Dr Rajiv Desai

An Educational Blog

SCIENCE OF TRUTH

Science of Truth:

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Prologue:

I published article ‘The Lie’ on my website on June 5, 2010 wherein I showed how media lied for several decades by saying that Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe died ‘childless’ in the year 1962. “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Discussion on ‘lie’ is incomplete unless you discuss the ‘truth’. So what is truth?  The question is one of the most ancient in philosophy. It was famously posed by Plato, who asked whether there exist eternal truths or whether, to the contrary, man is the measure of all things. Diderot and d’Alembert, in their Encyclope´die (1751–1772), proposed a simple and straightforward answer: truth consists in conformity of our judgments with things. In other words, something is true when there is a fit between thought and object: This implies not only the conformity of our ideas with external objects, but also the internal consistency of our ideas with one another. Yet a great many theories that seem to conform to what we see turn out on closer examination to be false. The sun, despite appearances to the contrary, does not in fact revolve around the earth. And many arguments that seem to be sound ultimately are found to be flawed. Does this justify us, then, in placing confidence in Astrology, Homeopathy, Ayurveda, miraculous powers, or supernatural phenomena? Where are we to draw a line between beliefs and established truths, between opinion and scientific knowledge? What are the distinguishing features of the truths produced by science?  These questions lead on to others. Along with error, delusion, and fantasy, there can be conscious falsification—in a word, lying. The person who lies knows it; the person to whom the lie is addressed may not. How is it that we are able to detect deception? Why is the capacity to lie a characteristic trait of the human species? Is it not the counterpart to our ability to tell the truth—something that is impossible for dogs or monkeys?  William Hazlitt (1778-1830), a British writer, once asserted that, ‘‘life is the art of being deceived.’’ Human social relations are so steeped in deception that it is impossible to imagine life without it.

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If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

-Mark Twain.

This quote means that, in order to be a good liar, or tell a very good lie, you have got to remember what you said exactly, how you said it and be able to re-tell it in the same manner over and over to gain credibility. Also to save a lie, you have to speak many more lies.

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Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

-Buddha

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Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.

-Mahatma Gandhi

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The truth is rarely pure and never simple.

-Oscar Wilde

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It is time to discuss science of truth….

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Introduction to truth:

There is a prevailing intellectual indifference to coherence, logic, rationality, and evidence. It’s a world-view that holds that there is no historical truth and almost everything is a mere social construction. Discovery is conflated with invention, myth is elevated alongside empirical evidence, and no lines are drawn between fact and fiction…the main point is that truth matters because human beings are the only species capable of finding it out. There may be nothing uniquely human about deception: some experts say chimpanzees can fake out rivals. But lying requires something special that, so far, seems the sole province of humans: a theory of mind. To lie effectively, one has to have a notion that other people have minds and can be deceived. By the time most children are 4, they have acquired the ability to deceive others, a skill critical to survival. For example, shown a tube of Smarties candy filled with pencils, 4-year-olds can imagine that other children who don’t know the trick will falsely assume that the tube contains candy. In other words, these normal 4-year-olds have learned that others can be fooled by a false belief. Some brain illnesses like autism interfere with this skill. Most autistic children fail at the false belief task and, by inference would have a hard time deceiving others.

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Aristotle defines truth for classical philosophy: ‘to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.’ This seems simple, but it is important to see that it is not. The formula synthesizes three distinct and in no way obvious or unobjectionable assumptions, assumptions which prove decisive for the career of truth in philosophy. First, the priority of nature over language, culture, or the effects of historical experience. One can say of what is that it is just in case there exists a what which is there, present, with an identity, form, or nature of its own. Second, the idea that truth is a kind of sameness, falsity a difference, between what is said and what there is. To accommodate the priority of nature, however, truth has to be a secondary sort of sameness: according to the classical metaphor, the imitation of original by copy. It is up to us to copy Nature’s originals, whose identity and existence are determined by causes prior to and independent of local convention. Thus a third feature of classical truth: the secondary and derivative character of the signs by which truth is symbolized and communicated. Classical truth subordinates the being (the existence and identity) of signs (linguistic or otherwise) to the natural, physical, finally given presence of the non-signs they stand for.

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Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth may also often be used in modern contexts to refer to an idea of “truth to self,” or authenticity. The commonly understood opposite of truth is falsehood, which, correspondingly, can also take on a logical, factual, or ethical meaning. The concept of truth is discussed and debated in several contexts, including philosophy, art, and religion. Many human activities depend upon the concept, where its nature as a concept is assumed rather than being a subject of discussion; these include most (but not all) of the sciences, law, journalism, and everyday life. Some philosophers view the concept of truth as basic, and unable to be explained in any terms that are more easily understood than the concept of truth itself. Commonly, truth is viewed as the correspondence of language or thought to an independent reality, in what is sometimes called the correspondence theory of truth. Other philosophers take this common meaning to be secondary and derivative. According to Martin Heidegger, the original meaning and essence of “Truth” in Ancient Greece was unconcealment, or the revealing or bringing of what was previously hidden into the open, as indicated by the original Greek term for truth, “Aletheia.” On this view, the conception of truth as correctness is a later derivation from the concept’s original essence, a development Heidegger traces to the Latin term “Veritas.” Pragmatists like C.S. Peirce take Truth to have some manner of essential relation to human practices for inquiring into and discovering Truth, with Peirce himself holding that Truth is what human inquiry would find out on a matter, if our practice of inquiry were taken as far as it could profitably go: “The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth…”

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Philosophers have long sought to understand and define truth. For so long truth was the preserve of philosophers and theologians, but then came the Enlightenment, and science and rationalism stepped in. Today science’s binary approach to seeking truth is well accepted: through observation and experimentation, we arrive at either-or, true-false conclusions. But is truth a simple matter of true or false, black or white, this or that? Going a step further, is the way to truth a binary choice between traditional religion/ philosophy and science. For most people today, however, truth is simply the opposite of falsehood. This idea is well entrenched in our societies, which commonly use true-or-false questions to test students all the way up to the university level. It’s a purely rational and logical way of looking at things, and it is at the heart of the belief that human beings can ultimately know all there is to know through reason. We may not have the answer today, but given time, it will be discovered.  In Europe during the medieval and early modern period, three “estates” helped shape the ideas by which societies were governed. The make-up of these estates varied from country to country and from time to time, but they represented layers of citizenry under the monarch, often expressed as clergy, nobility and common people. At any given time, the monarch or one of these three entities held sway; so power to steer the masses (and thus dictate “truth”) might lie at different times with the king, or with the church, the wealthy or eventually the commoners themselves. In the early 19th century some in Britain noted the rise of a fourth estate, namely the media; they began to see the newspapers of their time as a powerful additional force in shaping ideas and establishing truth. But that wasn’t the final word, of course. Knowledge increased, and by the early 20th century science had come to be viewed by some as a fifth estate. In fact, scientific methods and proofs have become much more rigorous over the past century and in the minds of many have fully replaced all earlier approaches, in particular philosophy and religion, as the way to truth. Exact results can be established, after all, by a process of repeated experimentation. This is empirical truth—that which is based on observation and experience.

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By whatever means people seek truth, however, they often have difficulty distinguishing it from the seeming reality of their own perceptions. Society by its standards and approaches feeds this misconception. Our law courts claim to operate on the basis of truth, but they allow it to be shaped by the perceptions of the plaintiff, the defendant and the witnesses. The incidence of false convictions undermines such notions of truth. Journalism is also supposed to be based on a pursuit of truth, but that too depends largely on the perceived reality of the reporter or the editor. Even science may be based on the perceived reality of the scientist. Biologist and renowned atheist Richard Dawkins has made a name for himself by loudly proclaiming that reason is the only means by which truth can be established or known—that truth is what is discoverable by the human intellect, the product of our rational understanding and our increasing knowledge. Still, one of the chapters in his book The God Delusion is titled “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God”, suggesting that Dawkins’s deeply held convictions about the nonexistence of God are less absolute truth than perception—his admittedly unproven and unprovable belief that God exists only in people’s imaginations.

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Truth-telling is one of the only moral imperatives across cultures. Why would that be? Simply put, human communication is pointless unless we assume that others will tell the truth. If I ask you what time it is or for directions to London, I’m assuming you won’t lie. If I assume the opposite, there’s not much point to the question. Sincere, honest exchange essentially is communication, all the rest just manipulation. Other problem with lies, ignorance, and bullshit is that they undermine our rationality; they leave us slaves to our passions; and they keep us groping in the dark when we try to solve problems. Problems are hard to solve when you start with truth, much more so when you begin with falsehoods. Lies and nonsense will ultimately be our downfall, however temporarily attractive they may be. But why? If we disregard the truth we’ll undo the project of classical Greece and the Enlightenment, when humans realized that reason could improve their world; if we disregard the truth we will remain slaves to the reptilian impulses of our anciently-formed brains; if we disregard the truth we’ll destroy our planet’s atmosphere and biosphere and kill ourselves. People suffer when the truth is distorted. So it is our choice. Face the truth of our biological and cultural heritage and transcend them, or we will all perish.

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Three principles of truth:

There are three basic principles of truth: the so-called fundamental principle of truth, manifold correspondence principle, and logicality principle. The fundamental principle says that truth, as a standard for human thought, arises at the juncture of three basic modes of cognition: immanence, transcendence, and normativity. The manifold correspondence principle says that truth in all fields requires a substantial and systematic relation between thought and world, yet this relation may assume multiple forms, including relatively complex forms. The logicality principle says that a partial yet important factor in determining the truth value of thoughts is their logical structure.

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Truth and its sources:

Truth expresses our general understandings of how the world works, that is, what it is and what it means.  It expresses our belief that the world is a knowable place with relatively stable patterns that are accessible to people like us.  Truth links objective goings-on with subjective experience.  When we pledge to “tell the truth” in a court of law (and perhaps “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”), our vow is to produce statements that correspond to beliefs we actually hold. Where do these feelings of certainty – and of consistency between behaviors and understandings – come from?  Consider first the idea that truth has different bases or “sources.”  And those sources sometimes lead to contradictory conclusions.

  1. A first of these is authority. Many statements we accept because a person we respect (or who is in a position we respect) says they are true. In that spirit, we listen to our doctors, teachers, religious leaders, and coaches.
  2. A second source is tradition. Many things are believed because they’ve always been believed, or so we think. Great myths about the origins and destinies of countries and peoples are of this sort. So is folk wisdom about all manner of things – the causes and cures of various health conditions, the characteristics of different “kinds” of peoples, and so forth
  3. There is also intuition. Some beliefs are consonant with deep feelings we have. That sense of rightness eludes our ability to comprehend it.  As Pascal famously put it, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”  So inspired we commit to our very private sense that there is – or isn’t – a God.  We declare that we are “in love,” or decide that what we feel isn’t quite enough.
  4. Fourth is common sense. Our experiences of practical, everyday affairs are important to our understandings of how the world operates – and to our judgment that other people are being straight with us. By such criteria, we decide that an advertisement promises a deal that is just “too good to be true.” We reject an ordinary-looking person’s claim that they are a top model.  Such judgments come from the trials-and-errors of living, and from sharing information with other people who have lived through similar circumstances.  In that latter sense, our beliefs are “common.”
  5. Fifth is logic. The logical person believes that he or she can proceed to truth by following correct processes of reasoning. If we start with certain premises, then we can appropriately deduce certain conclusions.  “If all bears are animals, and Joe is a bear, then Joe is certainly an animal.”  Knowing Joe is an animal does not mean, however, that he is a bear.  Some of the greatest philosophers and theologians have tried to comprehend the world is such ways.  And the rest of us use less exalted forms of logic to reach our own conclusions.
  6. Sixth, and last, is science. Science tests the truth of propositions by systematically collecting “facts.”  There is a real world that moves ahead on its own terms. We trust our sense-based perceptions of it.  But only if other people are experiencing it in a like way.  In that spirit, we record and count.

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Subjective, objective and absolute truth:

There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth: how to define and identify truth; the roles that faith-based and empirically based knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective or objective, relative or absolute. In general, absolute truth is whatever is always valid, regardless of parameters or context. The absolute in the term connotes one or more of: a quality of truth that cannot be exceeded; complete truth; unvarying and permanent truth. It can be contrasted to relative truth or truth in a more ordinary sense in which a degree of relativity is implied.

1) In philosophy, absolute truth generally states what is essential rather than superficial – a description of the Ideal (to use Plato’s concept) rather than the merely “real” (which Plato sees as a shadow of the Ideal). Among some religious groups this term is used to describe the source of or authority for a given faith or set of beliefs, such as the Bible.

2) In science, doubt has been cast on the notion of absolutes by theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics.

3) In pure mathematics , however, there is said to be a proof for the existence of absolute truth. A common tactic in mathematical proofs is the use of reductio ad absurdum, in which the statement to be proved is denied as a premise, and then that premise is shown to lead to a contradiction. When it can be demonstrated that the negation of a statement leads to a contradiction, then the original statement is proved true. The logical proof of the statement, “There exists an absolute truth,” is almost trivial in its simplicity. Suppose we assert the negation of the statement, that is, that there is no such thing as absolute truth. By making that assertion, we claim that the sentence “There exists no absolute truth” is absolutely true. The statement is self-contradictory, so its negation, “There exists an absolute truth,” is true. This proof applies only to logic. It does not tell us whether any particular statement other than itself is true. It does not prove the existence (or non-existence) of God, the devil, heaven, hell, or people from another galaxy. Neither does it assert that we can always ascertain the truth or falsity of any arbitrary statement. The Incompleteness Theorem , proved by Kurt Gödel and published in 1931, actually showed that there exist logical statements whose truth value is undecidable, that is, they cannot be proved either true or false.

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The word truth can have a variety of meanings, from honesty and faith to a verified fact in particular.  The term has no single definition about which a majority of professional philosophers and scholars agree, and various theories of truth continue to be debated. There are differing claims on the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective, objective, or absolute. The ways by which we acquire knowledge, can be differentiated into four broad categories, sense perception, language, emotion and reasoning. The four ways of knowing help us to identify and differentiate between subjective and objective truths. It is generally assumed language gives us access to subjective truths while reason gives us access to objective truths. For example, the various mathematical proofs, theories and formulae that are in use today are in practice because of they have been proved by reason and are considered as objective mathematical truths. However, some theories and formulas are axiomatic truths. Axiomatic truths are self-evident truths or basic facts which are accepted without any proof. On the other hand, perception and emotion are believed to result in subjective truths. From past experiences, I have generalized that objects left out in the rain get wet. Through reasoning I apply this understanding to tonight’s rainfall, and conclude that my own bicycle will get wet if it is left out in the backyard. Reason can help us to identify both subjective and objective truths. For example, reason can help to distinguish between objective mathematical truths and subjective artistic truths. Thus it can be seen that the various ways of knowing alone can help to identify truths: and the ways of knowing may also work together to give us the truth. For example, in science the way of knowing of reason and sense perception may work collaboratively to give us the objective truths. Reason is not necessarily superior to the other ways of knowing because each of the ways of knowing has its own limitations and may not necessarily give us the absolute truth. The way of classical inductive reasoning can lead to false claims. Consider this example, I saw a duck and it was black. I saw a second duck and it was black. I saw a third duck and it was black. I saw an nth duck and it was black. A general statement becomes the conclusion “All ducks must be black”. After tens of thousands of instances of black ducks in Africa, Asia and North America I go to the UK and see a white duck, right in the middle of a lake. One false instance is enough to topple over the general conclusion I had painstakingly reached. In the wake of the development in sciences and the extensive use of reason in daily life, a question is raised “Is reason the most superior way of knowing?” Reason has given rise to many scientific explanations and theories such as the formulae of mathematics and the laws of physics. In science, the various laws of gravity in physics have been defined after reason and research. For example, if I observe that the gravity is always same when I undertake an experiment, by inductive reasoning I will assume that this will always be the case if I measure gravity on any place in the world. The general statement becomes the conclusion “The acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 meter/second-squared. But, if I were to conduct the same experiment at the North or the South Pole I would find that the value of gravity is more than what I had found before, as the earth is elliptical and the poles are closer to the earth’s core. Also, the value of gravity would be quite different if I were to conduct the same experiment at the equatorial regions. Thus, as we can see, the reasoned assumption can sometimes lead to a paradigm shift i.e. true in specific environments so not a universal truth. Even if the experiment is conducted hundreds of times, there is always a possibility that an exception will be found and the theory would be falsified like in the case of the white duck. Thus, it is suggested that a hypothetical deductive method should be used, which is a continual interplay between deductive and inductive reasoning, mediated by testing done in the real world, whereby false hypotheses are discarded through trial and disproof. However, there is a possibility that somebody may stumble upon a case that falsifies the conclusion.

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The other knowledge issue raised is “How far do our cultural beliefs distort our attempts to distinguish between subjective and objective theories?”. For example, a case in India, where cultural beliefs are followed on a large extent, the idols of Lord Ganesha in temples all over the country were believed to be drinking milk from the offerings by visitors and followers. Thus, the subjective truth of all the followers was that the idol of Lord Ganesha was drinking milk. However, scientists conducted various experiments on the idols thereafter and came out with an objective explanation whereby the subjective truth of the followers was falsified. The rationalists and the scientists proved that the result was because of the surface tension and the absorption capabilities of the materials of which the idols were made. Thus, the cultural belief in India that the offerings by devotees are consumed by the God, gave rise to the subjective truth and distorted the objective truth.

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Also, another knowledge issue which is raised is “How to do we get from our subjective beliefs to our objective truths?”. Darwin’s theory of evolution was based on his observations and is believed to be true especially by most of today’s scientists. Darwin’s subjective belief in evolutionary theory was transformed into an objective truth. He proposed that all of the millions of species of organisms present today, including humans, evolved slowly over billions of years, from a common ancestor by way of natural selection. However, certain counter-claims make us believe that the theory of evolution is false. According to the theory of natural selection birds could never evolve to fly while this is certainly not the case. Though subjective beliefs can be and have been transformed into objective truths by repeated experimentation, it is possible that a single counter-claim could forge the conclusion and prove the theory to be wrong. Though, evolution knows how to deal with a paradox like this: explain it away, rationalize it. That is science. Science explains paradox and exceptions. Early birds may have used their wings not for flying, but for running. By flapping their front appendages, the animals gained more traction as they were running up steep inclines. Also natural selection is not the only source of design in nature.

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The distinction between subjective and objective truths also raises the knowledge issue ‘Is emotion an effective way of distinguishing between subjective and objective truths?’ For example, in Ethics we may use reason effectively to distinguish between the reasons why we should switch off a life-support machine on a family member and why we shouldn’t, but reason may not take into account the emotional pressures we feel in the moment of flicking the switch, or emotion may even over-rule reason to some extent.

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The ongoing debate between subjective and objective truths also raises the knowledge issue ‘Are there any absolutely certain objective truths independent of what we believe to be true?’ This knowledge issue takes into account absolute truths. An absolute truth, sometimes called a universal truth, is an unalterable and permanent fact. Many religions contain absolute truths. For example, a Christian might believe Lord Jesus to be his saviour. To the Christian this may be an absolute truth. While many may agree that the Christian believes absolutely that Jesus is his Lord, they are unlikely to agree that Jesus is everyone’s Lord is an absolute truth. Centuries of missionary work just failed to do that. Those who do not endorse the absolute truth of another are either pitied or attacked and results in war and oppression.

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The method of the natural sciences involves perception as part of the collection of data to prove or disprove theories about the natural world for example, the development of the big bang theory by Edwin Hubble was based on his investigation of mysterious masses of stars called Nebulae. However, the problem is that a scientist’s observations may be limited by the instruments they use to make their observations. However, several of these theories are considered as absolute truths today in spite of what we believe. Again, Historians might provide primary sources to represent the absolute objective truth of the horrors of Stalin’s reign of terror, but the problem is this: how do we know that those sources haven’t been tampered with – if Stalin’s regime was capable of doctoring evidence during his rule, isn’t this even more rife in an age where everyone has access to tools to doctor evidence?

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Suppose you examine an apple and determine that it’s red, sweet, smooth and crunchy. You might claim this is what the apple is. Put another way, you’ve made truth claims about the apple and seemingly made statements about real properties of the apple. But immediate problems arise. Let’s suppose your friend is color blind (this is unknown to you or her) and when she looks at the apple, she says that the apple is a dull greenish color. She also makes a truth claim about the color of the apple but it’s different than your truth claim. What color is the apple?  Well, you might respond, that’s an easy problem to solve. It’s actually red because we’ve stipulated that your friend has an anomaly in her truth-gathering equipment (vision) and even though we may not know she has it, the fact that she does means her view of reality is incorrect. But now let’s suppose everyone is color blind and we all see “red” apples as green? We can make this objection even stronger by asking how we know that we all aren’t in fact color blind in a way we don’t understand and apples really aren’t red after all. No one has access to the “real” color of the apple. Again, the response might be that that this is a knowledge problem, not a truth problem. The apple really is red but we all believe it’s green. But notice that the truth of the apple’s color has little role to play in what we believe. No one knows what the truth is and so it plays no role in our epistemology. The challenge is that our view of truth is very closely tied to our perspective on what is true. This means that in the end, we may be able to come up with a reasonable definition of truth, but if we decide that no one can get to what is true (that is, know truth), what good is the definition? Even more problematic is that our perspective will even influence our ability to come up with a definition! If I stretch the argument further, actually there is no color but reflected electromagnetic waves fall in our eyes and our brains interpret some wavelength as color. So apples have no color but we assign color. Apple is red but that redness is in our brain and not in apple. Apple is red is truth but that truth comes from us and not from apple. In other words our brain is the final arbiter of truth.

