For centuries, people have been debating the concept of being a “bullshitter.” Harry Frankfurt’s book “On Bullshit” finally gave a deeper exploration into this idea, defining it as someone who isn’t concerned with truth or falsehood, but simply with impressing or manipulating their audience. This emphasis on outward presentation can have various damaging outcomes.
Socrates and Father Zosima, two figures from the past, real and fictional, shared their wisdom about truth and deception. Socrates believed that real understanding could only come from sincere investigation, while Father Zosima, a monk and spiritual leader, told people to not lie to themselves, stressing the need for honest self-reflection and genuineness. Both figures share the idea that understanding oneself and the world around us requires honesty, and that by lying to ourselves or bullshitting, we are hindering our ability to gain insight into our own thoughts and emotions.
Similarly, Frankfurt’s concept of bullshitting and Vervaeke and Hall’s discussion of simulated thinking and bullshitting oneself (see links below) are related to the lack of regard for the truth and an emphasis on making a good impression or manipulating others. When we lie to ourselves, we are not being truthful about our own ideas, emotions, and behavior, and this can separate our internal experience from our external state, thus hindering our ability to understand ourselves or others. Similarly, when someone engages in bullshitting, they are not being authentic or honest in their connections with others, which can lead to distrust and superficiality.
At the base of both issues is the same thing: a disregard for the truth and a lack of introspection. Socrates’s view on knowledge, Father Zosima’s advice to avoid lying to oneself, Frankfurt’s concept of bullshitting, and Vervaeke and Hall’s discussion of simulated thinking and bullshitting oneself all underscore the value of being true to oneself and straightforward about their thoughts and beliefs to gain insight into the world around them.
In today’s world where there is such easy access to information and the pressure to present oneself in a certain way is higher than ever, it is even more important to be aware of bullshitting and staying honest with ourselves. It is easy to get lost in shallow conversations or focus on impressing others, but ultimately, we will only gain an understanding of ourselves or others by engaging in thoughtful inquiry that is rooted in honesty. It’s important to remember that bullshitting is not limited to just verbal communication, it can be found in various forms of self-presentation such as social media or in one’s actions.
The idea of bullshitting can also be related to the meaning crisis discussed by Vervaeke. The constant pressure to present ourselves in a certain way can lead to a loss of connection to our true selves and a lack of understanding of what truly matters to us. This can contribute to the feeling of a meaning crisis and the struggle to find purpose and fulfillment in life.
In conclusion, the concept of bullshitting and the search for meaning in life are interconnected. By being honest with ourselves and staying true to who we are, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. This can lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful life, free from the negative effects of bullshitting and self-deception. It’s important for us to remember the wisdom of Socrates and Father Zosima and to strive for genuineness and honesty in our interactions with others and ourselves.
Thank you John Vervaeke for helping me understand the modern notion of bullshitting. More in this chapter of his “Awakening from the meaning crisis”.
Please also see Jordan Green Hall and John Vervaeke discussing Bullshit and Simulated Thinking.
2 thoughts on “From Socrates to Father Zosima: The Importance of Being True to Oneself and avoiding bullshitting (yes, a cognitive term)”
Thank you for this wisdom and connecting bullshitting with genuineness. They are interconnected and we need to be mindful of both.
Thank you Lance!