Deepity

Daniel Dennett has popularized this new word deepity.

Here’s another common dodge—not a dodge, a common response: “What God is, is a concept; it’s a concept in people’s minds; it’s a concept that enriches their spirits and inspires them.” If you believe this, you’re definitely an atheist. God is not a concept; the concept of God is a concept. A cup of coffee is not a concept; the concept of a cup of coffee is a concept. Elementary philosophy.

I have a term for this: it’s called a deepity. A friend of mine, when his teenage daughter many years ago—a nice smart alec girl—and dad was in the habit of uttering pronouncements at the dinner table (an MIT professor) and one day he issued forth one of these wise tidbits, and his daughter said, “Wow! Dad said a deepity.” He told me about that and I thought the term was just so great that I would appropriate it.

So what’s a deepity? A deepity is an apparently profound observation that is ambiguous. And I mean that quite literally. It has two readings. On one meaning, it’s obviously false, but if it were true, it would be very important. And on the other, it’s trivially true. And so when you hear it, you sort of see, “Oh, I think that’s true!” It is. It’s trivially true. Or at the same time, “Woa!” That’s a deepity.

I want to give you one of my favorite examples of a deepity. When I teach this concept to my students. Are you ready? Everybody sitting down?

“Love is just a word.”

Oh, wow! Love is just a word! Think about it. Whatever love is, it isn’t a word. You can’t find love in the dictionary. Put the quotation marks around it—we philosophers are sticklers about this; it’s called a use-mention error—and you get “love” is just a word. That’s true and it’s trivially true. “Cheeseburger” is just a word. “Word” is just a word. So that’s a deepity.

Now, the idea that God is a concept is another great deepity.

“Deepity” is just a word.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Deepity

  1. When I read your piece, I was immediately reminded of this quote (from "Bare Faced Messiah") about L.Ron Hubbard and The Church of Scientology. The quote is from L. Sprague De Camp who’s quoting (I believe) W.S. Gilbert ? It deals with how a fluent, literate and readable fiction writer, such as Hubbard (though I think that’s debatable, I wouldn’t call even his fiction ‘readable’) could write such a substantially opaque piece of non-fiction as ‘Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health’~

    "If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me,
    Why, what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!"

    Ha! I guess it was all those ‘deeps’ that which my memory?

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