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No truth can be ‘objectively verified’ – empirically or otherwise – and the criteria by which we define truths are always relative and subjective. What we consider to be true, whether in morality, science, or art, shifts with the prevailing intellectual wind, and is therefore determined by the social, cultural and technological norms of that specific era. Non-Euclidean geometry at least partially undermines the supposed tautological nature of geometry – usually cited as the cornerstone of the rationalist’s claims that reason can provide knowledge: other geometries are possible, and equally true and consistent. This means that the truth of geometry is once more inextricably linked with your personal perspective on why one mathematical paradigm is ‘truer’ than its viable alternatives. In the end, humans are both fallible and unique, and any knowledge we discover, true or otherwise, is discovered by a human, finite, individual mind. The closest we can get to objective truth is intersubjective truth, where we have reached a general consensus due to our similar educations and social conditioning. This is why truths often don’t cross cultures. This is an idea close to ‘conceptual relativism’ – a radical development of Kant’s thinking which claims that in learning a language we learn a way of interpreting the world, and thus, to speak a different language is to inhabit a different subjective world. So our definition of truth needs to be much more flexible than Plato, Descartes and other philosophers claim. The pragmatic theory of truth is closest: that truth is the ‘thing that works’; if some other set of ideas works better, then it is truer. This is a theory Nietzsche came close to accepting.

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In an experiment by Solomon Asch, subjects were given pairs of cards. On one were three lines of different lengths; on the other card a single line. The test was to determine which of the three lines was the same length as the single line. The truth was obvious; but in the group of subjects all were stooges except one. The stooges called out answers, most of which were of the same, obviously wrong, line. The self-doubt thus incurred in the real subjects made only one quarter of them trust the evidence of their senses enough to pick the correct answer. Schopenhauer noticed the reluctance of the establishment to engage with new ideas, choosing to ignore rather than risk disputing and refuting them. Colin Wilson mentions Thomas Kuhn’s contention that “once scientists have become comfortably settled with a certain theory, they are deeply unwilling to admit that there might be anything wrong with it” and links this with the ‘Right Man’ theory of writer A.E.Van Vogt. A ‘Right Man’ would never admit that he might be wrong. Wilson suggests that people start with the ‘truth’ they want to believe, and then work backwards to find supporting evidence. Similarly, Robert Pirsig says that ideas coming from outside orthodox establishments tend to be dismissed. Thinkers hit “an invisible wall of prejudice… nobody inside… is ever going to listen… not because what you say isn’t true, but solely because you have been identified as outside that wall.” He termed this a ‘cultural immune system’.

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“We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.”

This quote has been attributed to both the Talmud and Anaïs Nin (although an actual citation for neither quote can be found). This quote summarizes the idea that truth, the truth that one perceives, is subjective and can be wrong. Our conscious experience is crucial to our grasping truth, to our knowing that we know the truth. We have long been taught that the truth will set us free, and that seeking the truth is a worthy goal. What if there is no absolute truth? What if there are just degrees of truth (or lies) that we tell ourselves? What if, as some insightful, anonymous person once purported, “People tell themselves stories, and then pour their lives into the stories they tell”?   Meaning is created in life. Neutral events are made subjective by interpreting them through the lens of perception. “Truth” is merely a product of perceptions; perceptions are colored by experience, which is then filtered through the current state of mind and altered even further. By the time the neutral event is processed in this manner, it is little more truth than fiction. Yet personal truth is accepted wholeheartedly.

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In an excellent discussion on being wrong, Kathryn Schulz states, “The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.” The point of her talk is that we are often not only wrong, but completely unaware of it. She grasps the idea that reality is filtered through perceptions and biases; and that it comes out the other side distorted but believed to be truth. Now, if you are willing to suspend your truth for a moment, and to even momentarily accept that much of what you believe may only be your version of the truth; or that what you believe is not the absolute truth, you may wonder how this is helpful to your state of mind.  Despite an initially discouraging reaction to finding you are not as in touch with truth as you had believed, the benefit to this understanding is substantial. First, when you can apply it to daily personal interactions that have heightened emotion, you can slow down the reaction by understanding you and the other individual are simply buying into your truths about the situation. This can diffuse the tension. For example Schulz describes what she calls “a series of unfortunate assumptions.” The first occurs when someone disagrees; it is assumed they are just ignorant of the facts. The solution is then simple, the facts just need to be presented, and the conflict will be resolved. Everyone can relate to this. Unfortunately, we are often stunned when that doesn’t work and the person continues to disagree with us. Often this results in repeating the “facts” in a different way, hoping the person will then understand. This leads to Schulz’s second unfortunate assumption, that the individual must be an idiot; now they have the pieces to the puzzle, “but they are two moronic to put them together correctly.” When we realize that the other has all of the same facts and they aren’t idiots, we resort to the third assumption, that they are evil. She humorously says, “they know the truth, but they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.” These assumptions are detrimental to improving personal relations. So in this way, understanding that a particular version of the truth is not the only one (and that other versions exist) can be very helpful to interpersonal relations.

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Understanding personal perception may be flawed allows one to question thinking. Questioning thinking can be helpful by realizing events are neutral; then neutral events are provided personal meaning. With this knowledge one can question why a certain meaning was given. For example, when things do not work out as planned, questioning the given meaning allows that a mistake was made in interpreting the events. This is certainly better than believing that one somehow screwed up destiny. As Shawn Achor says in his study of happiness, “Ninety percent of your long term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.” As such, it is not believing your truth that will set you free.

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Inductive and deductive truth:

Much of what we consider to be true depends upon our having repeated observations. For example, “The sun will rise tomorrow” is a proposition we believe to be true because we have had many experiences of the sun rising at approximately the same time, leading us to believe that it will rise again with similar periodicity in the future. The statement, “It will probably rain soon” might be given a high degree of credibility because we see a giant cumulus nimbus cloud overhead, and because in many other instances, such a sighting is followed by rain. When I hear the doorbell ring, there’s a good chance someone will be there when I open the door; such as been the case on many other occasions. These are so-called inductive truths. They are not derived from pure reason, but from our experience. We assume that the future will resemble the past. Many of our endeavors rely on inductive reasoning, for example, science, business, and just daily living; basically, wherever we make judgments about the future based on what occurred in the past. Now, inductive truths are notoriously less reliable than formal, deductive truths. They do not share the same apodictic nature of conclusions that depend only on definitions and rules. There are many things that can go wrong with our observations, for example, our senses can play tricks on us; appearances can be deceiving; and with particularly complex experiments, variables can be difficult to control. Underlying all of this is the assumption that there is uniformity in nature, such that the future will resemble the past, and that what we suppose to be physical laws will continue through time and from place to place. It is not irrational to make these assumptions, for they would appear to work for us. However, that by no means proves the truth of our underlying assumptions. As we see in many areas, for example, the stock market, measuring insurance risks, and meteorology, there is no guarantee that the future will resemble the past, or at least, that we can understand the latter well enough to make completely reliable assessments of what will occur.

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Etymology of truth:

Truth is from the Proto-Indo European root drew-o- and deru, meaning “be firm, solid, steadfast”, and also hard, accurate, real, upright, “rock solid”, a foundation to stand upon, an axiom. This symbolizes the solid, firm, upright and unshakable steadfastness of reality and existence. The English word true is from Old English (West Saxon) (ge)tríewe, tréowe, cognate to Old Saxon (gi)trûui, Old High German (ga)triuwu (Modern German treu “faithful”), Old Norse tryggr, Gothic triggws, all from a Proto-Germanic trewwj- “having good faith”, perhaps ultimately from PIE dru- “tree”, on the notion of “steadfast as an oak” (e.g., Sanskrit “taru” tree). Old Norse trú, “faith, word of honour; religious faith, belief” (archaic English troth “loyalty, honesty, good faith”, compare Ásatrú). Truth is hard, French dure = deru, solid, firm, it’s enduring and durable. Do you see the connection and what this symbol/term “truth” is referring to? It is clear if you look into the origin of the words to learn what this symbol was created to represent and reflect about reality.

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Defining Truth:

The simplest and most obvious definition of truth is, without a doubt, that which accords with reality. Here, we can say that truth matters because reality matters. As simple as this is, it is also begging a very important question: just how do we tell what accords with reality and what doesn’t? This is a much more difficult question to answer, one which occupies a great deal of time and attention. Of course, not everyone quite agrees that “truth” is best defined and understood simply as correspondence with reality. That certainly isn’t how everyone uses the term even in normal conversations — and it must be acknowledged that many definitions of truth are derived from a person’s philosophical system.

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Definitions of truth:

  1. The state or quality of being true to someone or something.
  2. Faithfulness, fidelity.
  3. A pledge of loyalty or faith.
  4. True facts, genuine depiction or statements of reality.
  5. Conformity to fact or reality; correctness, accuracy.
  6. Conformity to rule; exactness; close correspondence with an example, mood, model, etc.
  7. That which is real, in a deeper sense; spiritual or ‘genuine’ reality.
  8. Something acknowledged to be true; a true statement or axiom.
  9. Honesty, reliability, or veracity
  10. Accuracy, as in the setting, adjustment, or position of something, such as a mechanical instrument
  11. A verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like:
  12. That which is considered to be the ultimate ground of reality.

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What is the difference between truth and true?

Truth is a related term of true. As nouns the difference between truth and true is that truth is the state or quality of being true to someone or something while true is truth.  As verbs the difference between truth and true is that truth is to assert as true, to declare while true is to straighten. As adjective true is (of a statement) conforming to the actual state of reality or fact; factually correct. As adverb true is accurately.

‘Moment of truth’ is a time when a person or thing is tested, a decision has to be made, or a crisis has to be faced; the phrase has nothing to do with truth or true.

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Kinds of Truth:

  1. Eternal truths.
  2. Authoritative truths.
  3. Esoteric truths.
  4. Reasoned truths.
  5. Evidence-based truths.
  6. Creative truths.
  7. Relative truths.
  8. Powerful truths
  9. Moral truths.
  10. Holistic truths.
  11. Scientific truths
  12. Religious truths
  13. Historic truths
  14. Aesthetic truths

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Stages of truth:

True statements and ideas are often not recognized initially; instead, the process of acceptance is long and circuitous. The process of acknowledging a truth is broken down into three stages:

  1. The first stage is ridicule. When a new idea or concept is brought up, it’s so strange that it’s completely absurd. People cannot fathom this idea and how it fits into their lives, so they simply laugh at how impossible it seems.
  2. The second stage is opposition. After a new concept hasn’t made it past the first stage, people begin to worry that it’s here to stay. A few might support the concept, but most will resist because they see it as a threat to everything they’re familiar with.
  3. The third stage is self-evident. There is increasing evidence that supports the idea, which goes from having a few early supporters to entering the mainstream. A majority of people support the fact and come to accept it as a given.

The prominent German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is usually credited with an apothegm of this type.

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Why tell truth:

Here are some tips on why you would want to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth no matter what!

  1. Being true to yourself and true to those around you will make your life a whole lot easier.
  2. The sooner you tell the truth the easier it is.
  3. The longer we hold back the truth, the harder it is on others and ourselves.
  4. When we tell the truth our relationships grow stronger and richer. When we hold back the truth our relationships suffer including our relationship with ourselves.
  5. Telling the truth creates freedom and lightness. Holding back the truth creates excess baggage. The more we hold back the more baggage we have.
  6. When we tell the truth we are blessed with intimacy. When we hold back the truth we feel alone and separated.
  7. Telling the truth increases our ability to be happy. Withholding the truth can cause numbness, apathy, anger and sadness.
  8. When we tell the truth we become trustworthy. When we hold back the truth people don’t trust us. All relationships are built on trust.
  9. When you tell the truth it becomes easier to reach your goals. When you withhold the truth reaching your goals is a lot harder.
  10. When you tell the truth you attract people who also tell the truth. When you hold back the truth you attract needy people that drain you.
  11. Only humans can discern truth. Of all life on the planet, only humankind can rise above conditioning or instinct and identify truth, so that this is in effect one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human.
  12. Truth is an intrinsic part of human history and culture. All our historic and contemporary experience is based on identifying the best possible understanding of truth and building upon this to create a better understanding of our world and our universe.
  13. Truth is necessary for a consistent and meaningful approach to life. If we do not know whether statements are true, we cannot make reasonable decisions about our life, such as whether to marry an individual or whether to buy a particular property.
  14. Truth is useful because it enables one to make predictions. If we are confident that things are true, then we can make assertions about the future with equal confidence, such as that a particular design of aircraft is safe or a particular form of sex is dangerous.
  15. The absence of truth is positively dangerous. If truth does not matter, then we can be persuaded to do things with great personal and societal implications, such as to use an ineffective treatment for HIV/AIDS or to go to war over weapons of mass destruction that do not exist. Equally we can deny the reality of the Holocaust or the evidence of global warming.

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Theologians and philosophers have identified other reasons as well:

  1. Authentic Communication Requires Truth-telling:

Truth-telling is essential for authentic communication to occur, and makes genuine interaction between people possible. That is, if truth were not expected, it would not be long before communication would entirely break down. Imagine what it would be like living in a society in which no one expected the truth. How could a person discern what is accurate and what is a falsehood? On what basis could a person make important decisions if there was no expectation of the truth? Life would be chaotic without the norm of honesty. This is essentially the view of the philosopher Immanuel Kant, and the principle of universalizability of truth-telling (though he would not support the notion given here that there are exceptions to the universal norm). Kant argued that this principle was the test of a valid moral principle, and used truth-telling as one of his primary illustrations. He insisted that for a norm to be legitimate, it must be universalizable—applicable to everyone. One of his illustrations envisioned what might happen if no one accepted the norm in question. He correctly argued that without a universal norm of truth-telling, the basis for communication would be in jeopardy, and a society in which this was not a norm would not be functional. This is recognized by the fact that virtually every civilization has some kind of norm that promotes truth-telling and prohibits deception.

  1. Trust and Cooperation Require Truth-telling:

Truth-telling builds trust and civil cooperation among human beings. Trust is critical for a prosperous society, and being a person of one’s word establishes trust and trustworthiness. Many Proverbs bring out the connection between trustworthiness and social harmony. Adam Smith was very clear that honest dealings and trustworthiness were critical for a properly functioning market system. Cultures that are given to corruption are often in the most impoverished parts of the world, since it is more difficult and risky to do business in cultures in which the level of trust is low. Similarly, companies in which there is a culture of distrust typically have higher costs of doing business, since they require costly regimens of oversight. They also have intangible costs, as employees tend to be more reluctant to “go the extra mile” for their employer and tend to be less eager to embrace change and less committed to their work.

  1. Human Dignity Requires Truth-telling:

Truth-telling treats people with dignity. To tell someone the truth is a measure of respect that is missing when someone is lied to. The right of a person to make his or her own autonomous decisions is based on having accurate information, so much so that people often and understandably feel violated and disrespected when they are deceived. A person’s autonomy is weakened when they are deceived.

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Separating Truth from Falsehood:

How a person conceives of truth will, of course, have a profound influence upon what sorts of criteria they use of differentiating between truth and falsehood. A person who adopts the Correspondence Theory of truth will use one set of criteria while someone who adopts the Semantic Theory of truth will employ different criteria; as a consequence, they could easily look at the exact same claim and reach different conclusions about its truth status. Thus, another fundamental problem which needs to be looked at when discussing truth is: whenever someone claims that some idea is true, what exactly do they mean by “true”? And what does it mean if we say that it isn’t true? They might not mean the same things you mean! It would be difficult to disagree with a person over the truth of a claim if we aren’t speaking the same “language” of truth in the first place. If we define truth differently and use different criteria of truth, then it would be easy to disagree about what is and is not true, but very difficult to reach some sort of common ground. It isn’t unusual for people to employ very different ideas about truth unconsciously, so one of the tasks of epistemology is to develop clear and forthright explanations of the nature of truth which people can discuss out in the open, perhaps even reaching some sort of accord. Thus, it makes a lot of sense to have a clearer understanding about how you and others understand and define truth before disagreeing too strenuously about just what qualifies as true in the first place. That could prevent any number of unnecessary misunderstandings before they go too far.

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Norman Geisler offers a helpful list of what truth is and what truth is not:

What truth is not:

  1. Truth is not what works. Pragmatism says an idea is true if it works. Cheating and lying often work, but that does not make them true. How do we measure what works? Says Geisler, “An idea is not true because it works; it works because it is true.”
  2. Truth is not what feels good. Mysticism and subjectivism both affirm personal feelings as the basis of truth. But feelings can be misleading. And if two person’s feelings conflict, who decides whose is true? Feelings may or may not correspond with what is true.
  3. Truth is not whatever you want it to be. Relativism says that truth is whatever I declare it to be. But no one can live this way. If I say a traffic light is green when it is really red, there will be serious consequences. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You’re entitled to your own opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”
  4. Truth is not just what we perceive with the senses. Empiricism says that only what we can measure empirically (with the five senses) is true. But truth is more than this. What about things like justice and love? They cannot be discovered by the five senses. Also our senses can mislead us.
  5. Truth is not what the majority believe. Majoritarianism says truth is what most people agree to. But the crowd can be wrong. Most Germans believed Hitler was right in the 30s and 40s. But they were clearly wrong. Truth is not based on majority vote. Indeed, truth can easily not be known by the majority.

What truth is:

  1. Truth is universal. Truth is something true for all people, for all places, for all times. Different cultures, different historical eras, different nationalities, do not change what truth is.
  2. Truth is absolute. It is not relative. An absolute is needed for standards. There can be no standards without absolutes. Indeed, there can be no measurement without absolutes. A builder knows that if he wants a number of pieces of lumber the same exact size, he will use one piece as the standard.
  3. Truth is objective. It is “independent of the knower and his consciousness” as Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli put it. It is not based on subjective feelings or personal opinions. Truth does not reside in us or in our opinions. Personal experience is not the basis of truth. Truth is something that is external to us. We discover truth that already exists. We don’t make it up or create it.
  4. Truth corresponds with reality. It corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is what corresponds to the actual state of affairs being described. Truth is ‘telling it like it is’.
  5. Truth is based on God. God is the basis of truth. Only God provides an unchanging, universal reality upon which truth is based.
  6. Truth is personal. Truth is more than just abstract theories and propositions. Truth is something that demands a personal response. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew root usually translated true or truth means ‘something which can be relied upon’ or ‘someone who can be trusted’ as Alister McGrath notes.
  7. Truth is knowable. We may not know truth exhaustively, but we can know true truth. God has made us and the world in such a way that truth can be known. That is, while the finite can never grasp the infinite, if the infinite takes the initiative and reaches out to the finite, then that infinite truth can be known to some extent.

Note:

I disagree with Norman Geisler. God does not exist so God cannot be the basis of truth. There is no absolute truth because our brain is the final arbiter of truth.

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Proof vis-à-vis truth:

A proof is sufficient evidence or a sufficient argument for the truth of a proposition.  The concept applies in a variety of disciplines, with both the nature of the evidence or justification and the criteria for sufficiency being area-dependent. In the area of oral and written communication such as conversation, dialog, rhetoric, etc., a proof is a persuasive perlocutionary speech act, which demonstrates the truth of a proposition. In any area of mathematics defined by its assumptions or axioms, a proof is an argument establishing a theorem of that area via accepted rules of inference starting from those axioms and from other previously established theorems. The subject of logic, in particular proof theory, formalizes and studies the notion of formal proof.  In some areas of epistemology and theology, the notion of justification plays approximately the role of proof, while in jurisprudence the corresponding term is evidence, with “burden of proof” as a concept common to both philosophy and law. In most disciplines, evidence is required to prove something. Evidence is drawn from experience of the world around us, with science obtaining its evidence from nature, law obtaining its evidence from witnesses and forensic investigation, and so on. A notable exception is mathematics, whose proofs are drawn from a mathematical world begun with axioms and further developed and enriched by theorems proved earlier.

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From flat earth to spherical earth:

Today, we know the Earth is round. There’s no doubt about it. If someone tried to say otherwise, we would all laugh. But that wasn’t always the case. It took a long time for this idea to become cemented as common knowledge. In ancient Egyptian, Mediterranean and Indian cultures, it was believed that the Earth was a flat disc surrounded by oceans located at the centre of the Universe. Nordic cultures believed the Earth was flat and surrounded by oceans as well, with a world tree (Yggdrasill) was in the center. Ancient China subscribed to the theory that the Earth was flat and square, while the heavens were round. Many pre-Socratic Greek philosophers believed the Earth was flat. Some, such as Anaximander, thought the Earth was a round cylinder with a flat top. Anaximenes believed the Earth was flat and rode on the air, similar to how the Sun, Moon, and other heavenly bodies were flat and rode the air. In sixth century BC, Greek philosopher Pythagoras claimed the Earth was round, although most philosophers remained sceptical. A few hundred years later, Aristotle studied the skies and remarked in his writings De caelo that stars were seen in Egypt and Cyprus, but not in the northerly regions. Based on this and his other observations of the stars and the Moon, he argued that the Earth was a sphere. By the fifth century, the idea of a spherical Earth became more accepted. There were still scholars that opposed this view, although they were in the minority. Even though the concept of a spherical Earth was largely accepted by the medieval period, the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan proved it by organizing an expedition that resulted in the first circumnavigation of the Earth centuries later, in 1519.

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Exactly what evidence is sufficient to prove something is also strongly area-dependent, usually with no absolute threshold of sufficiency at which evidence becomes proof.  In law, the same evidence that may convince one jury may not persuade another. Aristotle used the observation that patterns of nature never display the machine-like uniformity of determinism as proof that chance is an inherent part of nature. On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas used the observation of the existence of rich patterns in nature as proof that nature is not ruled by chance.

