Any sufficiently advanced wisdom is indistinguishable from bullshit

In the grand tra­di­tion of se­quences, I’m go­ing to jot this down real quick be­cause it’s re­quired for the next ar­gu­ment I’m go­ing to make.

Shal­manese’s 3rd law is “Any suffi­ciently ad­vanced wis­dom is in­dis­t­in­guish­able from bul­lshit”. Shal­manese’s first law is “As the length of any dis­cus­sion in­volv­ing the met­ric sys­tem ap­proaches in­finity, the like­li­hood ap­proaches 1 of there be­ing a refer­ence to The Simp­sons epi­sode about 40 rods to the hogshead” so judge it by the com­pany it keeps.

Imag­ine you got to travel back in time to meet your­self from 10 years ago and im­part as much wis­dom as pos­si­ble on your past-self in 6 hours. You’re bound by the Time En­force­ment Com­mit­tee not to re­veal that you are the fu­ture-self of your past-self and it never oc­curs to your past-self that this ugly thing in front of them could ever be you. As far as the past-self is con­cerned, it’s just a mod­er­ately in­ter­est­ing per­son they’re hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with.

There would be 3 broad sets that your dis­cus­sions would fall in: Beliefs that you both mu­tu­ally agree on, Beliefs that you are able to con­vince your past-self through rea­son and Beliefs which make the past-self re­gard your fu­ture-self as be­ing ac­tively stupid for hold­ing. It’s this third cat­e­gory which I’m go­ing to term Ad­vanced Wis­dom.

For ev­ery­body, those be­liefs are go­ing to be spe­cific to the in­di­vi­d­ual. Maybe you used to be de­voutly re­li­gious and now you’re staunchly athe­ist. Per­haps you were once rad­i­cally marx­ist and now you’re a staunch liber­tar­ian. For me, it was the wis­dom of the ad­vice to “be your­self”. I have no doubt that I would get pre­cisely nowhere con­vinc­ing my past-self that “be your­self” is a piece of wis­dom. Any­thing I could ever pos­si­bly say to him, he had already heard many times be­fore and con­vinced him­self was ut­ter bul­lshit. If even my ac­tual self couldn’t con­vince my­self of some­thing, what hope is there that any ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ment could have pen­e­trated?

If I were to have my fu­ture-self visit my pre­sent-self now, I would have no doubt that he would also pre­sent me with some pieces of ad­vanced wis­dom I thought were bul­lshit. The prob­lem is, suffi­ciently ad­vanced wis­dom is in­dis­t­in­guish­able from bul­lshit. There is no pos­si­ble test that can sep­a­rate the two. You might be told some­thing is ad­vanced wis­dom and keep the open­est mind pos­si­ble about it and in­ves­ti­gate it in all the var­i­ous ways and per­haps even be con­vinced by it and maybe it was ac­tual wis­dom you were con­vinced by. Then again, you could just have been con­vinced by bul­lshit. As a re­sult, ad­vanced wis­dom, as a con­cept, is com­pletely, frus­trat­ingly use­less in an ar­gu­ment. If you’re on the ar­guer’s side, you know that the as­ser­tion of ad­vanced wis­dom is go­ing to be taken as just more bul­lshit, if you’re on the ar­guee’s side, any as­ser­tion of ad­vanced wis­dom looks like the mis­taken ram­bling of a de­luded fool.

The one pos­i­tive thing this law has lead me to is a much higher tol­er­ance for bul­lshit. I’m no longer so quick to dis­miss ideas which, to me, seem ob­vi­ous bul­lshit.