still do. Such ideas have some association with cosmological arguments for the existence of God, which not only seek to demonstrate that there must have been an origin to the Universe in time but go further in showing (or, in practice, assuming) that this requires there to have been an originator.
In On Becoming a Novelist (Harper & Row, 1983), John Gardner raises the question of what the aspiring writer should study if he goes to college:
A good program of courses in philosophy, along with creative writing, can clarify the writer's sense of what questions are important . . . . There are obvious dangers. Like any other discipline, philosophy is apt to be inbred, concerned about questions any normal human being would find transparently ridiculous. [. . .] All human thought has its bullshit quotient, and professional thought about thought has more than most. Nevertheless, the study of philosophy, perhaps with courses in psychology thrown in, can give the young writer a clear sense of why our age is so troubled, why people of our time suffer in ways in which people of other times and places suffered. (93-94)
Gardner goes on to mention Nietzsche, Heidegger and Wittgenstein as philosophers it would be useful for the aspiring writer to know something about since the problems they discussed or helped cause are problems of "ordinary modern people." But what interests me at the moment is the way Gardner views philosophy.
What is it to bullshit? Perhaps the best way to understand bullshitting is by comparing it to lying. So what is it to lie? The first thing to understand is that a lie is not the same as a false statement. Suppose I make a statement about something but my statement turns out to be false. It does not follow that I have lied. Suppose a latter-day Rip van Winkle wakes up from a long nap and, asked about the Dodgers, says, "They are a baseball team from Brooklyn." Has our man lied? Not at all. He simply hasn't kept up with 'recent' developments.
For a statement to count as a lie two conditions must be satisfied: (a) the statement must be false; (b) the statement must be made with the intention to deceive. These conditions are individually necessary and jointly sufficient. But what if someone states what he believes to be false with the intention to deceive, but it turns out that what he states is true? Isn't that also a lie? Not by the definition I just gave. So it looks as if we are in the presence of two concepts of lying. The concept just defined is the narrower and more usual concept. The other, broader concept, results by the deletion of condition (a).
Intuitions about the value of philosophy vary wildly. For many it is just bullshit, "bullshitting about any topic" as a particularly benighted student of mine once wrote on a teaching evaluation. (What a joy to be quit of the classroom for good!) But anyone who says this sort of thing understands the nature of bullshit as little as he understands the nature of philosophy. He also does not understand that philosophy is needed to comprehend the nature of that under which philosophy is being subsumed, namely, bullshit. For instruction as to the essence of bullshit we of course turn to a philosopher, Professor Frankfurt. A statement is bullshit if it is
. . . grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit." (emphasis added)
Exactly right. The bullshitter is one who 'doesn't give a shit' about the truth value of what he is saying. He doesn't care how things stand with reality. The liar, by contrast, must care: he must know (or at least attempt to know) how things are if he is to have any chance of deceiving his audience. Think of it this way: the bullshitter doesn't care whether he gets things right or gets them wrong; the liar cares to get them right so he can deceive you about them.
Now philosophers, the genuine ones anyway, not those who merely fill their bellies from it, care deeply about "how things really are." Only a bullshitter could call philosophy bullshit.
Of course, philosophy's not being bullshit does not render it 'epistemically in the clear,' to cop a phrase Roderick Chisholm uses in another connection. There are other objections one can make to philosophy. We shall review some of them in due course.