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Bitter truth:

The “bitter truth” is nearly always in the sense of the painful truth — an unpalatable or unpleasant truth — a hard-to-swallow truth (one that’s hard to accept). The “bitter” part comes from the sense of intolerable, unbearable or unendurable. The “bitter” also overlaps in sense with harsh or corrosive in tone. Words that are harsh or biting are generally unwelcomed, so a “bitter truth” is a truth that no one wants to face (“because the truth means responsibility: that’s why everyone dreads it”). We do not want to hurt people’s feelings. Honesty without love can be cruel. But dishonesty with love can be just as unkind.  Truth is supposed to free man from a web of ignorance and deceit. Truth is supposed to equip one with knowledge and knowhow. Truth is supposed to be the bedrock of an association, a union, a bond and all that makes for superb understanding between two people or among people in a given society. The question then arises: how can a constant that is supposed to be the cement of understanding be bitter? How can something that is expected to give knowledge be considered bitter? Truth should not be considered bitter.  What is bitter is falsehood. Lying, cheating, deceit, hypocrisy, and all layers of untruth are bitter. It, therefore, cannot and should not be truth that should be considered bitter or clothed in the toga of bitter leaf. I am aware that most people do not like to be told the truth about themselves, about their character, about their dressing, about their manners, and about their excesses. That is when the truth may be considered bitter to the ears of the person being told the truth of his personal worth. A drunkard may not want his wife or his friends refer to him as such. It sounds unpalatable to his ears to be called an irresponsible husband to the bottle. It is the blunt, unadulterated truth that leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. The singular example of saying it as it is should not be sufficient to brand truth as bitter. Society must embrace the truth, and in so doing change its attitude to and branding of truth.

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Truth hurts:

As much as we say we detest people lying to us, most of us stretch the truth an average of three times during a 10-minute conversation. The reason most people give for telling little white lies is that it’s polite, and they themselves don’t always want to hear the truth if it’s disagreeable and painful. So, when does the truth hurt and when do we actually prefer a little alternative reality?

  1. Lying politician winning:

A recent study at the University of Wisconsin found that politicians who lie are longer winded than those who keep their statements brief. This study used linguistics software to analyze more than 500 statements already vetted as true or false. The New York Times fact-checked 70 statements by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and other 2016 candidates, and rated three-quarters of Trump’s statements as “Mostly False, False or ‘Pants on Fire’ (a claim that is not only inaccurate but also ridiculous).  Donald Trump won election despite people knowing that majority of his statements are false.

  1. The Truth can ruin your Appetite:

A recent poll on the Zagat Survey’s website asked restaurant goers if they like to see nutritional information on menus, and over 68 percent said, “No thanks!” As CEO Tim Zagat explains, “Many people dine out for entertainment and pleasure; therefore, they are less inclined to calorie count or obsess over the nutritional information. Patrons who are health conscious are already aware of what dishes are in line with their diets.”

  1. If you love me, you’ll lie to me:

“Children receive mixed messages in this society—we punish them for lying but tell them it’s rude to say they don’t like a Christmas gift,” says Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., who headed a study on liars at the University of Virginia, in which college students reported lying to their parents at least 50 percent of the time. “The result,” she says, “is that they grow up lying to us and justify it by saying it’s to spare our feelings.”

  1. Falling in love with Lies:

Not only do people routinely lie to each other when dating but, surprisingly, many people accept deception as a routine part of the courting ritual. DePaulo surveyed 147 people age 18 to 71 and found that 100 percent of dating couples copped to lying to their beloved at least a third of the time. Feldman, who has also studied deception between the sexes, found that women fib more often than men because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, while men are more likely to be stretching the truth to make themselves look better.

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Why does the truth hurt?

  1. We fear accountability. If we commit to truth we will face both the opportunity for rejection and failure. Living in grey areas makes it easier to shrug off challenges.
  2. We fear conflict. People avoid direct conversation because we lie to be liked… I mean we like to be liked. That’s right; we lie to be liked because we like to be liked. Does that mean you intentionally speak falsehoods? No. More likely you accept falsehood and fail to call them out. Because to call someone out means they may reject you, or worse yet, attack you personally – because if you can’t discredit the facts you can attempt to discredit the speaker.
  3. We probably don’t care enough. We don’t care enough about the truth or about telling it. An “it’s all good” or “everything’s relative” attitude is pervasive and ignorant to the reality that there are absolutes and rights/wrongs. Likewise, if we don’t care about truth we won’t care about telling it.

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How to tell truth when it hurts:

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the truth. Telling a hard truth can mean many different things, from that awkward moment when you let a friend know their zipper’s undone, to telling a romantic partner that you’re having issues with the relationship. Be it significant other, friend, coworker, or family member, telling someone the truth is generally the right decision. It leads to open and honest communication about how to move forward in a constructive way. Though it may seem scary, using kind language, exhibiting empathy, and being open minded will help you get through a hard conversation with grace.

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Handle the Truth about Yourself:

Here are few things to keep in mind when you hear the truth about yourself.

  1. When you hear the truth about yourself, expect your brain to defend, rationalize, melt down, flip out, and push back. Be aware that your first response will often be the worst one, and work through it. Because it hurts to hear the truth, our brains are automatically going to defend, even if those defenses are exactly what got us here. The second your friend tells you a hard thing, the limbic system (emotions and drives) perceives a threat and takes over and initiates a fight-or-flight response, while your frontal cortex (reason and judgment) literally shuts down. It takes a huge self-awareness to understand the mental processes when we face criticism.
  2. When you hear the truth about yourself, the person who tells you the truth isn’t perfect and probably won’t say it perfectly, but that’s no excuse not to consider their words. The temptation when we hear criticism is to use the Mirror Defense, which is saying, “Well, what about you?” We want to discredit the source of the truth, so we drag up old history and the other person’s weaknesses for self-preservation. Or we say, “I don’t like your tone” and use their voice against them. The problem is, two wrongs can never make a right. In other words, someone else’s bad thing doesn’t cancel my bad thing. Even if the other person is a hypocrite, it doesn’t magically erase my own hypocrisy. And no one in the history of accountability has ever used perfect intonation and the perfect wording to tell the hard truth.
  3. When you hear the truth about yourself, instead of fighting back or shutting down, ask specific questions about how to move forward.

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Should doctors tell the truth?

Should physicians not tell the truth to patients in order to relieve their fears and anxieties? This may seem simple but really it is a hard question. Not telling the truth may take many forms, has many purposes, and leads to many different consequences. Questions about truth and untruth in fact pervade all human communication. They are raised in families, clubs, work places, churches, and certainly in the doctor/patient relationship. In each context, the questions are somewhat differently configured. Not telling the truth in the doctor-patient relationship requires special attention because patients today, more than ever, experience serious harm if they are lied to. Not only is patient autonomy undermined but patients who are not told the truth about an intervention experience a loss of that all-important trust which is required for healing. Honesty matters to patients. They need it because they are ill, vulnerable, and burdened with pressing questions which require truthful answers.

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Subtleties about truth-telling are embedded in complex clinical contexts. The complexities of modern medicine are such that honesty or truth, in the sense of simply telling another person what one believes, is an oversimplification. There are limits to what a doctor or nurse can disclose. Doctors and nurses have duties to others besides their patients; their professions, public health law, science, to mention just a few. They also have obligations created by institutional policies, contractual arrangements, and their own family commitments. The many moral obligations a nurse or physician may have to persons and groups other than to the patient complicates the question of just how much a professional should disclose to his or her patients. Doctors and nurses in some cultures believe that it is not wrong to lie about a bad diagnosis or prognosis. Certainly this is a difficult truth to tell but on balance, there are many benefits to telling the truth and many reasons not to tell a lie.

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Lying in a clinical context is wrong for many reasons but less than full disclosure may be morally justifiable. If a patient is depressed and irrational and suicidal, then caution is required lest full disclosure contribute to grave harm. If a patient is overly pessimistic, disclosure of negative possibilities may actually contribute to actualizing these very possibilities. Now that so many medical interventions are available it is obviously wrong not to disclose the truth to a patient when the motive is to justify continued intervention or in order to cover up for one’s own failures for your benefit, not the benefit of the patient. Doctors and nurses, however, can do as much harm by cold and crude truth-telling as they can by cold and cruel withholding of the truth. To tell the truth in the clinical context requires compassion, intelligence, sensitivity, and a commitment to staying with the patient after the truth has been revealed.

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Genetic testing:

In 2006 in California, Anne Wojcicki co-founded the personal genetics company with the mission of ‘helping people access, understand and benefit from the human genome’. For around $100 and a saliva sample, anyone can receive detailed information about their ancestry. If you live in the UK, you also get a range of health information, including genetic risks.  Better genetic information certainly has huge potential to help people optimise their health and live longer. Knowing you’re at increased risk of certain diseases gives you the option of taking steps to reduce that risk. In 2013, when the actress Angelina Jolie found out she had the BRCA1 gene and an estimated 87 per cent chance of developing breast cancer at some point over her life, she opted to have a preventative double mastectomy – reducing her risk to 5 per cent. Jolie clearly felt that this information made her much better off. But more genetic information isn’t always better. Unlike for breast cancer, there are no clear preventative measures you can take if you find out you have a high risk of developing Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. If that knowledge is going to be a dark cloud over your life, you might reasonably prefer not to know. Information about biological relatives has helped to reunite families, but it has also torn them apart. When ‘George Doe’ (an alias) gave his parents the ‘gift’ of genetic testing, he found out that he had a half-brother that no one else in his family knew about. His ‘gift’ to his parents turned out to be a divorce.

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Every patient needs an explanation of his illness that will be understandable and convincing to him if he is to cooperate in his treatment or be relieved of the burden of unknown fears. This is true whether it is a question of giving a diagnosis in a hopeful situation or of confirming a poor prognosis. The fact that a patient does not ask does not mean that he has no questions. One visit or talk is rarely enough. It is only by waiting and listening that we can gain an idea of what we should be saying. Silences and gaps are often more revealing than words as we try to learn what a patient is facing as he travels along the constantly changing journey of his illness and his thoughts about it. The main argument against a policy of deliberate, invariable denial of unpleasant facts is that it makes such communication extremely difficult, if not impossible. Once the possibility of talking frankly with a patient has been admitted, it does not mean that this will always take place, but the whole atmosphere is changed. We are then free to wait quietly for clues from each patient, seeing them as individuals from whom we can expect intelligence, courage, and individual decisions. They will feel secure enough to give us these clues when they wish. Finally, to tell the truth is not to deny hope. Hope and truth and even friendship and love are all part of an ethics of caring to the end.

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Truth or Happiness:

A study found that students slightly favor Happiness to Truth. Specifically, about 58% of the students choose “Happiness,” and the rest (about 42%) choose “Truth.” At first blush, this result might appear to contradict what the happiness researchers say, namely, that happiness is everyone’s most important goal. It would seem that quite a few people are more interested in knowing the Truth than in being Happy. However, such a conclusion is not necessarily valid.  In other studies, authors first put participants in a happy or sad mood. Then, they asked participants to read an essay about the effects of caffeine consumption. The essay highlighted both positive effects of caffeine consumption (“caffeine promotes mental alertness,” “caffeine can help avert Alzheimer’s,” etc.) as well as negative effects (“caffeine makes you nervous and jittery,” “caffeine can cause cancer,” etc.). What they wanted to test was this: Would peoples’ mood-state make a difference to their receptivity to the negative information about caffeine? Specifically, would happy or sad participants be more willing to process negative information about caffeine? The findings revealed that participants’ mood did make a difference to their receptivity to negative information: Participants in a positive mood were more likely to process negative effects of caffeine consumption. Participants in a negative mood, on the other hand, were much more likely to process positive information about caffeine. These results suggest that participants in a negative mood were much more interested in “repairing” their mood (i.e., becoming more “happy”), whereas those in a positive mood were more receptive to the “truth” (in this case, about the effects of caffeine consumption). These results have important implications for the circumstances under which people are like to choose Truth over Happiness. Specifically, it suggests that people may be more willing to seek Truth only if they are feeling sufficiently happy and not otherwise. This, in fact, turned out to be the case with students as well: those who chose Truth were, at the time of making the choice, less stressed out and more happy than those who chose Happiness. What this suggests is that there is a hierarchy to the order in which people seek Happiness vs. Truth: Happiness is sought first, and only after a “critical level” of happiness has been achieved does one have an appetite for Truth. In other words, Happiness does seem to be a more important goal than is the Truth for most people, but, once Happiness is achieved; Truth-seeking becomes more important.

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Truthlikeness:

Verisimilitude (or truthlikeness) is a philosophical concept that distinguishes between the relative and apparent (or seemingly so) truth and falsity of assertions and hypotheses. The problem of verisimilitude is the problem of articulating what it takes for one false theory to be closer to the truth than another false theory. This problem was central to the philosophy of Karl Popper, largely because Popper was among the first to affirm that truth is the aim of scientific inquiry while acknowledging that most of the greatest scientific theories in the history of science are, strictly speaking, false. If this long string of purportedly false theories is to constitute progress with respect to the goal of truth, then it must be at least possible for one false theory to be closer to the truth than others. Even if truth is problematic to define or explain, or even not really required, we still have the vague idea that some theories are better than others—closer to the truth, whatever it is, or less wrong. This is what we mean by truthlike, or stating the degree of truth rather than truth or falsity of a theory; in Popper’s terminology, as we saw previously, it is called verisimilitude. Consider the problem of discovering the temperature at which water boils at sea level, along with two estimates: 105 and 150 degrees Celsius. The propositions “the boiling point is 105 degrees” and “the boiling point is 150 degrees” are both false, but it seems that this doesn’t say enough; in fact, 105 is a better guess, and so to be preferred (we would think).

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Truthiness:

Truthiness is the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions. American television comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term truthiness in this meaning as the subject of a segment called “The Wørd” during the pilot episode of his political satire program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005. By using this as part of his routine, Colbert satirized the misuse of appeal to emotion and “gut feeling” as a rhetorical device in contemporaneous socio-political discourse. He particularly applied it to U.S. President George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. According to Colbert, while truthiness refers to statements that feel true but are actually false, “trumpiness” does not even have to feel true, much less be true. As evidence that Trump’s remarks exhibit this quality, he cited a Washington Post column stating that many Trump supporters did not believe his “wildest promises” but supported him anyway. Truthiness, Merriam-Webster’s 2006 word of the year, is “the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition…without regard to logic [or] factual evidence.”

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Although Colbert deserves credit for coining the word, psychologists have long known that people rely on their feelings to draw all sorts of conclusions, and a recent paper clarifies one situation that seems to lead us to strong feelings of truthiness – the presence of additional related (but irrelevant) information. The research finds that a statement in the presence of images or other additional information enhances people’s feelings of truthiness, even when they don’t provide any evidence the statement is true. This is especially important in the context of political campaigns, as it suggests that that the mere presence of a picture next to a candidate’s written claims could lead people to be more likely to believe them. And the work is another demonstration of the ease with which our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors can be manipulated through relatively innocuous means. The authors, researchers from Victoria University of Wellington, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and University of Victoria, performed four experiments. In the first three studies, participants viewed names of celebrities, displayed one at a time. Some of the names also had a picture or a short verbal description attached. Finally, half of the participants judged the truth of the statement “this famous person is alive,” while the rest judged the truth of, “this famous person is dead.” The participants were more likely to judge a statement as true when it was accompanied by a picture or by a short description, regardless of whether the statement was that the individual was alive, or that the individual was dead. The effect was stronger for less familiar celebrities. In a related experiment, the researchers showed the effect was not particular to celebrities. Participants viewed trivia statements, some of which were accompanied by related photos which provided no evidence of the truth of the statement, and indicated whether they thought the statement was true or false. For example, next to the statement “macadamia nuts are in the same evolutionary family as peaches,” a participant might see a picture of macadamia nuts. The photos increased the bias toward rating statements as true. The fact that irrelevant pictures alter our perceptions of truth is related to a general principle about the way our minds work. Our judgments are based on not only the information we’re considering, but the way in which that information is processed and organized. The ease with which information is processed has long been known to lead to specific biases. The reasoning works as follows: when considering some piece of new information, an individual will attempt to remember other bits of consistent information. The more easily these bits of information are retrieved, the more likely the new information is going to be tagged as true. So, if you are told, “an ostrich’s eye is bigger than it’s brain,” you will attempt to recall all the information you know about ostriches, eyes, and brains. The easier you bring this information to mind, the more likely you are to decide that the statement is true (spoiler: it’s true). This ease-of-recall is known as fluency, and the effect of fluency is extremely wide-ranging. While the present paper shows that we judge fluent information as more true, previous work has shown that fluently processed faces are judged to be more attractive, and fluently processed names more frequent. In fact, the Nobel prize was awarded to Daniel Kahneman 2002 for work which showed, among other things, that the ease with which we can bring information to mind leads to an assortment of biases in decision making.  Though the authors believe that this fluency explanation is the most likely one, it is impossible at this stage to rule out other explanations. The authors speculate that it is possible, for example, that the pictures or text could lead people to preferentially look for evidence consistent with the statement. For example, if presented with a photo of a celebrity, and the statement, “This famous person is alive,” one might seek out elements of the picture which provide support for the statement that he or she is alive, and ignore those elements of the picture which might suggest that he or she is not alive, like signs the picture comes from a previous decade. Further work should be able to disentangle which explanation is more correct.

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Telling the Truth goes well beyond mere Honesty:

In order to be honest you merely need to be sincere. And you can be sincerely wrong. In order to tell the truth you have to have the truth. And putting yourself into the position to actually have the truth, and not just think you have it, is a difficult matter that requires openness, vigilance, and humility. If we set out to tell the truth to others, we have to first make sure we are not fooling ourselves about how much we know.

Here are some of the things we must be willing to do if we want to tell the truth to others:

  1. Question ourselves and how we came to have the beliefs we have. How did this happen? Was it a reliable process? Or did we just adopt the views of those around us uncritically?
  2. Change our minds often. We must reduce the confidence we have in a belief when contrary evidence comes to light, or when we realize we do not have a firm basis for believing it.
  3. Actively look for evidence against our view, and seriously consider whether we might be wrong.
  4. Learn about cognitive and motivational biases and try to correct for these biases in our own thinking.
  5. Look at issues from every relevant point of view we can think of to see if we might be missing something — especially on complex normative issues.
  6. Try not to overstate our confidence — especially publicly, because we know that once we are on record with an opinion it’s difficult to change course even when we are wrong.
  7. Learn just a smidgen of statistics so we can be appropriately skeptical when interpreting the results of scientific studies.

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Denial of truth:

Acceptance of the truth would seem to be self-evidently a sensible thing, so why do so many people so often deny the truth? There are many reasons including the following:

  • They are advised against the truth by an authority figure. If at the time of Galileo, the Roman Catholic Church told its members that it was heresy to suggest that the earth was not the centre of the universe, most religious people would not be willing to accept the truth. Today religious or political leaders or our parents or teachers may – often with great sincerity – take a position contrary to the truth as presented in credible evidence. As the writer George Orwell once put it: “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals can believe them”.
  • The truth may be contrary to the status quo. Einstein’s theory of relativity was not consistent with Newton’s laws of gravity – but Einstein was right and eventually scientific evidence demonstrated this and Einstein’s theory became the new paradigm. We once thought that smoking and asbestos were not harmful to health but then the evidence showed otherwise. This is what happens in science and life and we should be open to it.
  • The truth may offend against a received wisdom. For instance, it may seem obvious to supporters of capital punishment that the death penalty is a deterrent but countless studies show that it has no effect on murder rates.
  • One may not like the source of the truth. If a person whom we dislike or an organisation that we oppose – perhaps a political party or a campaign group – puts forward an assertion, we may be inclined to dismiss it, whatever the evidence, because we are to some extent influenced, even blinded, by the source.
  • One may feel that there is an alternative explanation. Of course, there are often alternative explanations; the question is whether an alternative explanation both is consistent with all the evidence and better accords with the evidence than the explanation offered.
  • One may feel that there is other evidence. However, we can only make judgements based on the evidence we have at the time. This is how individuals, businesses and courts make decisions. If new evidence becomes available, then one can reassess one’s position. As the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes once put it: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
  • One may simply not understand either the evidence or the arguments. In which case, one either takes the studies and the time to understand or one accepts the authority of those who have the relevant knowledge and expertise.
  • One may actually have a fear of the truth. Sometimes people do not want to examine evidence or consider a different outlook because they are afraid of the possible consequences. Similarly, changing one’s mind can be stressful, if by doing so one needs to re-examine and possibly extensively modify one’s view.

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Theories of truth:

Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest. Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years. Moreover, a huge variety of issues in philosophy relate to truth, either by relying on theses about truth, or implying theses about truth. Various theories and views of truth continue to be debated among scholars, philosophers, and theologians. The question of what is a proper basis for deciding how words, symbols, ideas and beliefs may properly be considered true, whether by a single person or an entire society, is dealt with by most prevalent substantive theories discussed below. Each presents perspectives that are widely shared by published scholars. However, the substantive theories are not universally accepted. More recently developed “deflationary” or “minimalist” theories of truth have emerged as competitors to the older substantive theories. Minimalist reasoning centres around the notion that the application of a term like true to a statement does not assert anything significant about it, for instance, anything about its nature. Minimalist reasoning realises truth as a label utilised in general discourse to express agreement, to stress claims, or to form general assumptions.

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Substantive theories of truth:

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  1. Correspondence theory:

The correspondence theory of truth states that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world. Correspondence theories claim that true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of affairs. This type of theory attempts to posit a relationship between thoughts or statements on one hand, and things or facts on the other. It is a traditional model which goes back at least to some of the classical Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. This class of theories holds that the truth or the falsity of a representation is determined solely by how it relates to a reality; that is, by whether it accurately describes that reality. This type of theory stresses a relationship between thoughts or statements on one hand, and things or objects on the other. Correspondence Theory proposes that a proposition is true if it corresponds to the facts. Example: “The apple is sitting on the table” can be true only if the apple is in fact sitting on the table.  Often traced back to Thomas Aquinas’ version: “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality” Also leaves room for the idea that “true” may be applied to people (a “true friend”) as well as to thoughts. In order to prove that “It is raining today” is true, according to the correspondence theory, all one must do is look out the window and verify that it is in fact raining. According to Descartes, “I have never had any doubts about truth, because it seems a notion so transcendentally clear that nobody can be ignorant of it…the word ‘truth,’ in the strict sense, denotes the conformity of thought with its object”.

