Saturday, July 3, 2021

The problem of "why bullshit?" has a proposed solution: It's an honest signal of intelligence* [that explains GPT-3]

Martin Harry Turpin, Mane Kara-Yakoubian, Alexander C. Walker, Heather E. K. Walker, Jonathan A. Fugelsang, Jennifer A. Stolz, Bullshit Ability as an Honest Signal of Intelligence, Evolutionary Psychology, Volume: 19 issue: 2, Article first published online: May 17, 2021; Issue published: April 1, 2021

Abstract: Navigating social systems efficiently is critical to our species. Humans appear endowed with a cognitive system that has formed to meet the unique challenges that emerge for highly social species. Bullshitting, communication characterised by an intent to be convincing or impressive without concern for truth, is ubiquitous within human societies. Across two studies (N = 1,017), we assess participants’ ability to produce satisfying and seemingly accurate bullshit as an honest signal of their intelligence. We find that bullshit ability is associated with an individual’s intelligence and individuals capable of producing more satisfying bullshit are judged by second-hand observers to be more intelligent. We interpret these results as adding evidence for intelligence being geared towards the navigation of social systems. The ability to produce satisfying bullshit may serve to assist individuals in negotiating their social world, both as an energetically efficient strategy for impressing others and as an honest signal of intelligence.

H/t Tyler Cowen.

*Put that in your post-modern pipe and smoke it. But it might explain why GPT-3 is so convincing: GPT-3 is a bullshit generator.


  1. When I was stationed at the Dry Tortugas in the Coast Guard my fellow light house keepers and I had a game of who could tell the most outlandish tale to the tourists that they would still believe.

    1. Surely that would to some extent depend on the tourists. Some would believe a tale about space aliens buzzing the light house, but I suspect most would not.