Baloney Generator #2 – The Most Stunning Result.

I first mentioned “the baloney generator” back in May 2003 – actually in this hand-crafted-html (!) review of Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate in December 2002.

“The conscious mind ” the self or soul ” is a spin doctor, not the commander in chief.”

The accusation being that the rational mind generates narratives – any old baloney – to explain incomplete or ambiguous states of knowledge, so that it can move on. It’s controlling the (explicit) news to get on with it’s own (implicit) agenda – like McGilchrist’s “Berlusconi” metaphor.

Of course the 2003 Chicago Uni link is long dead, and anyway from the references above it’s clear the concept was already well recognised by others even if it was new to me at that time. I also mentioned Pirsig’s Lila in the same Chicago context(!).

Now it’s not fashionable to refer to Pinker these days, he’s not stupid but he’s maybe not as smart as the scientific assuredness of his various claims might suggest. None of us is perfect, not even Taleb 😉

Anyway, not only had I forgotten Pinker as my source of baloney, I’d forgotten he had been a colleague of and had written the foreword to the Gazzaniga that I’m currently reading. I say that because I found myself scribbling “baloney generator” in the margin.

Describing one of many split-brain subject experimental procedures – behavioural responses to left-right, eye-brain-hand-arm stimuli and movements – he writes:

[Instead of asking] “WHAT did you see?” [A] “Nothing / no idea.”
[We asked the subject] “WHY did you do what you just did?”

In simply changing the question a virtual torrent of new information and insight flowed. Though the left hemisphere had no clue [it was disconnected from any signals] it would not be satisfied to state that it did not know [why]. It would guess, prevaricate, rationalize and look for cause and effect, but it would always come up with an answer that fit the circumstances.

In [Gazzaniga’s] opinion, it is the most stunning result from split-brain research.

When it comes to reasoning, thanks to the left-brain, the mind can be (is designed to be) a baloney generator.


[Post Note : and how could I forget, the reason I was prompted to post was because I was asked to name philosophical fiction other than Pirsig or Gaarder that I considered important. Anna Karenina was my surprise suggestion, but Crime & Punishment is more obvious. The relevance? Razumikhin’s rant:

“Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms. It’s by talking nonsense that one gets to the truth !

I talk nonsense, therefore I am human.”

It is talking baloney that makes us human, if there are any logical positivists listening?

“Talk nonsense to me by all means,
but do it with your own brain … “

It was even a Pirsig conversation that led me to that particular Dostoevsky!]

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