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Limitations of correspondence theory:

  1. Language:

Correspondence theory centres heavily around the assumption that truth is a matter of accurately copying what is known as “objective reality” and then representing it in thoughts, words and other symbols.  Many modern theorists have stated that this ideal cannot be achieved without analysing additional factors.  For example, language plays a role in that all languages have words to represent concepts that are virtually undefined in other languages. The German word Zeitgeist is one such example: one who speaks or understands the language may “know” what it means, but any translation of the word apparently fails to accurately capture its full meaning (this is a problem with many abstract words, especially those derived in agglutinative languages). Thus, some words add an additional parameter to the construction of an accurate truth predicate. Among the philosophers who grappled with this problem is Alfred Tarski, whose semantic theory is summarized further below in this article. Some philosophers claim that asserting that a word corresponds to an actual object in reality is rather like comparing apples and oranges. Language is by nature ambiguous – a word for an object differs from culture to culture, and even from person to person.  For example, wet, non-frozen precipitation that falls from the sky is called “rain” in English, “la pluie” in French, and “regen” in German. In addition, even within a language, one person may call a light rain a “drizzle” while another might call it a “shower” This ambiguity can cause issues when illustrating how a word corresponds to a particular object or event. Proponents of several of the theories below have gone further to assert that there are yet other issues necessary to the analysis, such as interpersonal power struggles, community interactions, personal biases and other factors involved in deciding what is seen as truth.

  1. Circular Reasoning:

Correspondence Theory claims that a proposition is true if it corresponds to the facts. A fact is, by definition, a true proposition. So a proposition is true if it corresponds another proposition that is true. The facts must also be proven to be true – by showing that they correspond to other facts. An important rule of writing a definition is that one cannot use the word you are defining in the definition of the word, which is what Correspondence Theory does, in a sense. This leads to Circular Reasoning. It’s rather like defining apple as an apple-like.

  1. Difficulty in Mathematical truth:

Correspondence Theory may appear to make sense when it applied to language, but it runs into difficulty when applied to the truths of mathematics.

What “factual reality” does the proposition 5+2=7 correspond to?

We might point to practical examples, such as 5 pencils plus 2 pencils leaves you with 7 pencils

While that is true, the original proposition says nothing about pencils – and we certainly recognize that there is no such object as ‘5’ or ‘2’ in the real world. The world of numbers appears to be too theoretical to be accurately explained by the Correspondence Theory.

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Truthbearers and Truthmakers:

Correspondence theories of truth have been given for beliefs, thoughts, ideas, judgments, statements, assertions, utterances, sentences, and propositions. It has become customary to talk of truthbearers whenever one wants to stay neutral between these choices. The term “truthbearer” is intended to refer to bearers of truth or falsehood (truth-value-bearers), or alternatively, to things of which it makes sense to ask whether they are true or false. Talk of truthmakers serves a function similar, but correlative, to talk of truthbearers. A truthmaker is anything that makes some truthbearer true. Different versions of the correspondence theory will have different, and often competing, views about what sort of items true truthbearers correspond to (facts, states of affairs, events, things, tropes, properties). It is convenient to talk of truthmakers whenever one wants to stay neutral between these choices.

Truthmaker Theory:

Truthmaker theory is the branch of metaphysics that explores the relationships between what is true and what exists. Discussions of truthmakers and truthmaking typically start with the idea that truth depends on being, and not vice versa. For example, if the sentence ‘Kangaroos live in Australia’ is true, then there are kangaroos living in Australia. And if there are kangaroos living in Australia, then the sentence ‘Kangaroos live in Australia’ is true. But we can ask whether the sentence is true because of the way the world is, or whether the world is the way it is because the sentence is true. Truthmaker theorists make the former claim that the sentence is true because of what exists in the world; it is not the case that the world is the way it is because of which sentences are true. Truthmaker theorists use this fundamental idea as a starting point for clarifying the nature of truth and its relationship to ontology, and to advance various views in metaphysics concerning the nature of the past and future, counterfactual conditionals, modality, and many others.

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Semantic theory of truth:

In 1944, Alfred Tarski proposed his semantic theory as a successor to the correspondence theory, expanding on it somewhat but dropping the problematic concepts of facts and correspondence. The semantic theory of truth has as its general case for a given language. Here he restricted it in this way: no language could contain its own truth predicate, that is, the expression is true could only apply to sentences in some other language. The latter he called an object language, the language being talked about. (It may, in turn, have a truth predicate that can be applied to sentences in still another language.) The reason for his restriction was that languages that contain their own truth predicate will contain paradoxical sentences such as, “This sentence is not true”. As a result, Tarski held that the semantic theory could not be applied to any natural language, such as English, because they contain their own truth predicates. He suggested that a proposition is true if and only if a claim about the world holds. Thus, the proposition “Hugo is dull” is true if, in fact, Hugo really is dull; conversely, if Hugo is dull then the proposition “Hugo is dull” is true. More generally, we have “p is true if and only if p”, where p represents some proposition. A similar rendering would apply to falsity.

This is an improvement on the correspondence theory because we can write the condition as follows:

  • The proposition (“Hugo is dull”) is true (1)
  • if and only if (2)
  • Hugo is dull. (3)

In this layout, only (1) is talking about truth, while (3) is a claim (which may or may not be accurate) about the world; any reference to facts or correspondence is gone. Note that we are not saying “Hugo is dull if and only if Hugo is dull”, which is trivially so (a tautology) but says nothing about truth. Tarski was concerned to separate what he called the object language (the part in quotations, describing the object of discussion) and the metalanguage (the rest of the sentence, containing the object).

Kripke’s theory of truth:

Saul Kripke contends that a natural language can in fact contain its own truth predicate without giving rise to contradiction. However it has been claimed that Kripke’s system indeed leads to contradiction: while its truth predicate is only partial, it does give truth value (true/false) to propositions such as the one built in Tarski’s proof, and is therefore inconsistent. While there is still a debate on whether Tarski’s proof can be implemented to every similar partial truth system, none have been shown to be consistent by acceptable methods used in mathematical logic.

Revision theory of truth:

The revision theory of truth, as developed by Anil Gupta and Nuel Belnap, takes truth to be a circular concept whose definition is the set of biconditionals of the form.

‘A’ is true if and only if A.

Unlike Kripke’s theory of truth, revision theory can be used with classical logic and can maintain the principle of bivalence.

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  1. Coherence theory:

In general terms, the theory says that a proposition is true if it coheres (or agrees) with other propositions we already hold to be true. For coherence theories in general, truth requires a proper fit of elements within a whole system. Very often, though, coherence is taken to imply something more than simple logical consistency; often there is a demand that the propositions in a coherent system lend mutual inferential support to each other. So, for example, the completeness and comprehensiveness of the underlying set of concepts is a critical factor in judging the validity and usefulness of a coherent system.  A pervasive tenet of coherence theories is the idea that truth is primarily a property of whole systems of propositions, and can be ascribed to individual propositions only according to their coherence with the whole. Among the assortment of perspectives commonly regarded as coherence theory, theorists differ on the question of whether coherence entails many possible true systems of thought or only a single absolute system. Coherence theories distinguish the thought of rationalist philosophers, particularly of Spinoza, Leibniz, and G.W.F. Hegel, along with the British philosopher F.H. Bradley.[29] They have found a resurgence also among several proponents of logical positivism, notably Otto Neurath and Carl Hempel.

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The easiest way to appreciate what this means is to consider an example: suppose a person drops an expensive vase when browsing in an antique shop and is asked to pay for it. Instead, the person offers the explanation or proposition “I dropped it because an African elephant knocked it from my grasp, since we were arguing over who should buy it”. Why might we not accept this story?

  • African elephants are not known to talk.
  • African elephants are not known to be patrons of antique shops.
  • African elephants are not found in this part of the world.
  • No elephant was known to be within a certain number of kilometres of the shop.
  • No-one else in the shop saw the elephant.

And so on. Each item in the list is some other proposition we already hold to be true, or approximately so. Given, then, that the person’s claim conflicts (or fails to cohere) with the set of propositions we have previously accepted, we reject it and call it false. Note that this is much the same way as we usually come by knowledge, especially on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, this has nothing at all to do with Ockham’s Razor or the likelihood of different explanations; indeed, it seems that when people appeal to Ockham they are usually employing a coherence theory instead. Coherence Theory is referred by many idealists. For idealists, reality is like a collection of beliefs, which makes the coherence theory particularly attractive. The coherence theory of truth states that if a proposition coheres with all the other propositions taken to be true, then it is true.

It makes sense out of the idea of mathematical truths:

E.g.: (5+2=7) is true because: 7=7; 1+6=7; 21/3= (2×3) +1; are all true.

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A coherence theory of truth states that the truth of any (true) proposition consists in its coherence with some specified set of propositions. The coherence theory differs from its principal competitor, the correspondence theory of truth, in two essential respects. The competing theories give conflicting accounts of the relation that propositions bear to their truth conditions. (Here ‘proposition’ is not used in any technical sense. It simply refers to the bearers of truth values, whatever they may be.) According to one, the relation is coherence, according to the other, it is correspondence. The two theories also give conflicting accounts of truth conditions. According to the coherence theory, the truth conditions of propositions consist in other propositions. The correspondence theory, in contrast, states that the truth conditions of propositions are not (in general) propositions, but rather objective features of the world. (Even the correspondence theorist holds that propositions about propositions have propositions as their truth conditions.) Although the coherence and correspondence theories are fundamentally opposed in this way, they both present (in contrast to deflationary theories of truth) a substantive conception of truth. That is, unlike deflationary theories, the coherence and correspondence theories both hold that truth is a property of propositions that can be analysed in terms of the sorts of truth-conditions propositions have, and the relations propositions stand in to these conditions.

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To make the coherence theory general we say that “a proposition is true if and only if it coheres with x”; the problematic aspect of the theory—and the resulting critiques—come from what to use in place of x and what we mean by “cohere”. The first—and obvious—objection, though, is that a proposition may still be true (in another sense) even if it fails to cohere; perhaps the propositions we already accept are mistaken and need to be rejected in favour of the new one? This has happened very many times in the history of ideas, and often we need to see common facts in a new light in order to reinterpret or discard them altogether in favour of a different approach. Insisting on a coherence theory in this way, then, would be poor methodological advice and would have halted some of the changes in our knowledge that we now tend to regard as progress. Now we come to the question “cohere with what?” If we answer “those things we already know” then who decides what we already know? After all, there is hardly agreement about lots of things, least of all what truth and knowledge mean in the first place. What if individual people have conflicting sets of beliefs or ideas that they hold to be true and against which they compare new propositions? For instance, the claim “Australia lost because they had a bad game” might cohere with the prior proposition “Australia are too good to lose to England unless they have a bad game” which is accepted by one person but not another; in that case, we would have a proposition which is true for one and false for the other, which hardly makes sense if we want to maintain the notion that a proposition is either true or false. We could say instead that we mean cohere with the majority of people’s ideas, or the judgement of experts, but why should we expect either to be a good choice? Moreover, many people believe contradictory things—and the idea of coherence with a group of propositions that are themselves contradictory scarcely makes any more sense. We could try suggesting that we use those propositions that are consistent and believed in by the largest number of people, but those people may still be wrong.  Lastly, what do we mean when we use the term “cohere” in this way? We could respond that it means “agree” or “consistent with”, but what then do these mean in the context of truth? We want to avoid having to say that two propositions cohere because they may both be true together, since then we already assume the concept of truth in trying to define or explain it. In general, does the coherence theory help us to answer the question “what is truth?” or does it just give us a way to test for it?

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Some variants of coherence theory are claimed to describe the essential and intrinsic properties of formal systems in logic and mathematics. However, formal reasoners are content to contemplate axiomatically independent and sometimes mutually contradictory systems side by side, for example, the various alternative geometries. On the whole, coherence theories have been rejected for lacking justification in their application to other areas of truth, especially with respect to assertions about the natural world, empirical data in general, assertions about practical matters of psychology and society, especially when used without support from the other major theories of truth. Like the Correspondence theory, the Coherence theory falls prey to circular reasoning. E.g.: Proposition A is true because propositions B and C are true. But how do you know B is true? Because proposition A and C are true. But what external evidence is there to support the truth of any of these propositions?

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  1. Constructivist theory:

Social constructivism holds that truth is constructed by social processes, is historically and culturally specific, and that it is in part shaped through the power struggles within a community. Constructivism views all of our knowledge as “constructed,” because it does not reflect any external “transcendent” realities (as a pure correspondence theory might hold). Rather, perceptions of truth are viewed as contingent on convention, human perception, and social experience. It is believed by constructivists that representations of physical and biological reality, including race, sexuality, and gender, are socially constructed. Giambattista Vico was among the first to claim that history and culture were man-made. Vico’s epistemological orientation gathers the most diverse rays and unfolds in one axiom—verum ipsum factum—”truth itself is constructed”. Hegel and Marx were among the other early proponents of the premise that truth is, or can be, socially constructed.

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  1. Consensus theory:

Consensus theory holds that truth is whatever is agreed upon, or in some versions, might come to be agreed upon, by some specified group. Such a group might include all human beings, or a subset thereof consisting of more than one person. Among the current advocates of consensus theory as a useful accounting of the concept of “truth” is the philosopher Jürgen Habermas.  Habermas maintains that truth is what would be agreed upon in an ideal speech situation. Among the current strong critics of consensus theory is the philosopher Nicholas Rescher.

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  1. Pragmatic theory:

For pragmatists, truth, like other concepts, is to be understood in terms of practice. The three most influential forms of the pragmatic theory of truth were introduced around the turn of the 20th century by Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Although there are wide differences in viewpoint among these and other proponents of pragmatic theory, they hold in common that truth is verified and confirmed by the results of putting one’s concepts into practice. According to this version of truth, a proposition is true if it is useful to believe it. Another way of putting this is to say that those propositions that best justify what we do and help us to achieve what we are aiming at are true.

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Peirce defines truth as follows: “Truth is that concordance of an abstract statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief, which concordance the abstract statement may possess by virtue of the confession of its inaccuracy and one-sidedness, and this confession is an essential ingredient of truth.” This statement stresses Peirce’s view that ideas of approximation, incompleteness, and partiality, what he describes elsewhere as fallibilism and “reference to the future”, are essential to a proper conception of truth. Although Peirce uses words like concordance and correspondence to describe one aspect of the pragmatic sign relation, he is also quite explicit in saying that definitions of truth based on mere correspondence are no more than nominal definitions, which he accords a lower status than real definitions. William James’s version of pragmatic theory, while complex, is often summarized by his statement that “the ‘true’ is only the expedient in our way of thinking, just as the ‘right’ is only the expedient in our way of behaving.” By this, James meant that truth is a quality, the value of which is confirmed by its effectiveness when applying concepts to practice (thus, “pragmatic”). John Dewey, less broadly than James but more broadly than Peirce, held that inquiry, whether scientific, technical, sociological, philosophical or cultural, is self-corrective over time if openly submitted for testing by a community of inquirers in order to clarify, justify, refine and/or refute proposed truths.

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Though not widely known, a new variation of the pragmatic theory was defined and wielded successfully from the 20th century forward. Defined and named by William Ernest Hocking, this variation is known as “negative pragmatism”. Essentially, what works may or may not be true, but what fails cannot be true because the truth always works. Richard Feynman also ascribed to it: “We never are definitely right, we can only be sure we are wrong.” This approach incorporates many of the ideas from Peirce, James, and Dewey. For Peirce, the idea of “… endless investigation would tend to bring about scientific belief …” fits negative pragmatism in that a negative pragmatist would never stop testing. As Feynman noted, an idea or theory “… could never be proved right, because tomorrow’s experiment might succeed in proving wrong what you thought was right.”  Similarly, James and Dewey’s ideas also ascribe truth to repeated testing which is “self-corrective” over time. Pragmatism and negative pragmatism are also closely aligned with the coherence theory of truth in that any testing should not be isolated but rather incorporate knowledge from all human endeavours and experience. The universe is a whole and integrated system, and testing should acknowledge and account for its diversity. As Feynman said, “… if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.”

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  1. Pluralist theories:

Several of the major theories of truth hold that there is a particular property the having of which makes a belief or proposition true. Pluralist theories of truth assert that there may be more than one property that makes propositions true: ethical propositions might be true by virtue of coherence. Propositions about the physical world might be true by corresponding to the objects and properties they are about. The basic idea behind all forms of truth pluralism is that the analysis of truth may require different treatment for different kinds of subject matter. This idea is normally spelled out using the notion of a domain of discourse (or region of thought). This is a formalization of the idea that human thought and discourse can be about a large number of different subjects. For instance, we may debate about whether a particular joke is funny, whether an action is morally wrong, whether the earth goes around the sun, or whether there is a largest prime number. The thought is that these debates concern very different things, and this needs to be taken into account when we come to analyse the claims made in them.

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Minimalist (deflationary) theories of truth:

Modern developments in the field of philosophy, starting with the relatively modern notion that a theory being old does not necessarily imply that it is completely flawless, have resulted in the rise of a new thesis: that the term truth does not denote a real property of sentences or propositions. This thesis is in part a response to the common use of truth predicates (e.g., that some particular thing “…is true”) which was particularly prevalent in philosophical discourse on truth in the first half of the 20th century. From this point of view, to assert that “‘2 + 2 = 4’ is true” is logically equivalent to asserting that “2 + 2 = 4”, and the phrase “is true” is completely dispensable in this and every other context. In common parlance, truth predicates are not commonly heard, and it would be interpreted as an unusual occurrence were someone to utilise a truth predicate in an everyday conversation when asserting that something is true. Newer perspectives that take this discrepancy into account and work with sentence structures that are actually employed in common discourse can be broadly described:

  • as deflationary theories of truth, since they attempt to deflate the presumed importance of the words “true” or truth,
  • as disquotational theories, to draw attention to the disappearance of the quotation marks in cases like the above example, or
  • as minimalist theories of truth.

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According to the deflationary theory of truth, to assert that a statement is true is just to assert the statement itself. For example, to say that ‘snow is white’ is true, or that it is true that snow is white, is equivalent to saying simply that snow is white, and this, according to the deflationary theory, is all that can be said significantly about the truth of ‘snow is white’. There are many implications of a theory of this sort for philosophical debate about the nature of truth. Philosophers often make suggestions like the following: truth consists in correspondence to the facts; truth consists in coherence with a set of beliefs or propositions; truth is the ideal outcome of rational inquiry. According to the deflationist, however, such suggestions are mistaken, and, moreover, they all share a common mistake. The common mistake is to assume that truth has a nature of the kind that philosophers might find out about and develop theories of. For the deflationist, truth has no nature beyond what is captured in ordinary claims such as that ‘snow is white’ is true just in case snow is white. Philosophers looking for the nature of truth are bound to be frustrated, the deflationist says, because they are looking for something that isn’t there. The deflationary theory has gone by many different names, including at least the following: the redundancy theory, the disappearance theory, the no-truth theory, the disquotational theory, and the minimalist theory. There is no terminological consensus about how to use these labels: sometimes they are used interchangeably; sometimes they are used to mark distinctions between different versions of the same general view.

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It is easy to see the appeal of the deflationary theory. When we say that the proposition “twice two is four” is true, we just mean that twice two is four—there is no need to talk about truth at all, it seems. It is also useful, though, insofar as we can use it to make general a whole series of specific propositions. For example, suppose we want to say that the current England side will beat any opponent; to do this in propositional form, we would have to say something like “if England played France, England would win; and if England played Australia, they would win; [etc…]”, which is much the same as “the proposition ‘England would beat France’ is true, and the proposition ‘England would beat Australia’ is true, and [etc…]”. For some such propositions, we would be at the task for a very long time, especially if the intention was to involve an infinite number of teams (for instance, any team past or in the future).  On the contrary, the deflationary theory allows us to reduce this to the common sense (and as we would actually say it) proposition “the current England side would beat any opponent”. Moreover, it tells us the total content of the proposition without having to write it all out and without needing to involve any notion of the nature of truth.

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So-called deflationary theories of truth, of which the best known are the redundancy, performative and prosentential theories, are really theories of truth ascriptions. This is because they are not theories of what truth is; rather, they are theories of what we are saying when we make utterances like ‘”Routledge editors are fine folks” is true’. The surface grammar of such utterances suggests that we use them to predicate a property, truth, of sentences or propositions; but the several deflationary theories all deny this. Indeed, they all endorse the Deflationary Thesis that there is no such property as truth and thus there is no need for, or sense to, a theory of truth distinct from a theory of truth ascriptions. Thus, for deflationists, the classical theories of truth, such as correspondence, coherence and pragmatic, are not wrong. They are something worse: they are wrong-headed from the start, for they are attempting to analyse something which simply is not there.

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Epistemic theories of truth:

In philosophy, epistemic theories of truth are attempts to analyze the notion of truth in terms of epistemic notions such as knowledge, belief, acceptance, verification, justification, and perspective. A variety of such conceptions can be classified into verificationist theories, perspectivalist or relativist theories, and pragmatic theories. Verificationism is based on verifying propositions. The distinctive claim of verificationism is that the result of such verifications is, by definition, truth. That is, truth is reducible to this process of verification. According to perspectivalism and relativism, a proposition is only true relative to a particular perspective. Roughly, a proposition is true relative to a perspective if and only if it is accepted, endorsed, or legitimated by that perspective. Many authors writing on the topic of the notion of truth advocate or endorse combinations of the following positions. Each of these epistemic conceptions of truth can be subjected to various criticisms. Some criticisms apply across the board, while others are more specific.

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Most believed theories:

According to a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views which was carried out in November 2009 (taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students) 45% of respondents accept or lean towards correspondence theories, 21% accept or lean towards deflationary theories and 14% epistemic theories.

