The Well of Profundity Runs Dry

The whacky world of therapy is full of really useful stuff – stuff that can turn people’s lives around. But nestling among the roses are the unmistakeable weeds of quackery and charlatanism.

A AW

Among the chief offenders is the well known and much feted Deepak Chopra, a bullshit artist of note who once famously claimed to have caused an earthquake whilst meditating. If you belief that, you’ll believe anything, but his many followers consider him a genius – they fawn at the very mention of his name and clasp to their bosoms every pearl of wisdom that drops from his lips. There are others like him and they are easy to spot if you look carefully. They are the special beings that inhabit a higher plane than the rest of us – their greatest pleasure is to enlighten and impress with their deep spirituality and insight into how the universe really works. Their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are littered with meaningless platitudes that on first glance, seem profound but are ultimately worthless. Here are some examples:

  • Being rich is living life on your own terms – according to your possibilities, not your limitations.
  • Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.
  • You must find the place inside yourself where nothing is impossible.
  • When you make a choice, you change the future.
  • Walk with those seeking truth… run from those who think they’ve found it.
  • Even when you think you have your life all mapped out, things happen that shape your destiny in ways you might never have imagined.
  • Happiness for a reason is just another form of misery because the reason can be taken away from us at any time. 

If, like me these profundities are lost on you, then you are about to be vindicated because a new and scientific study carried out by psychologists has found that people who are receptive to this new-agey inspirational gobbledygook also suffer from lower levels of intelligence. They are also more prone to believing in the paranormal, fringe religion, conspiracy theories and the effectiveness of snake-oil based alternative medicine.

The study, carried out at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, made use of quotes similar to the ones above, from the Twitter feed of the great guru Deepak Chopra. The psychologists tested whether some people are more receptive to the statements than others. In four experiments involving more than 800 volunteers, the researchers asked participants to evaluate a series of statements and indicate how profound they thought they were or if indeed they agreed with them.

These were mixed with nonsense statements designed by the team that blended together buzzwords and meaningless or mundane statements such as ‘attention and intention are the mechanics of Manifestation’ and ‘imagination is inside exponential space time events,’ all nonsense of course, but impressive at first glance.

As part of the research, which primarily focussed on pseudo-profound statements or assertions that whilst presented as truth were in fact meaningless vacuous rubbish, the researchers also got the participants to perform a series of cognitive tests, asking them if they agreed with a series of statements about religion, the paranormal or conspiracy theories.

The results clearly supported the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of vacuous nonsense and that failure to detect it is a failure to recognise deceptive vagueness in false but impressive sounding claims. Those who were more responsive to the vacuous statements were also less reflective and lower in cognitive ability, both in numeracy, verbal ability and fluid intelligence.

Deepak Chopra’s quotes have become so famous that there are several websites dedicated to them and some even generate random quotes in his style by pulling words from his Twitter feed.

Like Sands Through the Hourglass, So are the Lays of Our Dives.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.