Image of professor Tamar Szabó Gendler

Would You Eat Poop Food?

In 2008, Philosopher and Yale Professor Tamar Szabó Gendler published a paper in The Journal of Philosophy showing why it’s rational to eat food that looks like poop. The piece is about “Aliefs,” a concept new to me that’s mind-boggling. Let’s explore.

Gendler’s argument goes like this:

If I present you with a piece of chocolate cake, the kind that makes your mouth water just by looking at it, you’ll want to eat it. You believe it will taste good so you rush to get a fork and a plate. Your behavior aligns with your beliefs.

Now, let’s take those Exact same ingredients and mash them up into the shape of human poop. The chocolate goes a long way in adding to the illusion here. Despite your belief that it’s still the same ingredients, your behavior is now different. Instead of running for a fork, you run for the door. You have just experienced an “Alief.” This is when your behaviors do not align with your beliefs.

The poop is rational to eat because it’s cake, but you want nothing to do with it. Interesting. This is a framing construct similar to the problems posed by Daniel Kahneman in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech for his work in the field of decision-making titled Maps of Bounded Rationality. It proves that how you view a person, problem, or situation affects how you’ll respond to it.

Consider how reading a book plays into this equation. If you only read books from one field of study, you’ll view the world through a specific lens. I would argue that this lens is somewhat rudimentary since you can only see things one way. If, however, you lower your guard and read books from multiple viewpoints, opinions, and persuasions – you have a well-informed position.

Example: Let’s assume I only read books related to historical plagues, pandemics, and diseases. How will that influence my daily conversations? How would I feel in large groups of people? Riding on a New York subway would be psychologically out of the question.

My goal this year is to read widely. So far, I’ve explored essays on feminism, books on race, and two-thousand-year-old texts on moral motivation and the division of the soul.

It’s all fascinating, and it’s all there for you to explore. Next time you find yourself in a shocking conversation or situation, ask yourself if it’s a framing construct. Are you suffering from an alief? Perhaps reading a few books for and against the idea will settle your stomach.

As always, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.

Until tomorrow,


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