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Notable views on truth:

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Immanuel Kant:

Immanuel Kant endorses a definition of truth along the lines of the correspondence theory of truth. Kant writes in the Critique of Pure Reason: “The nominal definition of truth, namely that it is the agreement of cognition with its object, is here granted and presupposed”. However, Kant denies that this correspondence definition of truth provides us with a test or criterion to establish which judgements are true.  A nominal definition explains the meaning of a linguistic expression. A real definition describes the essence of certain objects and enable us to determine whether any given item falls within the definition.  Kant holds that the definition of truth is merely nominal and, therefore, we cannot employ it to establish which judgements are true.  Kant claims to enact a ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy with his doctrine of transcendental idealism, according to which our knowledge does not “conform to objects”, but rather objects “conform to our knowledge”. According to Kant’s doctrine, the human mind shapes and structures the world of experience, making knowledge possible. Kant insisted that “many things can be true and yet still harmful to man,” that “not all truth is useful.”  But for Kant, harm came not from the information itself but from man’s inability to balance the drive for both logical exactness and aesthetics. Both help and harm alike had to be discarded entirely. Getting at truth required the inquirer to “take it [the inquiry] completely alone separated from all foreign questions of use or harm,” particularly when the inquirer has “an interest in this use or harm,” for “otherwise partisanship at once states its judgment and deadens all cold reflections of the understanding”.

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Hegel:

Georg Hegel distanced his philosophy from psychology by presenting truth as being an external self-moving object instead of being related to inner, subjective thoughts. Hegel’s truth is analogous to the mechanics of a material body in motion under the influence of its own inner force. “Truth is its own self-movement within itself.” Teleological truth moves itself in the three-step form of dialectical triplicity toward the final goal of perfect, final, absolute truth. According to Hegel, the progression of philosophical truth is a resolution of past oppositions into increasingly more accurate approximations of absolute truth. Chalybäus used the terms “thesis”, “antithesis”, and “synthesis” to describe Hegel’s dialectical triplicity. The “thesis” consists of an incomplete historical movement. To resolve the incompletion, an “antithesis” occurs which opposes the “thesis.” In turn, the “synthesis” appears when the “thesis” and “antithesis” become reconciled and a higher level of truth is obtained. This “synthesis” thereby becomes a “thesis,” which will again necessitate an “antithesis,” requiring a new “synthesis” until a final state is reached as the result of reason’s historical movement.

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Schopenhauer:

For Arthur Schopenhauer, a judgment is a combination or separation of two or more concepts. If a judgment is to be an expression of knowledge, it must have a sufficient reason or ground by which the judgment could be called true. Truth is the reference of a judgment to something different from itself which is its sufficient reason (ground). Judgments can have material, formal, transcendental, or metalogical truth. A judgment has material truth if its concepts are based on intuitive perceptions that are generated from sensations. If a judgment has its reason (ground) in another judgment, its truth is called logical or formal. If a judgment, of, for example, pure mathematics or pure science, is based on the forms (space, time, causality) of intuitive, empirical knowledge, then the judgment has transcendental truth.

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Kierkegaard:

Objective truths are concerned with the facts of a person’s being, while subjective truths are concerned with a person’s way of being. Kierkegaard agrees that objective truths for the study of subjects like mathematics, science, and history are relevant and necessary, but argues that objective truths do not shed any light on a person’s inner relationship to existence. At best, these truths can only provide a severely narrowed perspective that has little to do with one’s actual experience of life. While objective truths are final and static, subjective truths are continuing and dynamic. The truth of one’s existence is a living, inward, and subjective experience that is always in the process of becoming. The values, morals, and spiritual approaches a person adopts, while not denying the existence of objective truths of those beliefs, can only become truly known when they have been inwardly appropriated through subjective experience. Thus, Kierkegaard criticizes all systematic philosophies which attempt to know life or the truth of existence via theories and objective knowledge about reality. As Kierkegaard claims, human truth is something that is continually occurring, and a human being cannot find truth separate from the subjective experience of one’s own existing, defined by the values and fundamental essence that consist of one’s way of life.

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Nietzsche:

The advantages of truth over untruth, reality over falsehood, appear so obvious that it seems inconceivable that anyone would even draw it into question, much less suggest the opposite – that untruth may, in fact, be preferable to the truth. But that is just what German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche did – and so perhaps the advantages of truth are not as clear-cut as we normally assume. Friedrich Nietzsche believed the search for truth, or ‘the will to truth’, was a consequence of the will to power of philosophers. He thought that truth should be used as long as it promoted life and the will to power, and he thought untruth was better than truth if it had this life enhancement as a consequence. As he wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, “The falseness of a judgment is to us not necessarily an objection to a judgment… The question is to what extent it is life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding…” He proposed the will to power as a truth only because, according to him, it was the most life-affirming and sincere perspective one could have. What Nietzsche is pointing out is that philosophers’ (and scientists’) desire for truth, certainty, and knowledge instead of untruth, uncertainty, and ignorance are basic, unquestioned premises. However, just because they are unquestioned does not mean that they are unquestionable. For Nietzsche, the starting point of such questioning is in the genealogy of our “will to truth” itself.

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Whitehead:

Alfred North Whitehead, a British mathematician who became an American philosopher, said: “There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil”. The logical progression or connection of this line of thought is to conclude that truth can lie, since half-truths are deceptive and may lead to a false conclusion.

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Nishida:

According to Kitaro Nishida, “knowledge of things in the world begins with the differentiation of unitary consciousness into knower and known and ends with self and things becoming one again. Such unification takes form not only in knowing but in the valuing (of truth) that directs knowing, the willing that directs action, and the feeling or emotive reach that directs sensing.”

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Fromm:

Erich Fromm finds that trying to discuss truth as “absolute truth” is sterile and that emphasis ought to be placed on “optimal truth”. He considers truth as stemming from the survival imperative of grasping one’s environment physically and intellectually, whereby young children instinctively seek truth so as to orient themselves in “a strange and powerful world”. The accuracy of their perceived approximation of the truth will therefore have direct consequences on their ability to deal with their environment. Fromm can be understood to define truth as a functional approximation of reality. His vision of optimal truth is described partly in “Man from Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics” (1947), wherein he states that the dichotomy between ‘absolute = perfect’ and ‘relative = imperfect’ has been superseded in all fields of scientific thought, where “it is generally recognized that there is no absolute truth but nevertheless that there are objectively valid laws and principles”.  In that respect, “a scientifically or rationally valid statement means that the power of reason is applied to all the available data of observation without any of them being suppressed or falsified for the sake of a desired result”. The history of science is “a history of inadequate and incomplete statements, and every new insight makes possible the recognition of the inadequacies of previous propositions and offers a springboard for creating a more adequate formulation.” As a result “the history of thought is the history of an ever-increasing approximation to the truth. Scientific knowledge is not absolute but optimal; it contains the optimum of truth attainable in a given historical period.” Fromm furthermore notes that “different cultures have emphasized various aspects of the truth” and that increasing interaction between cultures allows for these aspects to reconcile and integrate, increasing further the approximation to the truth.

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Foucault:

Truth, says Michel Foucault, is problematic when any attempt is made to see truth as an “objective” quality. He prefers not to use the term truth itself but “Regimes of Truth”. In his historical investigations he found truth to be something that was itself a part of, or embedded within, a given power structure. Thus Foucault’s view shares much in common with the concepts of Nietzsche. Truth for Foucault is also something that shifts through various episteme throughout history.

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Baudrillard:

Jean Baudrillard considered truth to be largely simulated, that is pretending to have something, as opposed to dissimulation, pretending to not have something. He took his cue from iconoclasts who he claims knew that images of God demonstrated that God did not exist.  Baudrillard wrote in “Precession of the Simulacra”: The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true. Some examples of simulacra that Baudrillard cited were: that prisons simulate the “truth” that society is free; scandals (e.g., Watergate) simulate that corruption is corrected; Disney simulates that the U.S. itself is an adult place. One must remember that though such examples seem extreme, such extremity is an important part of Baudrillard’s theory. For a less extreme example, consider how movies usually end with the bad being punished, humiliated, or otherwise failing, thus affirming for viewers the concept that the good end happily and the bad unhappily, a narrative which implies that the status quo and established power structures are largely legitimate.

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Sentence, Statement and Truth:

In analyzing arguments philosophers have found it useful to categorize statements in various ways. The claims made in either an argument or in simply stating a position without argument are generally called “statements” or “propositions”.

Statement (proposition): the meaning intended by any sentence which can be said to be true or false. Note that a “sentence” is not the same as a “statement”; it is, rather, the vehicle by which the statement is communicated. Thus two different sentences may make the same statement. “Mary loves John.” and “John is loved by Mary,” are two ways of communicating the same statement.  Moreover, a sentence can be ambiguous allowing more than one equally reasonable interpretation of its meaning; each distinct meaning attributed to an ambiguous sentence is considered a distinct statement.  Note also that the truth or falsity of a statement need not be known or agreed upon. All that is required is that it is meaningful to say that (or ask whether) the statement is true or false. Thus, for example, the sentences, “There is life after death.” or “Julius Ceasar had fried eggs for breakfast on March 15, 33 B.C.” make statements, though their actual truth or falsity is unknown.  The actual truth value of a statement is a function of the way the world is, or as philosophers say, “of the nature of reality.”  Since claims about the nature of reality are metaphysical claims, “truth” is considered a metaphysical concept.  However whether or not any human (or non-human) subject knows the truth value of a statement is a claim about the nature of knowledge, the subject matter of epistemology.  Therefore, while questions about what is true are metaphysical, questions about what one knows is true are epistemological questions.

Truth Value: the property of a statement of being either true or false. All statements (by definition of “statements”) have truth value; we are often interested in determining truth value, in other words in determining whether a statement is true or false. Statements all have truth value, whether or not any one actually knows what that truth value is. A sentence which cannot be said to be true or false is without truth value, and therefore does not assert a “statement.”  Questions and commands, for example are genuine sentences, but do not assert statements and thus have no truth value.

Tautology (tautologous statement) is a statement which is necessarily true on the basis of its logical syntactical structure. The opposite of a tautology which is a statement which is always false:  In rhetoric, a tautology is a logical argument constructed in such a way, generally by repeating the same concept or assertion using different phrasing or terminology, that the proposition as stated is logically irrefutable, while obscuring the lack of evidence or valid reasoning supporting the stated conclusion.

Self-contradiction (self-contradictory statement) is a statement which is necessarily false on the basis of its logical structure.  A self-contradictory statement both asserts and denies the same predicate of the subject, e.g., “This is a rose and it is not a rose.” or “New Orleans is the largest City in Louisiana and New Orleans is not the largest city in Louisiana.”

Both tautologies and self-contradiction make use of the concepts of “necessity” applied to truth value:

Necessary truth: logically impossible to be other than true.

Descartes formulated the concept of necessary truth such that a statement is said to be “necessarily true” if it is logically impossible to deny it (i.e., believe it to be false). Note that what is required is logical impossibility (not physical or psychological impossibility). Thus for example the statement, “All triangles are three sided.” is necessarily true because it is logically impossible to conceive of what it would take to deny this claim, namely a “non-three-sided triangle.” What would such a thing be?

Statements can also be categorized according to how their truth can be determined: here again there are two possibilities:

A Priori known independently of any particular experience (observation) of the way the world is.

A statement is said to be “known a priori” if we can determine its truth value without any appeal to the facts of experience.

A Posteriori (empirical) known only on the basis of experience of the world.

All claims made on the basis of observation are “known a posteriori,” they are said to be “empirical” claims. (in actual practice the word “empirical” has almost totally replaced the use of the expression “known a posteriori”).

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Truth vis-à-vis belief and knowledge:

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Belief is the state of mind in which a person thinks something to be the case, with or without there being empirical evidence to prove that something is the case with factual certainty. If something can’t be verified, repeated, persisted through a methodology, then it can’t be confirmed through verification to exist, although it may have been true, happened or existed, such as an event. If it was not recorded in written, audio or video format, then we have no way of knowing it actually did happen. Anyone can say anything or write anything, but it doesn’t make it necessarily true. Acceptance of an alleged truth this way, will be a belief, and not a real “solid” truth. This is a major distinction that people are failing to make, that of a real truth, and that of a belief pervaded as “truth”. Many beliefs are pervaded and purported as “truth” because of uncritical thinking. There are two ways to be fooled: to accept what isn’t true or to refuse to accept what is true. Truth is not belief.

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Our beliefs are strong but unreliable:

For a statement to be a fact it has to be true. Believing that it is true does not make it so. Yet we tend to show great confidence in our beliefs – both when these are based in our first-hand experience, and when these are based on what others say, as long as we trust or identify with those others. But even our most confident beliefs may not correspond with reality. The fallibility of human memory is especially disturbing, as psychologist Elizabeth Loftus and many others have long shown. The ways in which we talk about experiences after the fact – for example, during police interviews following a crime – can result in inaccurate or false memories. Whether by accident or intention, the mere suggestion that a particular event might have happened can result in a person firmly believing that it is true. Another common source of false beliefs comes from our flawed human patterns of reasoning. Human cognition is not a paragon of cool reason. For example, a confirmation bias in human reasoning leads us to readily accept evidence that supports our beliefs, and yet reject or ignore equally good evidence that goes against it. Many other biases can lead us to embrace beliefs that are false, and thus in turn to make false statements.

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Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Epistemology is a core component of the Western philosophical tradition. Questions about knowledge arise in Plato, presumably inspired by the career of the historical Socrates, and become the basis of a continuous historical dialogue in which virtually every Western philosopher has in some way or another been engaged right down to the present day. The definition of knowledge as “justified true belief” is elaborated by the founders of the Western tradition, Aristotle and Plato, and basically accepted by all subsequent philosophy until the twentieth century. For these thinkers, a belief is justified as true only if it meets the criterion of being absolutely certain or “necessarily true.”  We can analyze what is meant by saying that “S knows P.” where “S” is any knowing “subject” (presumably a human subject) and “P” is anything that can be known, the “object” of knowledge, as follows. Taking its cue from Plato, the tradition has tended to identify “knowledge” with “true, justified belief”; thus to say “S knows P.” reduces to three separate claims:

  1.  S believes P (the belief condition)
  2.  P is true (the truth condition)
  3.  S is justified in believing P (the justification condition)

Although most philosophers of the Western tradition would adhere to this classic conception of knowledge as “justified true belief,” there are many rival theories with respect to each of these three conditions over which philosophers have divergent views.

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In dictionary definition, belief is a state of the mind in which a subject roughly regards a thing to be true. In a notion derived from Plato, philosophy has traditionally defined knowledge as “justified true belief”. The relationship between belief and knowledge is that a belief is knowledge if the belief is true, and if the believer has a justification.

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The classical definition, described but not ultimately endorsed by Plato, specifies that a statement must meet three criteria in order to be considered knowledge: it must be justified, true, and believed. By this definition truth is a precondition for knowledge. In brief, people have knowledge; propositions and beliefs can be true or not. Truth is a requirement of knowledge. If a claim is false, it can’t be known; if it is true, it might be known; if it is known, then (given that) it must be true. Generally, a piece of knowledge is, at least, a true belief. Philosophers debate about what else is required, but at the very least, we must believe a proposition and the proposition must be true, if we really know it. Knowledge usually requires evidence and reasoning. On the other hand, belief doesn’t require any reasoning or evidence whatsoever. A belief is an internal thought or memory which exists in one’s mind. Most people accept that for a belief to be knowledge it must be, at least, true and justified.

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Truth vis-à-vis fact and reality:

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English language has numerous words to express the concepts of truth and fact:

veracity

truthfulness

verity

sincerity

candour

honesty

accuracy

correctness

validity

factuality

authenticity

certitude

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Fact:

A fact is something that is postulated to have occurred or to be correct. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is, whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to experience. Standard reference works are often used to check facts. Scientific facts are verified by repeatable careful observation or measurement (by experiments or other means). In the most basic sense, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation, in contrast with a hypothesis or theory, which is intended to explain or interpret facts.  Engel’s version of the correspondence theory of truth explains that what makes a sentence true is that it corresponds to a fact. This theory presupposes the existence of an objective world.

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Difference between truth and fact:

What is the clear difference between a fact and a truth? Well, if you look into most dictionaries, you will be amazed to find that the two words are actually very close in terms of their definitions. This is because the two terms are very much related. That’s why you really can’t blame people for recognizing both as similar terms.

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We become aware of the world around us through our sensory faculties. A fact refers to the existence/presence of a thing or an event as perceived (directly or with the aid of instruments) by our normal sensory faculties. Thus there can be unanimity of agreement as to the facts of a situation/phenomenon among people who have normal sensory faculties.  A truth, on the other hand, is the interpretation and apprehension of a fact.  What this means is that truth is very much a function of the state of the mind that interprets the fact. Thus one might say: Facts are what there seem to be; Truths are how they seem to me. Given that truth is the apprehension of a fact, the same fact may appear as different truths to different individuals. This is why there are honest disagreements among intelligent people of goodwill as to what constitutes the truth of a case. This is why there is no such thing as the absolute truth. This distinction between fact and truth is of the utmost importance in any discussion on science and religion. Those who argue that science alone leads to correct knowledge tend to forget that science is essentially an interpretation of facts. On the other hand, those who insist that religion provides us with the ultimate answers as to the nature of the world and of human existence tend to imagine that the truths which their religion proclaims is a true reflection of how the world is. Put differently, the world of science tends to equate fact with truth, while the world of religion tends to equate truth with fact. But truth of religion is proclaimed truth, dogmatic truth and in my view unsubstantiated truth and therefore no longer truth but mere belief. So science essentially means getting truth from facts and religion essentially means belief and faith rather than fact and truth. Scientific truths can change but religious beliefs and faiths are unchangeable. Science admits wrong but religion is always right. Science uses reason while religion uses fear. Science displays intelligence which may be fallible while religion displays faith which is infallible.

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There is another distinction between fact and truth that needs to be recognized. Facts are items of information about the world around. They are essentially static, and outside of the human mind. Truths, on the other hand, being interpretations of facts, are in human minds. There are things and events in the physical world, but they become truths only when there are thinking entities. Once a fact is apprehended as a truth, it becomes dynamic: that is to say, it is no longer an item of information in the external world, but can serve some purpose. For example, it may be used for some practical purpose. In other words, it can lead to consequences.

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Can a fact be true or false, or must it necessarily be true?

Facts can be true or false, and need not be necessarily true.

How can a fact be false?

A fact is merely a statement about reality that we believe to be true:

  • Grass is green
  • Beijing is the capital of China
  • You cannot turn base metals into Gold

Facts may be based on the best available evidence and our best understanding of the underlying theory and mechanisms. Then someone comes along with some new evidence or a new theory that changes how we view the world, or at least some so-called facts about the world. Perhaps:

  • A variety of grass that isn’t green
  • A recent decision of the Chinese Politburo
  • Nucleosynthesis in supernovae

And the facts change!

Science is based upon a provisional understanding of the world. Facts are only facts based upon that provisional understanding. Even the most fundamental facts are subject to revision based on new evidence and new understanding. In science there is no absolute truth and “we don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. An irrefutable fact that is an absolute truth is a “red flag” to any scientist. Anyone claiming such knowledge can usually be safely ignored

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Knowing the difference between facts and opinions:

A fact is a statement that can be proven true or false. An opinion is an expression of a person’s feelings that cannot be proven. Opinions can be based on facts or emotions and sometimes they are meant to deliberately mislead others. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the author’s purpose and choice of language. Sometimes, the author lets the facts speak for themselves.

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Truth vis-à-vis reality:

Reality and Truth are two words that are often misunderstood to convey the same meaning but strictly speaking they are not so. Reality is an existent fact whereas truth is an established fact. There is lot of difference between an existent fact and an established fact. Reality has been existent ever since the beginning of the universe. On the other hand truth is something that you have proved. Truth is the exactness of a fact. Hence it is something you try to establish. This is the main difference between reality and truth. The difference between reality and truth is akin to difference between a discovery and invention. A discovery is self-existent or something that has been existent right from the past, whereas invention is the one that has been found out with the help of the discovered facts. In the same way reality is the one that does not change its nature in the present and future too. It is always of the same nature. On the other hand truth can change its nature in due course. Many scientific truths were disproved in the past. The truth about the planetary motion was re-established later. Hence truth sometimes is bound to change. Reality tells us about the real nature of a particular thing, experience, existence and the like. Truth tells about the fact that has been invented or experimented. In other words it can be said that reality gives rise to truth. What is found out in reality is what is given ultimately as truth. Hence truth needs the observance of reality. This is especially true in the case of Science. The reality about planetary motion with the sun at the center has been stated as the scientific truth. Hence truth is the subset of reality. Another important difference between reality and truth is that reality cannot be challenged whereas truth can be challenged. Truth can be challenged because it is characterized by facts. Facts can always be challenged and disproved. It is important to note that proven facts are more in number though. Reality is not questionable whereas truth is questionable. It is all about authenticity. Authenticity is the proof regarding the original. Hence it can be said that reality is original. It is indeed the factor of authenticity that separates reality from truth.

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Truth vs. myth:

“Widely held but false idea” is one dictionary definition of myth in common usage.  Myths play a central role as metaphor in many world religions, according to Joseph Campbell. In The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth he studied the world mythologies, found common themes in a wide variety of cultures, and reached a startling conclusion: myths, he said, come from dreams and, therefore, people around the world have common dreams. It is a profound and still controversial insight for religion, psychology, and human culture. Students in all these fields continue to consider the power of myth. Myths in politics, however, play a much different role. For reasons that are still unclear, myths abound in recent American political history. Perhaps the most glaring and consequential was the myth that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. There are other cases in point. Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya and therefore not an American citizen. These are myths, yet they are widely believed in certain circles.  For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.  Myths which have no basis in truth, or which do not operate as metaphors for religious truth, eventually fade away with the passing of those who perpetuate them and in the face of reality and fact.

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Being Right vs. Being True:

Being Right is driven primarily by facts, and not by Truth. Being Right is having accurate descriptions of “what happened.” Being Right is about having the facts in your favor; it’s about getting the upper hand in an argument; it’s about winners and losers — for when you are right then others are wrong. And where does Being Right put you in relation to others: an enemy, adversary, competitor, opponent, or rival? Being Right is not the best way to “win friends and influence people.” Being True mean having integrity of character.

