Tom_Thumb_hitches_a_ride_on_a_butterflySomeone has finally asked the question! There’s no clear answer yet (despite Wonkblog’s headline “Why people think total nonsense is really deep”), but researchers at the University of Waterloo have done some serious studies into ‘BS Receptivity.’

In a sequence of tests, participants were asked to rank the profundity of various statements. Some sentences were randomly created by two websites: The Wisdom of Chopra and The New-Age BS Generator. Others were Chopra’s actual words on Twitter, a few mundane truths, some motivational slogans, and sentences with specific buzzwords.

Researchers postulate that some people may have a predisposition to consider statements as true or profound, while others could just be bad at distinguishing profundity from vague nonsense.

I find this fascinating. In my view, the tendency to accept nonsense as deeply profound is a phenomenon that occurs in response to much (not all) of post-modern and “conceptual” performing arts endeavors. I can attest to four decades of it, but it seems to be inherent in human nature. If we don’t “get it,” it must be extremely profound, advanced, and worth learning, right? (Someday you might understand…)

This would also explain the inexplicable “process-only” approaches espoused in some circles of higher education in performing arts. Professorial pride might dim a bit if the students were heard, but as long as it’s presumed to be incomprehensibly brilliant simply by virtue of being incomprehensible, it works for (almost) everyone.

And of course, my pet peeve, “brain-based” pseudoscience, is replete with belief in BS. The difference here is that the word “research” is played as a powerful sales term to get intelligent people to buy in. “Research” means “proven,” right? Just like “I read it on the internet” means it’s true.

I hope researchers will someday do a similar test using sentences from the Academic Jargon Generator. And I would love to see audience reactions to “nonsense” in performing arts —  oh wait. I already have.