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Truth vs. Perception:

When we perceive something, it is done with our senses: sight, sound, smell etc. This input is put through our mind. So we come up with a mix of those sensed perceptions, blended with our mind, which gives the final result. To change a perception, we can add filters to our senses (e.g. spectacles, hearing aid, thick gloves etc.) that will instantly change reality for the person sensing it. Or, we might change how our mind “blends” the information together, (e.g. reading books on philosophy will change how we perceive the words “Plato” and “Socrates”). However, when we have to deal with truth, it becomes a whole different matter. You can’t really change the truth without making it into a whole new truth altogether. Take for example an orange. The truth is that an orange is an orange. With perception, if you’re wearing “green glasses”, an orange will appear green. In reality, the orange is not green, but orange [in colour] still. But if you decide to paint the orange green, then the truth is that the orange is green.

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Ambiguity and vagueness:

Ambiguity of information, in words, pictures, or other media, indicates the ability to express more than one interpretation. This is generally contrasted with vagueness, in that specific and distinct interpretations are permitted (although some may not be immediately apparent) in ambiguity, whereas with information that is vague it is difficult to form any interpretation at the desired level of specificity. Context may play a role in resolving ambiguity. For example, the same piece of information may be ambiguous in one context and unambiguous in another.  In analytic philosophy and linguistics, a concept may be considered vague if its extension is deemed lacking in clarity, if there is uncertainty about which objects belong to the concept or which exhibit characteristics that have this predicate (so-called “border-line cases”), or if the Sorites paradox applies to the concept or predicate. In everyday speech, vagueness is an inevitable, often even desired effect of language usage. However, in most specialized texts (e.g., legal documents), vagueness is often regarded as problematic and undesirable.

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Degree of truth and vagueness:

In standard mathematics, propositions can typically be considered unambiguously true or false. For example, the proposition zero is regarded as simply false; while the proposition one is regarded as simply true. However, some mathematicians, computer scientists, and philosophers have been attracted to the idea that a proposition might be more or less true, rather than wholly true or wholly false. For example, my coffee is hot. In mathematics, this idea can be developed in terms of fuzzy logic. In computer science, it has found application in artificial intelligence. In philosophy, the idea has proved particularly appealing in the case of vagueness. Degrees of truth is an important concept in law.

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Characteristics of truth:

It is sometimes hard for the uninitiated to differentiate between simple facts or opinions and The Truth. Some defining characteristics of The Truth include:

  1. The Truth, unlike an opinion, is not open to reasonable debate. Any reasonable person presented with The Truth will agree with it, so by definition, any debate or resistance must be unreasonable.
  2. The Truth will encounter great opposition. Normally, unreasonable people can be placated with unreasonable arguments, and this should be tried. The Truth, however, will be vehemently opposed by nearly everyone; therefore, opposition from many people is clear evidence that you come bearing The Truth. Do not feel discouraged when you are the sole bearer of The Truth. Eventually, reasonable people will come to agree with The Truth.
  3. The Truth is appropriate everywhere. Mere facts can sometimes be irrelevant, such as the molecular structure of a lettuce leaf in an article on Albanian politics. But The Truth is always relevant, and should be included everywhere that text can be put.
  4. The Truth does not require verification through reliable sources. That sort of thing may be necessary for mere “facts”.
  5. The Truth is best communicated through repetition. The first attempts to insert The Truth into Wikipedia are often met with resistance in the form of three-letter acronyms and references to “policy” and “consensus”. When other editors oppose The Truth in such a manner, the most likely explanation is that they have not heard it repeated frequently enough.

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Criteria of truth:

Language and words are a means by which humans convey information to one another and the method used to determine what is a “truth” is termed a criterion of truth. One important area of logic is concerned with tests of truth – the criteria used to distinguish truth from error. A criterion of truth is a standard, or rule, by which to judge the accuracy of statements and opinions; thus, it is a standard of verification. We must distinguish truth from error. Understanding a philosophy’s criteria of truth is fundamental to a clear evaluation of that philosophy. This necessity is driven by the varying, and conflicting, claims of different philosophies. To obtain a clear, correct view of any philosophy, one must understand its criteria of truth. This is particularly the case because of the many conflicting ideas to be found in different philosophies. The laws of logic cannot of themselves disclose facts about the world of man or nature. In order to discover such facts, or to evaluate the content of an argument, the individual must decide upon the criteria which can enable him to distinguish what is true from what is not true. Not all criteria are equally valid. Some standards are sufficient, while others are questionable. The criteria listed here represent those most commonly used by scholars and the general public. Jonathan Dolhenty states there seem to be only three functional, effective tests of truth. He lists these as the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories of truth.

  1. Coherence:

Coherence refers to a consistent and overarching explanation for all facts. To be coherent, all pertinent facts must be arranged in a consistent and cohesive fashion as an integrated whole. The theory which most effectively reconciles all facts in this fashion may be considered most likely to be true. Coherence is the most potentially effective test of truth because it most adequately addresses all elements. The main limitation lies not in the standard, but in the human inability to acquire all facts of an experience. Only an omniscient mind could be aware of all of the relevant information. A scholar must accept this limitation and accept as true the most coherent explanation for the available facts. Coherence is difficult to dispute as a criterion of truth, since arguing against coherence is validating incoherence, which is inherently illogical.

  1. Consensus gentium:

Some view opinions held by all people to be valid criteria of truth. According to consensus gentium, the universal consent of all mankind, all humans holding a distinct belief proves it is true. There is some value in the criterion if it means innate truth, such as the laws of logic and mathematics. If it merely means agreement, as in a unanimous vote, its value is questionable. For example, general assent once held the earth was flat and that the sun revolved about the earth.

  1. Consistency (mere):

Mere consistency is when correct statements do not contradict, but are not necessarily related. Accordingly, an individual is consistent if he does not contradict himself. It is inadequate as a criterion because it treats facts in an isolated fashion without true cohesion and integration; nevertheless it remains a necessary condition for the truth of any argument, owing to the law of noncontradiction. The value of a proof largely lies in its ability to reconcile individual facts into a coherent whole.

  1. Consistency (strict):

Strict consistency is when claims are connected in such a fashion that one statement follows from another. Formal logic and mathematical rules are examples of rigorous consistency. An example would be: if all As are Bs and all Bs are Cs, then all As are Cs. While this standard is of high value, it is limited. For example, the premises are a priori (or self-apparent), requiring another test of truth to employ this criterion. Additionally, strict consistency may produce results lacking coherence and completeness. While a philosophical system may demonstrate rigorous consistency with the facts it considers, all facts must be taken into consideration for an adequate criterion of truth, regardless of their detriment to any given system.

  1. Correspondence:

Correspondence is quite simply when a claim corresponds with its object. For example, the claim that the White House is in Washington, D.C. is true, if the White House is actually located in Washington. Correspondence is held by many philosophers to be the most valid of the criteria of truth. An idea which corresponds to its object is indeed true, but determining if the correspondence is perfect requires additional tests of truth. This indicates that correspondence is a perfectly valid definition of truth, but is not of itself a valid criterion of truth. An additional test beyond this “definition” is required to determine the precise degree of similarity between what is posited and what exists in objective reality.

  1. Custom:

Most people consciously or unknowingly employ custom as a criterion of truth, based on the assumption that doing what is customary will prevent error. It is particularly applied in the determination of moral truth and reflected in the statement “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. People stick closely to the principle of custom when they use common vernacular, wear common fashions and so forth; essentially, when they do what is popular. Custom is not considered a serious, or valid, test of truth. For example, public opinion polls do not determine truth.

  1. Emotions:

Many people allow feelings to determine judgment, often in the face of contrary evidence or without even attempting to collect evidence and facts. They are implicitly accepting emotions as a criterion of truth. Most people will admit that feelings are not an adequate test for truth. For example, a seasoned businessman will put aside his emotions and search for the best available facts when making an investment. Similarly, scholars are trained to put aside such subjective judgments when evaluating knowledge. Emotions are real, however, and thus must be considered within any social scientific system of coherence.

  1. Instinct:

The existence of distinct instincts has long been debated. Proponents of instinct argue that we eat because of hunger, drink because of thirst, and so forth. Some have even argued for the existence of God based on this criterion, arguing that the object of every instinct has a referent in reality. The counterpoint of hunger is food; for thirst it is liquid; for the sex drive it is a mate. Instincts are not accepted as a reliable test because they are most often indistinct, variant and difficult to define. Additionally, universal instincts are so few that they offer little to the greater body of philosophy as a criterion.

  1. Intuition:

Intuition is an assumed truth with an unknown, or possibly unexamined, source. It is a judgment that is not dependent on a rational examination of the facts. It is usually experienced as a sudden sensation and/or rush of thoughts that feel “right”. Many persons experience intuitive epiphanies which later prove to be true. Scholars have sometimes come upon valid theories and proofs while daydreaming or otherwise mentally occupied with something bearing no apparent relationship to the truth they seek to reveal. Intuition is at best a source for truths, rather than a criterion with which to evaluate them. Intuitive knowledge requires testing by means of other criteria of truth in order to confirm its accuracy.

  1. Majority rule:

Majority rule is a statistical method of accepting assertions and proposals. In democratic systems, majority rule is used to determine group decisions, particularly those relating to personal morality and social behavior. Some systems divided into several oppositional factions may depend on mere plurality. While majority rule may make for a good democratic system, it is a poor determinant of truth, subject to the criticisms of the broad version of consensus gentium.

  1. Naïve Realism:

Naïve Realism posits that only that which is directly observable by the human senses is true. First-hand observation determines the truth or falsity of a given statement. Naïve Realism is an insufficient criterion of truth. A host of natural phenomena are demonstrably true, but not observable by the unaided sense. For example, Naïve Realism would deny the existence of sounds beyond the range of human hearing and the existence of x-rays. Similarly, there are a number of sense experiments which show a disconnect between the perceived sensation and the reality of its cause.

  1. Pragmatic:

If an idea works then it must be true, to the Pragmatist. The consequences of applying a concept reveal its truth value upon examination of the results. The full meaning of an idea is self-apparent in its application. For example, the therapeutic value and effect of penicillin in relation to infections is proven in its administration. Although Pragmatism is considered a valuable criterion, it must be used with caution and reservation, due to its potential for false positives. For example, a doctor may prescribe a patient medication for an illness, but it could later turn out that a placebo is equally effective. Thus, untrue concepts could appear to be working contrary to the purpose of the pragmatic test. However, it has validity as a test, particularly in the form William Ernest Hocking called “Negative Pragmatism”. In essence, it states that ideas that do not work cannot possibly be true, though ideas which do work may or may not be true.

  1. Revelation:

The principal distinction between intuition and revelation is that revelation has an assumed source: God (or another higher power). Revelation may be defined as truth emanating from God. Many religions fundamentally rely on revelation as a test of truth. This criterion is subject to the same criticisms as intuition. It may be a valid reference of truth for an individual, but it is inadequate for providing a coherent proof of the knowledge to others.

  1. Time:

Time is a criterion commonly appealed to in debate, often referred to as “the test of time”. This criterion posits that over time erroneous beliefs and logical errors will be revealed, while if the belief is true, the mere passage of time cannot adversely affect its validity. Time is an inadequate test for truth, since it is subject to similar flaws as custom and tradition (which are simply specific variations of the time factor). Many demonstrably false beliefs have endured for centuries and even millennia (e.g. vitalism). It is commonly rejected as a valid criterion. For example, most people will not convert to another faith simply because the other religion is centuries (or even millennia) older than their current beliefs.

  1. Tradition:

Tradition, closely related to custom, is the standard stating that which is held for generations is true. Those accepting tradition argue that ideas gaining the loyalty of multiple generations possess a measure of credibility. Tradition possesses many of the same failings as custom. It is possible for falsehoods to be passed down from generation to generation, since tradition generally emphasizes repetition over critical evaluation.

  1. Authority:

The opinions of those with significant experience, highly trained or possessing an advanced degree are often considered a form of proof. Their knowledge and familiarity within a given field or area of knowledge command respect and allow their statements to be criteria of truth. A person may not simply declare themselves an authority, but rather must be properly qualified. Despite the wide respect given to expert testimony, it is not an infallible criterion. For example, multiple authorities may conflict in their claims and conclusions.

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The lie:

Traditional Definition of Lying:

The most widely accepted definition of lying is the following: “A lie is a statement made by one who does not believe it with the intention that someone else shall be led to believe it”. Lying is making a statement believed to be false, with the intention of getting another to accept it as true. This definition does not specify the addressee, however. It may be restated as follows: To lie is to make a believed-false statement to another person with the intention that the other person believes that statement to be true.  Webster’s first definition is “to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive.” “To lie” is an active verb, with a connotation of intent. But Webster’s second definition is far broader: “to create a false or misleading impression.” That definition includes lies of omission; it even extends beyond speech.

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A lie is a statement used intentionally for the purpose of deception. The practice of communicating lies is called lying, and a person who communicates a lie may be termed a liar. Lies may be employed to serve a variety of instrumental, interpersonal, or psychological functions for the individuals who use them. Generally, the term “lie” carries a negative connotation, and depending on the context a person who communicates a lie may be subject to social, legal, religious, or criminal sanctions. In certain situations, however, lying is permitted, expected, or even encouraged. Believing and acting on false information can have serious consequences. Therefore, scientists and others have attempted to develop reliable methods for distinguishing lies from true statements. Lying is a topic of moral and religious interest, and if it were not for lies, most soap operas and even a lot of quite enjoyable entertainment, whether in fiction or on the big screen, would never go anywhere in terms of plot.

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We bend the truth in many ways. There is the half-truth. You sort of tell the truth, but not the whole truth. You tell your employer, “I wasn’t feeling well,” which was sort of true. But, in reality, you were not so ill as to miss work. You just wanted to do something else. Or, there is the white lie, a supposedly “innocent” lie that doesn’t hurt anyone. “Yes, your new hairdo is beautiful!” “Thank you, I just love fruitcake!”  There are the lies that cover for someone or for ourselves: The boss is in the next room, but you say, “He’s not here right now to take your call.” Often, the rationalization for cover-up lies is that the truth would hurt too many people. This was the excuse behind the Watergate scandal that brought down the Nixon administration. It would “hurt the country” if the truth were known! Or, lies often go undercover as exaggeration. You stretch the story a bit to make yourself look better or to evoke sympathy. One of the easiest lies to fall into is the silent lie. This is where someone assumes something about you, which you know to be untrue. But, their mistaken view makes you look good, so you just let it go by and don’t say anything to correct it. In a similar way, we use evasive lies. We change the subject or don’t directly answer the question. We also bend the truth by cheating on our income taxes, always with the justification that the government wastes so much money or that the tax system is unfair to the little guy (that’s me!). We cheat on tests with the excuse, “everyone else does it.” Or, we pilfer from our employer with the rationalization that they don’t pay me enough. Or, if the clerk at the store makes a mistake to our advantage, we don’t say anything to make it right. We figure, “They overcharge for everything, anyway!”  Of course, most of us have mastered the skill of lying. And lies, like secrets are rarely as interesting as the psychological reasons behind them. A lady was terribly embarrassed to reveal that she hid special foods for herself in the kitchen away from other family members. It was a secret she had told no one because it made her look selfish and devious. But the secret concealed a far more important fact: she grew up with a depressed mother who fed her and her sister erratically. So hoarding was her way to cope with deprivation. For some, the aim of lying is to feel better about themselves. A successful businessman routinely exaggerated his accomplishments. He would inflate his test scores and claim that he had won athletic competitions when he had really placed only second or third. He had, like others with narcissistic personality disorder, the constant fear of being unmasked as a fraud, a sense that no achievement could relieve. Lying for him was a means to bolster his fragile self-esteem. Negotiating modern life is difficult, and lying — small little shadings of the truth — helps lubricate our social encounters. If lying helps us “to cope with reality,” it would seem logical to conclude that it is necessary for survival in modern life.  Saxe believes that anyone under enough pressure, or given enough incentive, will lie. But in a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, DePaulo and Deborah A. Kashy, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, report that frequent liars tend to be manipulative and Machiavellian, not to mention overly concerned with the impression they make on others. On the other hand, the people least likely to lie are those who score high on psychological scales of responsibility.

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One of the greatest moral issues that we all struggle with is that of telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The book, The Day that America Told the Truth, states that 91 percent of Americans lie regularly. “Of the people interviewed, 92 percent said the main reason for their lying was to save face, and 98 percent said the reason they told lies was so as not to offend people”. Another survey of 20,000 middle- and high-schoolers indicated that 92 percent admitted to lying to their parents in the previous year, and 73 percent said that they told lies weekly. Despite these admissions, 91 percent of all respondents said they were “satisfied with my own ethics and character”. Their consciences were insensitive to their sin! But church attendance makes little difference in people’s ethical views and behavior with respect to lying, cheating, pilferage, and not reporting theft.  In her research, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. found that people lie in one in five of their daily interactions. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, claims that we’re lied to from 10-200 times a day.  Research on lying has yielded some rather amazing results. One study has concluded that, on average, people are told 200 lies per day. A University of Massachusetts researcher reported that in any 10-minute conversation, people can be expected to tell two or three lies. Men lie twice as often as women, claimed another study, and yet another found that over three quarters of lies told are never detected.

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Why do people lie?

There are many reasons but here are top three reasons.

  1. Because they fear the negative consequences of disclosing the truth.

These are the cases in which people engage in an active concealment of information that’s driven by a fear of what will happen if that information is revealed. The circumstances associated with these lies often involve an act of wrongdoing that the person wants to hide.

  1. Because they want others to believe something about them that isn’t true.

These are the lies people tell as a means of enhancing the positive image that others have of them.

  1. Because they want to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Whether it’s telling a friend that we love her dramatic new hairstyle when we really think it looks ridiculous on a woman her age, or telling a child that the picture he drew of the horse is beautiful when it really looks more like a misshapen table with a bust of a goblin on one end, we find ourselves telling these benevolent “social lies” quite readily as we navigate our way through the day.

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Consequences:

Once a lie has been told, there can be two alternative consequences: it may be discovered or remain undiscovered. Under some circumstances, discovery of a lie may discredit other statements by the same speaker and can lead to social or legal sanctions against the speaker, such as ostracizing or conviction for perjury. When a lie is discovered, the state of mind and behavior of the lie teller (liar) is no longer predictable. The discoverer of a lie may also be convinced or coerced to collaborate with the liar, becoming part of a conspiracy. They may actively propagate the lie to other parties, actively prevent the lie’s discovery by other parties, or simply omit publicizing the lie (a secondary lie of omission).

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“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Did you know that this little sentence covers the most important lies we use daily? Let’s delve into it!

“I swear to tell the truth” – Lies of commission:

If someone tells you something that is not a fact then we call this a lie of commission. This type of lie is telling someone something that is simply not true. You’re twisting the truth to create a (usually more favorable) version of something that happened. Suppose I knew it was raining outside and you asked me about the weather. “Oh no problem, it’s perfectly sunny outside!” You would now be making a decision to dress for sunny weather based on the wrong information you were given.

“The whole truth” – Lies of omission:

Another type of lie is one where you leave out an important part of information, hence the name lie of omission. In this lies, someone omits an important detail from a statement. These are nasty lies because they’re harder to spot and take less effort from the person who is lying. Suppose you are buying a used car. You ask the car salesman about the state of the car you’re currently considering. “Oh, don’t worry about that! This car has had all of its scheduled maintenance done!” He fails to tell you, however, that the car has cost hundreds of dollars to replace important parts. So yes, the car has had all of the scheduled maintenance done, but to sell the car to you, the salesman leaves out the information about the cost of maintenance for this particular car.

“And nothing but the truth”:

Sometimes people will tell you something completely unrelated to the truth to cover up a lie. This is what we call a character lie or a lie of influence. These lies are meant to make you believe the liar or to make the liar seem like such a great person that they are unlikely to be suspected of lying. Let’s look at an example. You work at the local Walmart and a colleague has been taking money from the cash registers. It’s your job to find out who it is. You interview Mary and ask her if she took the money. Her response is, “I’ve worked here for 15 years!” This is a typical character lie. By telling you how long she’s worked at Walmart, Mary is trying to make it seem highly unlikely that she took the money. Note how she only told you how long she’s worked at Walmart! She has not told you that she didn’t take the money. Be very wary for these types of lies. Whenever someone is trying to convince you of how great they are like in the example above, they are probably attempting to cover something up.

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Deception can be defined in more than one way. According to some definitions, the intentional manipulation of the truth is not an essential feature of deception. Such definitions would include, for example, the behavior of animals that mimic or blend into their background, in order to escape detection by predators. Broader definitions would include cases such as self-deception, where the presence of another individual is not even required. Lying is a type of deception in which an individual attempts to persuade another to accept as true what the deceiver believes to be untrue. Although in our culture deception usually has negative connotations, it is a fundamental and pervasive social behavior with an important role in our daily life.

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Other ways of Dishonesty and Deception besides lying:

Here are some common forms of dishonesty that masquerade as acceptable behavior:

Misrepresentation.

Distorting facts to consciously mislead or create a false impression. Spinning the truth, presenting opinion as fact, and using revisionist thinking or euphemisms to masquerade the truth are all forms of misrepresentation.

Fabrication.

Deliberately inventing an untruth or spreading a falsehood such as gossip or a rumor.

Exaggeration.

Stretching the truth to give a more favorable impression.

Denial.

Refusing to acknowledge the truth or to accept responsibility for a mistake or falsehood that was made.

Lack of transparency.

Withholding information knowing that full disclosure will have negative consequences.

Redirection.

Deflecting blame to another person to prevent personal embarrassment or responsibility.

False recognition.

Stealing the credit for someone else’s hard-earned success.

Broken promise.

Making a promise with no intention of keeping it.

Cover-up.

Protecting the misdeeds of others. Those who provide cover for the misdeeds of others are as guilty as those who perpetrate the “crime.”

Hypocrisy.

Saying one thing and consciously doing another. When words don’t match actions, someone is being dishonest with others or themselves.

Bait and switch.

Attracting someone with an exciting offer only to divert them to an inferior deal.

Living a lie.

Pretending that you are something you’re not.

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Not all untruths are lies:

Telling the truth is usually a simple matter. We have a belief, then we use words to convey that belief to someone else: for example, it’s vodka in the bottle, not water. If our belief is true (it really is vodka), then our statement is true. If our belief is mistaken (it’s actually just water), then we are saying something that is false, but this is not the same as lying or bullshitting. The liar intentionally misleads others by saying something they know is false. The bullshitter says things without knowing or caring whether they are true or false. The method of psychological bullying known as gaslighting uses lying and bullshitting to disturb others’ grip on reality. These distinctions show people can make false statements for a range of reasons. The status of any such statement depends on the intentions of the speaker. Do they make the statement in good faith? Do they intend to deceive? Or do they simply not care?

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White lies:

What we call ‘white lies’ are those untruths which we tell in order to minimize harm, embarrassment or distress. In doing so, we moderate what we and others know, think or feel. We usually tell white lies to help others, though it may also be for our own benefit. Often, both we and others benefit, for example in the way that white lies help sustain our good relationship. If you add up the all the harm that telling the truth would create and subtract the harm caused from telling a white lie, then this gives some measure of the net benefit of the white lie. We could hence define white lies as ‘Untruths that reduce net harm’. This is a little coarse as it can be really helpful for us and harmful for others and still come out as a positive.  What might be called altruistic white lies may be defined as ‘Untruths that reduce net harm to others’. This is more likely to fit into the common understanding of white lies being ‘good’ (i.e. of benefit to others). An even purer form of white lie is one that is only ever helpful. This can be simply defined ‘Untruths that do no harm’. The important aspect of such lies is nobody is harmed, so the net harm is always guaranteed to be zero or only ever helpful.

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Blue lies:

Lying in the name of the collective good occurs commonly in the adult world. Such lies are frequently told in business, politics, sports, and many other areas of human life. These lies are so common that they have acquired a specific name, the ‘blue lie’ (purportedly originating from cases where police officers made false statements to protect the police force or to ensure the success of the government’s legal case against an accused). Although people generally reject lying, they often feel that lying in the name of the collective good is morally justified because blue lies serve pro-social purposes. Where does this moral latitude come from? Social psychological research has long revealed that people’s social behaviors are strongly influenced by social situational factors, which may also be the driving force for adults’ decisions to tell blue lies. In other words, blue lies are a unique product of an individual’s attempt to meet the complex demands of the adult society. However, an additional possibility is that this moral latitude already exists in childhood. Children may be socialized to believe that lying for the collective is morally acceptable. As a result, they endorse others telling blue lies as well as telling them themselves.

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How do you get truth out of anyone accused of crime?

  1. Adopt a sincere, understanding tone and demeanour.

There’s a saying to the effect that the guilty person seeks only to be understood, for to be understood gives the appearance of being forgiven. Far from confrontational or belligerent, the demeanor you project should be engaged, calm, empathetic, and most of all, sincere. Slowing your rate of speech and lowering your voice a bit will aid you tremendously in evincing sincerity.

  1. Help the person rationalize his actions.

This will nudge him a step in the direction of being less focused on long-term consequences, and more focused on the reasons you’re giving him to see telling the truth as a viable option. Rationalizing his actions or behavior by reminding him, for example, that everyone is human, and that everyone makes mistakes, will help weaken his resolve to withhold the truth.

  1. Minimize the seriousness of the situation.

The more you’re able to downplay the consequential nature of the matter about which the individual is withholding the truth, the more comfortable he will be to share the information you’re seeking. When he hears you say, “It’s important that we not blow this out of proportion,” he’ll be struck by how reasonable you are, and you’ll likely be perceived as much less of an adversary.

  1. Socialize the situation so the person doesn’t feel so alone.

If I have the impression that you and others might think of me as a pariah if I admit that I did the bad thing, I’m going to be awfully reluctant to admit it. On the other hand, if you tell me this is the sort of thing you see all the time being done by men and women in all walks of life, I’m going to feel much less alienated.

  1. Assure the individual that there is plenty of blame to go around

Chances are, a person who wants to conceal the truth will not have adopted a “buck stops here” mentality. It’s always easier for someone to fess up if he sees that the finger isn’t being pointed solely at him. Liberally shower the blame wherever you can convincingly do so—society, the system, management, bad apples are all potential accomplices in causing the bad thing to happen.

  1. Don’t allow the person to voice a lie or a denial.

If the person is in lying or denial mode, you don’t want his lips moving—the more opportunity he’s given to articulate the lie, the more psychologically entrenched he’ll become, and the less likely he will be to reverse himself and tell you the truth.

  1. Take advantage of the power of repetition.

Human nature is such that the more frequently we hear something, the more likely we are to believe it, or to at least be open to the possibility. Remember that if the person is in denial mode, you don’t want his lips moving, so you’re the one doing the talking. Freely rearticulate the rationalization, minimization, socialization, and projection of blame that will help the person, even if only temporarily, to see things your way.

  1. Use implicit rather than explicit language.

The more implicit you are in the language you use, the easier it will likely be for the person to buy in to what you’re saying. If you tell the person you want to work with him to help get the matter “resolved,” let his mind take that where it will. To you, “resolved” might mean a conviction. To him, it might mean something he can live with. Similarly, avoid any language that might remind the person of negative consequences: He “took” rather than “stole” the jewellery; he “gained unfair advantage” rather than “cheated” on the test; he “inappropriately touched” rather than “assaulted” the woman.

  1. Never sit in judgment.

Remember that your goal from the outset was to get the truth, not to assume the roles of judge and jury. That goal will be considerably more difficult to accomplish if the person feels that you’re judging him, so make sure you avoid chastising or reprimanding him in any way. You want him to see you as a confidant, not as an arbiter of his fate.

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Antisocial personality disorder and lying:

Perhaps the most interesting liars are people with antisocial personality disorder. Antisocial people have deficient or absent consciences that allow them to engage in all kinds of mischief with little or no guilt. They can be superficially charming, but they often lack empathy and have no trouble lying, stealing or being violent. They lie frequently to get their hands on something that isn’t theirs or to escape a mess that is. What’s intriguing is that antisocial people seem to have fundamentally different emotional and biological responses from others. For example, researchers have found that antisocial subjects have diminished responses to facial expressions of sadness or fear and that their response to fear is generally blunted. This may explain, in part, why antisocial people seem undeterred by punishment or can’t learn from the negative consequences of their own behavior. In contrast to normal people who experience anxiety when they lie, antisocial people can lie with complete composure. And because they experience little physiological arousal, they can often fool a polygraph test, which detects peripheral signs of anxiety like a rapid heart rate. Anxious truth tellers, meanwhile, can easily fail simply because they’re nervous, throwing the validity of the polygraph into question.

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Pathological liar and truth-teller:

Yet some people, called pathological liars, utter untruths constantly and for no clear reason. Their behavior confounds scientists and oftentimes themselves.  “Pathological liars have a pattern of frequent, repeated and excessive lies or lying behavior for which there is no apparent benefit or gain for the liar,” said Charles Dike, clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University and medical director of the Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those rare individuals who might be described as “pathological truth-tellers.” These people forego socially convenient and appropriate fibs to speak the unvarnished, upsetting truth. Intriguingly, this “lying handicap” is a common feature of the developmental disorder high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. “People with Asperger’s have a tendency to be very blunt and direct — they can be honest to a fault,” said Tony Attwood, professor of psychology at Minds & Hearts, an Asperger’s and autism clinic in Brisbane, Australia. Asperger’s is characterized by impairment in social interactions and restricted interests.  Attwood noted that these individuals have an “allegiance to the truth, rather than people’s feelings.” Key to proper socialization and its subtleties is “theory of mind,” the ability to attribute mental states to other individuals. “Theory of mind is determining what others are thinking, feeling or believe,” said Attwood. Asperger’s patients tend to have a poorly developed theory of mind, which presents them with great difficulty in empathizing with others. More positively, this trait makes it tough to construct deceitful ruses, and those with Asperger’s who do learn how to lie often do so badly, said Attwood. Brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have revealed a basis for this deficit. In Asperger’s patients and autistics, there is less activity in parts of the “social brain,” such as the prefrontal cortex. “In Asperger’s, that area is dysfunctional,” said Attwood. “Areas of the prefrontal cortex that should light up don’t in fMRI.”

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Half-truth:

A partial-truth is a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. The statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may use some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade, blame or misrepresent the truth. Half-truths may use various tools, including statistics, unexpected meanings of words, facts taken out of context, or even nonstandard punctuation to corrupt the meaning conveyed by an otherwise true statement.  The purpose and or consequence of a half-truth is to make something that is really only a belief appear to be knowledge, or a truthful statement to represent the whole truth, or possibly lead to a false conclusion. According to the justified true belief theory of knowledge, in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe in the relevant true proposition, but one must also have a good reason for doing so. A half-truth deceives the recipient by presenting something believable and using those aspects of the statement that can be shown to be true as good reason to believe the statement is true in its entirety, or that the statement represents the whole truth. A person deceived by a half-truth considers the proposition to be knowledge and acts accordingly.

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McNamara fallacy:

The McNamara fallacy (also known as quantitative fallacy), named for Robert McNamara, the United States Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, involves making a decision based solely on quantitative observations (or metrics) and ignoring all others. The reason given is often that these other observations cannot be proven. The McNamara fallacy originates from the Vietnam War, in which enemy body counts were taken to be a precise and objective measure of success. War was reduced to a mathematical model: by increasing enemy deaths and minimizing one’s own, victory was assured. Critics note that guerrilla warfare and widespread resistance can thwart this formula.

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

— Daniel Yankelovich “Corporate Priorities: A continuing study of the new demands on business.” (1972)

Two examples:

Ted has a lot of money. Lots of money makes a person happy. Ted says that he is depressed. What Ted says does not necessarily indicate how he feels. Depression cannot be proven. Therefore, Ted is happy. McNamara fallacy is invoked to describe the futility of using progression-free survival (PFS) as a primary endpoint in clinical trials for agents treating metastatic solid tumors simply because PFS is an endpoint which is merely measurable, while failing to capture outcomes which are more meaningful such as overall quality of life or overall survival.

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Paltering (Deceiving with the truth):

There are two types of deception: Lying by commission — the active use of false statements — and lying by omission — the passive act of misleading by failing to disclose relevant information. Nowadays a third, and common, form of deception is identified. Rather than misstating facts or failing to provide information, paltering involves actively making truthful statements to create a mistaken impression. Paltering is when a communicator says truthful things and in the process knowingly leads the listener to a false conclusion. It has the same effect as lying, but it allows the communicator to say truthful things. Paltering is used by politicians commonly. It was a deft explanation that, to many observers, gave credence to the nickname “Slick Willie.” President Bill Clinton, facing increasing questions about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, appeared on PBS’s “NewsHour” with host Jim Lehrer on Jan. 21, 1998, to deny allegations of an affair with “that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”

Lehrer: ‘No improper relationship’: Define what you mean by that.

Clinton: Well, I think you know what it means. It means that there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship, or any other kind of improper relationship.

Lehrer: You had no sexual relationship with this young woman?

Clinton: There is not a sexual relationship. That is accurate.

Of course, there indeed had been a sexual relationship, but at the time of this exchange, Clinton and Lewinsky were no longer involved, making Clinton’s declaration that there “is not” a relationship technically true — but also misleading to anyone not attuned to the president’s lawyerly linguistic parsing. Clinton’s statement — not quite a lie and not quite truthful — is a memorable example of a surprisingly common, deceptive practice called paltering.  In one study of 65 mid- to senior-level managers enrolled in an executive-education course at HBS, 66 percent reported paltering in most (22 percent) or some (45 percent) of their deal-making. Ninety-two percent of the managers said they palter in order to get a better deal, while 80 percent reported that when they palter, they think of it as honest.

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Lying and Truth-Telling in Children:

There has been extensive research on the development of lying which dates back to the beginning of developmental psychology. This longstanding interest in this topic is due to the fact that lying can serve as a window into many aspects of children’s developing minds, for example, intelligence, theory of mind, moral understanding, personality and character formation, and children’s competence as witnesses in the courts of law. Lying is a common social phenomenon. It occurs regularly in various social contexts for a multitude of purposes. For children, there are two types of lies that are of great importance during their socialization. One type is the lies that violate moral rules as they are typically told to benefit oneself at the expense of others. Due to the anti-social nature of this type of lie, it is universally discouraged by children’s caregivers and teachers from a very early age. The other type of lies are lies that are told with an intention to help, not harm, another individual (e.g., faking liking an undesirable gift in front of a gift-giver) and are thus prosocial in nature. Although philosophers and theologians have long debated about whether prosocial lies should be morally sanctioned in everyday practice, such lies are told frequently, and often entail positive values. Some theorists such as Sweetser (1987) have even suggested that in some situations prosocial lies are not only socially acceptable but also are not lies at all.

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Children learn to lie at an average of about 3 years old, often when they realize that other people don’t know what they are thinking, said Kang Lee, a professor at the University of Toronto. He has done extensive research on children and lying. Lee set up an experiment in a video-monitored room and would tell children there’s a toy they can have that’s behind them, but they can only get it if they don’t peek. Then the adult is called out of the room, returns a minute later and asks if they peeked. At age 2, only 30 percent lie, Lee said. At age 3, half do. By 5 or 6, 90 percent of the kids lie and Lee said he worries about the 10 percent who don’t. This is universal, Lee said. A little later, “we explicitly teach our kids to tell white lies,” with parental coaching about things like saying how much they love gifts from grandma, and it’s a lesson most of them only get around age 6 or older, Lee said. Research has shown that children begin to lie as early as preschool years and the tendency to lie continues to increase with age. Not only do children lie to conceal their own transgressions or to trick others, but they also tell white lies to spare the feelings of others. However, it is entirely unclear whether children will tell lies for their collective and how children’s willingness to tell blue lies is related to their moral understanding of such type of lies. One of the most obvious reasons for lying in children is to avoid punishment or an unpleasant outcome.  Another reason is to avoid losing favour in parent’s eyes. To teach children not to lie, extolling the virtues of honesty may be more effective than focusing on the punishing consequences of deception.

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Children’s Developing Concept of Truth and Lies:

Dr. Victoria Talwar is a Canada Research Chair (II) and an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill University. She has been working in the area of developmental psychology for over fifteen years with an emphasis on children’s social-cognitive and moral development.  She has found that lying follows a universal pattern emerging in the preschool years and is related to children’s emerging cognitive abilities (e.g., theory-of-mind and executive function) irrespective of cultural norms and expectations. This suggests that the early development of children’s lie-telling abilities may be a reflection of children’s adaptive normative development. Children around the world start to tell lies as they learn to strategically use their knowledge about the world and other people’s minds to their advantage. Lying in a four-year-old is just another sign of their development! Of course, lying is not a behavior we wish to encourage and we socialize children about the importance of honesty. The development of lie-telling and the methods of promoting truth-telling in children is both theoretically valuable because it answers questions about children’s social-cognitive development as well as practically valuable because it helps to assess, encourage, and educate truthfulness in children.

Note:

In contrast to Dr. Victoria Talwar’s research, other researcher found that children’s moral understanding of lying may be influenced by the cultural context in which they are socialized. As children become increasingly exposed to their culture, their conception of lying and its moral values become more in line with the cultural norms, which in turn may influence their actual lying behavior.

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Post-truth, media and politics:

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the term post-truth was first used in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation. Tesich writes that following the shameful truth of Watergate, more assuaging coverage of the Iran–Contra scandal and Persian Gulf War demonstrate that “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” In 2004, Ralph Keyes used the term “post-truth era” in his book by that title. The same year American journalist Eric Alterman spoke of a “post-truth political environment” and coined the term “the post-truth presidency” in his analysis of the misleading statements made by the Bush administration after 9/11. In his 2004 book Post-democracy, Colin Crouch used the phrase “post-democracy” to mean a model of politics where “elections certainly exist and can change governments,” but “public electoral debate is a tightly controlled spectacle, managed by rival teams of professionals expert in the techniques of persuasion, and considering a small range of issues selected by those teams.” Crouch directly attributes the “advertising industry model” of political communication to the crisis of trust and accusations of dishonesty that a few years later others have associated with post-truth politics. There has been much discussion in the media, academia, and within the U.S. government about living in a “post-truth” or “post-factual” society and how to operate in it. Much was made of Oxford Dictionary’s decision to make “post-truth” the Word of the Year in 2016, an adjective they defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” We are living in a post-truth world, where alternative facts and fake news compete on an equal footing with peer-reviewed research and authoritative sources.

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We live, or so we’re told, in an “information society,” where knowledge-creation and trading is a principal industry.   It is customary now to rely on experts who tell us what to do and, frequently enough, perform those activities for us.  Modern existence means going to doctors, teachers, religious leaders, therapists, lawyers, and tax preparers.  Other job-holders repair our cars, fix our plumbing and air-conditioning systems, and guide our exercise routines.  It is presumed that such people know much more about the activity-in-question than we do.  That is the reason we pay them. As part of the bargain, we expect them to discharge their duties “professionally,” that is, to adhere to the published standards of their occupations, treat us courteously, and be honest with us in their descriptions and assessments. We make similar assumptions about those who present us with more public forms of information – scientists, academicians, government officials, jurists, and journalists.  We assume these people are doing their jobs with integrity.  At least that is what we have assumed in the past. In recent years, however, there has been heightened suspicion about the truthfulness – and thus the motives – of those dispensers of public information.  The information society is accused of spreading disinformation.  In some quarters, well-substantiated scientific understandings – global warming and the evolution of species come to mind – are doubted.  Easily verified historical occurrences – such as the Holocaust or the Sandy Hook school massacre – are “denied.”  Public figures are accused not simply of misrepresenting information but of “being,” in a characterological sense, “liars.”   Terms like “alternative facts” and “fake news” are bandied about.  Putting the matter extremely, we seem to be on the precipice of a “post-truth” era.

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Why post-truth is happening?

Many people blame the Internet and the smartphone revolution, but that isn’t the whole story. Technology has exacerbated the problem, for sure, but the underlying social trend here dates back to the pre-computer era. Some people also blame prominent truth-challenged individuals, but we shouldn’t mix up cause and effect:  contempt for expert advice is what created the Trump bandwagon, not vice versa. The post-truth era has emerged because of several long-cycle trends that affect how we make sense of the world around us.  The phenomenon even has a name — agnotology, the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt.  And it comes in a variety of flavors, from the relatively benign (persuading people through ‘spin’ or selective use of facts) to the deliberately malicious (wilful peddling of objectively incorrect information).   The implications of agnotology, for business and for politics, are huge. There are two long-cycle trends that shape our understanding of the world. First, the gap between what each one of us knows and what the world knows is growing rapidly. Second, the worlds of business and politics are becoming more interdependent, in the sense that something happening in one place can have unpredictable second- or third-order consequences in another place. Cyber-attacks, outbreaks of infectious diseases, terrorist threats, political movements, social memes — all of these are manifestations of the “complex system” that is the global economy.   Unfortunately, complex systems cannot be modelled accurately.  It is a strange paradox of our times: the more we connect, the harder it is for us to predict. Put these two points together: as individuals, we are struggling to understand the present, and it is getting hard to predict the future. The result is a form of cognitive dissonance. As thoughtful beings, we like to be in control, but increasingly we cannot. So how do we resolve this dissonance?  We fall back on belief — on our own intuition. New York University Professor Jonathan Haidt explains this point as follows. We would like to think we use reasoning and analysis to reach a judgment, for example by looking at the evidence around the dangers of genetically modified crops, and then deciding whether they should be banned or not.  In reality, we do the exact opposite: we come to an intuition-based judgment early on (often subconsciously) and then we use that to build a cogent argument for our view, typically by marshalling the supporting evidence and ignoring the evidence that might take us in a different direction. This is a scary point: it is human nature to jump straight to a judgment, often on the basis of the slenderest of facts and, paradoxically, the more complex and uncertain the issue, the more we tend to trust our intuition.  If asked, do you support putting up traffic lights at a busy intersection where you live, you can quickly think through the pros and cons and come to a verdict.  If asked, do you support leaving the European Union, the reasoning-based part of your brain goes into meltdown, and the intuitive part takes over. While this tendency to leap to judgment has always existed, it has become a bigger problem as individuals become (relatively) ignorant and less able to see what’s coming next.  Technology then exacerbates the problem, with our Facebook and Twitter feeds creating an echo-chamber of judgments that are often complete devoid of facts.  And smart politicians are quick to exploit the trend, tapping into our intuition and subconscious beliefs, rather than boring us with hard evidence. Emotion beats logic in the art of persuasion — a point that the Brexiteers and the Trump campaign understood very well.

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Fake news is a global phenomenon. Mantzarlis explained that about half of the most widely shared stories on  Facebook  on the eve of a referendum in  Italy  last year were false, and that fake news has been particularly harmful in the  Philippines, where it is “poisoning online information”. Post-truth has also been abetted by the evolution of the media. The fragmentation of news sources has created an atomised world in which lies, rumour and gossip spread with alarming speed. Lies that are widely shared online within a network, whose members trust each other more than they trust any mainstream-media source, can quickly take on the appearance of truth. Presented with evidence that contradicts a belief that is dearly held, people have a tendency to ditch the facts first. Well-intentioned journalistic practices bear blame too. The pursuit of “fairness” in reporting often creates phoney balance at the expense of truth. In a handbook for aspiring journalists published in 1894, Edwin L. Shuman shared what he called one of the “most valuable secrets of the profession at its present stage of development.” He revealed that it was standard practice for reporters to invent a few details, provided the made-up facts were nonessential to the overall story. “Truth in essentials, imagination in nonessentials, is considered a legitimate rule of action in every office,” he wrote. “The paramount object is to make an interesting story.”  Interesting story then meant truth surrounded by imagination. Interesting story now is untruth surrounded by gossip. Lies, seduction, persuasion, hypocrisy and flattery have always attended public life; alternative facts and fake news have been part of the feedstock of politics and journalism for long. You can call it “post-truth,” you can call it “fake news,” or you call it “alternative facts.” Or you can borrow Dan Rather’s phrasing from earlier this year: “A lie, is a lie, is a lie.” In 2016 media learned the hard way that journalism is in danger of being overwhelmed by rogue politics and a communications revolution that accelerates the spread of lies, misinformation and dubious claims.  Polling shows that Americans hunger for factual truth. According to a study by the Media Insight Project, a partnership of the American Press Institute and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, nearly 90 percent of Americans say it is “extremely” or “very important” that the media get its facts correct. Furthermore, about 40 percent say they can remember a specific incident that eroded their confidence in the media, most often one involving inaccuracies or a perception of one-sidedness, making factual accuracy the most important component of public trust in journalism. There are also dangers in accepting a post-truth paradigm. Communicators, experts, and officials may feel overwhelmed and succumb to inaction or, worse, be seduced into adopting “post-truth techniques” that appeal only to emotion and sideline facts or challenging audiences’ beliefs. There is also the temptation to counter the barrage of misinformation by attempting to rebut every false story, but this is a losing proposition. There are too many of them, they spread too quickly, and there are too few of us to chase them.

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There is at least one truth in politics: Politicians lie. They misrepresent, twist and spin facts. They try to get away with hiding or obfuscating the truth. When they are caught in a real whopper, however, they usually pay a price — not just at the polls but also because their legacy is tarnished. The lunatic notion of a “post-truth” or “post-fact” society gained traction during the administration of George W. Bush, whose lackeys lied their heads off so spectacularly and for so long, with the aid of the effectively state-sponsored Fox News Network. Mocked as “truthiness” by Stephen Colbert in 2005, and soberly analyzed in various books, the key idea of the “post-truth” society was this: if a given public utterance had sufficient appeal — emotional, political or otherwise — its empirical truth was immaterial. What we can be persuaded to wish to believe, in other words, is as good as the truth. How else to explain the long currency of such whoppers as the connection between Iraq and 9/11, the likely cost and duration of the “necessary” wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, “the smoking gun that would be a mushroom cloud,” the lawfulness of torture, and of domestic surveillance, etc. ad nauseam? The peculiar mendacity of that catastrophic presidency left us with worse problems than a bunch of lies to put straight and reflect on. There’s a broken trust to restore — to the extent that it’s possible to replace toxic cynicism with healthy scepticism — in media and in government. Post-truth politics has been applied as a political buzzword to a wide range of political cultures – one article in The Economist identified post-truth politics in Austria, Germany, North Korea, Poland, Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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Dismediation is a form of propaganda that seeks to undermine the medium by which it travels, like a computer virus that bricks the whole machine. Thus, for example,

  • Information: John Kerry is a war hero who was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star;
  • Misinformation: John Kerry was never wounded in the Vietnam War;
  • Disinformation: John Kerry is a coward;
  • Dismediation: ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’ are disinterested sources of information about John Kerry, equivalent in integrity to any other source that might be presented on the evening news.

These four narratives were distributed simultaneously across various channels during the 2004 election, though only one of them (the first) is true.

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A paper published by RAND in 2016, titled “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model,” made three important observations: 1) people tend to believe something when it is repeated, 2) propagandists gain the advantage when they get to make the first impression, and 3) subsequent rebuttals may actually work to reinforce the original misinformation, rather than dissipate it. The paper’s conclusion is that the most effective way to respond to misinformation is not to counter every false story out there, but to direct a “stream” of accurate messaging at whatever the firehose of falsehoods is aimed, in an effort to lead the targeted audience in a more productive direction. The way to counter pseudo-facts and misinformation is to present a compelling narrative of our own, one that is true, defensible, and based on the enduring values and goals that people share, not the least of which is strengthening our collective security and prosperity. To gain credibility and make our narrative relevant, we must also listen to and acknowledge our audiences’ underlying fears, grievances, and beliefs.

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We often think of lies as being the ultimate demise of truth, as we see them as polar opposites to the concept, but it is far easier than that to undermine truth: “manufacturing doubt”, as put by the tobacco industry PR teams. This is one of the reasons why and how these fake news articles appeal to the public and how they should be combated by statisticians, economists and anyone else out there on the lookout for “factfulness”. As it turns out, fact-checkers are an important foundation but there are three potential limitations in using them as an isolated tool: firstly, the “real truth” is more complicated than the fake one, which is often inconvenient. Secondly, rebutting myths serves to further popularize them in the selective memory of people. And perhaps most concerningly, people only seem willing to accept truths that justify their subconscious reasons. Therefore, if we are to defeat this malnourishment on propaganda, we need to go beyond just exposing facts- we need to make people interested, we need to promote curiosity. And while certainly this task seems complex on a large scale, simply breaking out of filter bubbles- stop surrounding ourselves just with people and sources that reinforce our beliefs- may be the best beginning we’ve got.

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How to combat post-truth:

  1. Recognize the importance of emotions. We are all human at the end of the day.
  2. Don’t be patronizing. Truth and facts don’t always win the argument.
  3. Acknowledge people’s opinions, even if it’s based on false facts. Because it’s not just about false information, it’s also about their personal experience.
  4. Find common ground. If a personal connection is established, dialogue on two opposing ideas will be more productive. And always end discussions on a positive note.
  5. Support good journalism and informative content. This means next time you find an article that you learnt something from, like it, share it.

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How technology disrupted the truth:

Social media has swallowed the news – threatening the funding of public-interest reporting and ushering in an era when everyone has their own facts. But the consequences go far beyond journalism.  Twenty-five years after the first website went online, it is clear that we are living through a period of dizzying transition. For 500 years after Gutenberg, the dominant form of information was the printed page: knowledge was primarily delivered in a fixed format, one that encouraged readers to believe in stable and settled truths. Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob. What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows. Increasingly, what counts as a fact is merely a view that someone feels to be true – and technology has made it very easy for these “facts” to circulate with a speed and reach that was unimaginable in the Gutenberg era (or even a decade ago). A dubious story about Cameron and a pig appears in a tabloid one morning, and by noon, it has flown around the world on social media and turned up in trusted news sources everywhere. This may seem like a small matter, but its consequences are enormous.

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In the digital age, it is easier than ever to publish false information, which is quickly shared and taken to be true. “The Truth”, as Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie wrote in Stick It Up Your Punter!, their history of the Sun newspaper, is a “bald statement which every newspaper prints at its peril”. There are usually several conflicting truths on any given subject, but in the era of the printing press, words on a page nailed things down, whether they turned out to be true or not. The information felt like the truth, at least until the next day brought another update or a correction, and we all shared a common set of facts. This settled “truth” was usually handed down from above: an established truth, often fixed in place by an establishment. This arrangement was not without flaws: too much of the press often exhibited a bias towards the status quo and a deference to authority, and it was prohibitively difficult for ordinary people to challenge the power of the press. Now, people distrust much of what is presented as fact – particularly if the facts in question are uncomfortable, or out of sync with their own views – and while some of that distrust is misplaced, some of it is not. In the digital age, it is easier than ever to publish false information, which is quickly shared and taken to be true – as we often see in emergency situations, when news is breaking in real time. To pick one example among many, during the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, rumours quickly spread on social media that the Louvre and Pompidou Centre had been hit, and that François Hollande had suffered a stroke. Trusted news organisations are needed to debunk such tall tales. Sometimes rumours like these spread out of panic, sometimes out of malice, and sometimes deliberate manipulation, in which a corporation or regime pays people to convey their message. Whatever the motive, falsehoods and facts now spread the same way, through what academics call an “information cascade”. As the legal scholar and online-harassment expert Danielle Citron describes it, “people forward on what others think, even if the information is false, misleading or incomplete, because they think they have learned something valuable.” This cycle repeats itself, and before you know it, the cascade has unstoppable momentum. You share a friend’s post on Facebook, perhaps to show kinship or agreement or that you’re “in the know”, and thus you increase the visibility of their post to others.

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Algorithms such as the one that powers Facebook’s news feed are designed to give us more of what they think we want – which means that the version of the world we encounter every day in our own personal stream has been invisibly curated to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs. When Eli Pariser, the co-founder of Upworthy, coined the term “filter bubble” in 2011, he was talking about how the personalised web – and in particular Google’s personalised search function, which means that no two people’s Google searches are the same – means that we are less likely to be exposed to information that challenges us or broadens our worldview, and less likely to encounter facts that disprove false information that others have shared. Pariser’s plea, at the time, was that those running social media platforms should ensure that “their algorithms prioritise countervailing views and news that’s important, not just the stuff that’s most popular or most self-validating”. But in less than five years, thanks to the incredible power of a few social platforms, the filter bubble that Pariser described has become much more extreme.

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On the day after the EU referendum, in a Facebook post, the British internet activist and mySociety founder, Tom Steinberg, provided a vivid illustration of the power of the filter bubble – and the serious civic consequences for a world where information flows largely through social networks: ‘I am actively searching through Facebook for people celebrating the Brexit leave victory, but the filter bubble is so strong, and extends so far into things like Facebook’s custom search that I can’t find anyone who is happy despite the fact that over half the country is clearly jubilant today and despite the fact that I’m actively looking to hear what they are saying. This echo-chamber problem is now so severe and so chronic that for social media leaders not act on this problem now is tantamount to actively supporting and funding the tearing apart of the fabric of our societies … We’re getting countries where one half just doesn’t know anything at all about the other. But asking technology companies to “do something” about the filter bubble presumes that this is a problem that can be easily fixed – rather than one baked into the very idea of social networks that are designed to give you what you and your friends want to see’.

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Facebook, which launched only in 2004, now has 1.6bn users worldwide. It has become the dominant way for people to find news on the internet – and in fact it is dominant in ways that would have been impossible to imagine in the newspaper era. As Emily Bell has written: “Social media hasn’t just swallowed journalism, it has swallowed everything. It has swallowed political campaigns, banking systems, personal histories, the leisure industry, retail, even government and security.” Bell, the director of the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University – and a board member of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian – has outlined the seismic impact of social media for journalism. “Our news ecosystem has changed more dramatically in the past five years,” she wrote in March, “than perhaps at any time in the past 500 years.” The future of publishing is being put into the “hands of the few, who now control the destiny of the many”. News publishers have lost control over the distribution of their journalism, which for many readers is now “filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable”. This means that social media companies have become overwhelmingly powerful in determining what we read – and enormously profitable from the monetisation of other people’s work. As Bell notes: “There is a far greater concentration of power in this respect than there has ever been in the past.” Publications curated by editors have in many cases been replaced by a stream of information chosen by friends, contacts and family, processed by secret algorithms. The old idea of a wide-open web – where hyperlinks from site to site created a non-hierarchical and decentralised network of information – has been largely supplanted by platforms designed to maximise your time within their walls, some of which (such as Instagram and Snapchat) do not allow outward links at all. Many people, in fact, especially teenagers, now spend more and more of their time on closed chat apps, which allow users to create groups to share messages privately – perhaps because young people, who are most likely to have faced harassment online, are seeking more carefully protected social spaces. But the closed space of a chat app is an even more restrictive silo than the walled garden of Facebook or other social networks. Of course, Facebook does not decide what you read – at least not in the traditional sense of making decisions – and nor does it dictate what news organisations produce. But when one platform becomes the dominant source for accessing information, news organisations will often tailor their own work to the demands of this new medium. (The most visible evidence of Facebook’s influence on journalism is the panic that accompanies any change in the news feed algorithm that threatens to reduce the page views sent to publishers.)

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Of course, journalists have got things wrong in the past – either by mistake or prejudice or sometimes by intent. So it would be a mistake to think this is a new phenomenon of the digital age. The old media were certainly capable of perpetrating appalling falsehoods, which could take years to unravel. Some of the old hierarchies have been decisively undermined, which has led to a more open debate and a more substantial challenge to the old elites whose interests often dominated the media. But what is new and significant is that today, rumours and lies are read just as widely as copper-bottomed facts – and often more widely, because they are wilder than reality and more exciting to share. The cynicism of this approach was expressed most nakedly by Neetzan Zimmerman, formerly employed by Gawker as a specialist in high-traffic viral stories. “Nowadays it’s not important if a story’s real,” he said in 2014. “The only thing that really matters is whether people click on it.” Facts, he suggested, are over; they are a relic from the age of the printing press, when readers had no choice. He continued: “If a person is not sharing a news story, it is, at its core, not news.” The increasing prevalence of this approach suggests that we are in the midst of a fundamental change in the values of journalism – a consumerist shift. Instead of strengthening social bonds, or creating an informed public, or the idea of news as a civic good, a democratic necessity, it creates gangs, which spread instant falsehoods that fit their views, reinforcing each other’s beliefs, driving each other deeper into shared opinions, rather than established facts. The digital advertising model doesn’t currently discriminate between true or not true, just big or small. As the American political reporter Dave Weigel wrote in the wake of a hoax story that became a viral hit all the way back in 2013: “‘Too good to check’ used to be a warning to newspaper editors not to jump on bullshit stories. Now it’s a business model.

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Pros and cons of telling truth:

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Pros of telling truth:

  1. Because you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said to whom. You won’t accidentally contradict yourself.
  2. You earn the reputation as an honest person. If you are a manager, your staff members tell each other, “Our boss might be more honest about your work than you sometimes want to hear, but it’s better to know the truth.”
  3. People follow your example and are more truthful to you.
  4. Your stress level drops. You sleep better, eat better and look better. When you keep on telling lies, you always live under a fear of your lie being found out. That creates lot of stress and panic in your mind which eventually is harmful for your health.
  5. You can look at yourself in the mirror. Lying causes self-criticism and depression. Honesty causes self-confidence and pride.
  6. You are more persuasive. To be persuasive, you need to be believable. To be believable, you must be truthful.
  7. Best of all, you are trustworthy. When people can trust you, you earn their support. You need peoples’ support to reach your goals.
  8. Telling truth always gives us a sense of satisfaction
  9. When you have a habit of telling lies, especially even for the smallest of things then nobody will believe you even when you say the truth. This could prove dangerous especially in a crisis when you are in need of some help and nobody comes forward to help you.
  10. We only have to keep track of one version of reality. And this leaves our brains free to work on interesting creative problems instead of keeping track of what we said to whom.
  11. We are less likely to fall for scams simply because we want them to be true.
  12. Telling the truth earns respect.
  13. Telling the truth creates deeper connections. Accepting to tell the truth to people means that you are willing to fully express your feelings no matter how scary it is. It clearly shows a high level of trust and encourages your family, your friends, your partner or other people you are interacting with to open their heart too.
  14. Lying becomes habit of lying. According to a journal (Consciousness and Cognition) published in 2010 “Frequent lie makes lying easier and frequent truth makes lying more difficult” or we can say that “we reap what we sow”. It can be explained in a way that the more we lie more we get prone to lying and one also finds it easier to lie. In general also we find things easier when we repeatedly do them. Similarly we will eventually find lying easier and delightful than saying he truth.
  15. Truth builds your reputation and relationships.
  16. Truth encourages honesty in others. If you want others to tell you the truth, it’s important to lead by example by telling the truth yourself.

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Cons of telling truth:

There are many disadvantages to being truthful.

  1. You could hurt other people by being truthful. In certain situations truth hurts. Many people do not like honest person saying truth. Since honest people say bitter truth on the face of people, they are disregarded among friends, relatives and colleagues.
  2. You could embarrass other people by being truthful
  3. You will find the majority doesn’t want anyone to “rock the boat”, often times by telling the truth it stirs the waters and people just want the calm back, not who is right or wrong but what is easiest for the herd.
  4. In business being truthful is a killer. Once again people don’t want the truth, they just want easiest.
  5. Being truthful can also get others in trouble, for example at work, or with the law, or with other friends.
  6. You can lose friends, for example at work if a boss askes “who did this?” If you tell the truth and say “bob did it” bob and others will hate you and see you as a rat or tattle tale.
  7. You will be taken for granted. Since people working beside honest people know that in no circumstance these honest people will lie or go against the truth, they are always taken for granted.
  8. You may be rejection in an interview. For the sake of getting a job, many people tell lie. Whatever the interviewer ask the candidate, the answers always come in yes. But, the honest candidate will never say yes which he or she cannot do practically. The job seekers may feel inclined to over exaggeration for the risk of losing job prospect. When there is an assessment about skills of individual, the honest person will always tell the truth even if he is not proficient about particular skill. As a result, honesty fails and the honest person gets rejected.
  9. You will be vulnerable. Honesty in a relationship can also make you vulnerable. For example, if you have a habit of drinking alcohol occasionally, you might tend to hide this from your wife and family members at home. But, an honest person will never say lie. Rather, he would speak the truth. As a result, the relationship turns sour with argument. Even, you will be reminded about the previous incident about which you have been open and honest.
  10. There will be customer dissatisfaction. In the service industry, honesty may violate the business. Since, the employees need to deal with the customers, it is important to satisfy their customers in all ways. In many cases, people serving the customers have to tell lie in order to satisfy customers. Since, the honest people cannot do this ever due to their honesty; sustainability in the job field for them becomes violated.

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Truth makes you healthier and lying makes you sick: a study:

Telling a few white lies may seem harmless, but a new study suggests that you might improve your mental and physical health if you cut down on the lies you tell. “We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health,” said Anita Kelly, study author and professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, in a statement. Kelly presented her findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Orlando. Her team found that participants who began telling the truth more often experienced 54 percent fewer mental health complaints (such as anxiety or feeling blue) over the course of the study, and 56 percent fewer physical health complaints (such as nausea or headaches). Subjects who began telling the truth more often also reported happier relationships and improved social interactions. Surprisingly, the “size” of a lie doesn’t appear to have much impact on its health effects, Kelly says. Both minor lies, like telling a friend you can’t meet for coffee because you “have to work,” and big lies, such as claiming false credentials in a job interview, can negatively affect your health. “Both white and major lies can be problematic,” she says, “because they can both cause the person to be seen as a liar. Both can violate expectations of honesty in a relationship.” And all of that leads to feelings of anxiety and guilt.

Why lying makes you sick:

Because you know it’s wrong to lie, doing so goes against what you deem as ‘right’ and builds anxiety. The anxiety just increases as you try to keep from being caught. A person who lies doesn’t want to be found out. They want the whole thing to go away. As a result of all that guilt, or related anxiety and stress, you begin to physically feel the effects of the lies, says Reef Karim, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience. “There’s definitely a connection.” Your immune system could become compromised because your body is stressed, making it harder to fight off colds and flus. “For some, it’s an immediate effect,” Karim notes. “For others it’s a slow build of physical problems, like headaches.”

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Truth and religion:

In a religious context, perfect knowledge of all truth about all things (omniscience) is regarded by some religions, particularly Buddhism and the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), as an attribute of a divine being. In the Abrahamic view, God can exercise divine judgment, judging the dead on the basis of perfect knowledge of their lives. There is no single, simple and general answer to the question of truth of religion in general or in particular. As it turns out any answer requires some stipulation concerning among other things the notions of truth and religion. The notion of “truth of religion” can be a valuable instrument for interpreting religious phenomena not only in philosophy and theology of religion but also in social sciences of religion. The notions of “true religion” (authentic religion) and of “truth of (in) religion” (credibility of religion), although they are at first sight distinct, seem to condition each other.

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Truth in Buddhism:

Two Truths Doctrine:

The Two Truths Doctrine in Buddhism differentiates between two levels of truth in Buddhist discourse, a “relative”, or common sense truth, and an “ultimate” or absolute spiritual truth. Stated differently, the Two Truths Doctrine holds that truth exists in conventional and ultimate forms, and that both forms are co-existent.  At first glance then the distinction between conventional and ultimate truth seems unproblematic, maybe even banal. Of course there is a difference between talking about the mirage of an oasis and a real oasis. Of course we can misperceive and misunderstand the world. In the Visuddhimagga, Buddhaghosa (5th c. CE) gives an example which helps illuminate the difference between conventional and ultimate truth:

Suppose there were three people, a child without discretion, a villager, and a money-changer, who saw a heap of coins lying on a money-changer’s counter. The child without discretion knows merely that the coins are figured and ornamented, long, square or round; he does not know that they are reckoned as valuable for human use and enjoyment. And the villager knows that they are figured and ornamented, etc., and that they are reckoned as valuable for human use and enjoyment; but he does not know such distinctions as ‘This one is genuine, this is false, this is half-value’. The money-changer knows all those kinds, and he does so by looking at the coin, and by listening to the sound of it when struck, and by smelling its smell, tasting its taste, and weighing it in his hand, and he knows that it was made in a certain village or town or city or on a certain mountain or by a certain master.  Knowledge and technical proficiency makes a difference to how accurately we see the world, although in Buddhaghosa’s case the distinction is closer to that between partial and complete than conventional and ultimate.

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People sometimes create a true-false dichotomy and think that the absolute is true reality and the conventional is false reality. But remember, these are the two truths, not the one truth and one lie. Both truths are true. Also absolute and relative are often described as different levels of reality, but that may not be the best way to describe it. Absolute and relative are not separate; nor is one higher or lower than the other.  Of course, the paradigm example of the money-changer’s technical knowhow is that realized through the sciences. We know, for example, that color perception is largely an illusion: although phenomenal colors do roughly track wavelength, this is far from always the case. Further, the fact that humans see the particular phenomenological spectrum we do, whereby any color can be produced by the mixing of three hues of light, is wholly due to our retinas having three different kinds of cone cells, each sensitive to stimulation by a particular wavelength of light. This is called “trichromacy”, so most humans are “trichromats”. So called “colorblind” people are typically those with two kinds of cones, also called “dichromats”; they will only require two light hues to produce all possible colors. On the other side of the scale, several kinds of animals are “tetrachromats”, and perhaps even “pentachromats”. Their visual fields will be at least as different from ours as ours is from someone who is colorblind, and they will see colors which we literally cannot imagine. This implies that colors per se are not features of the external world, they are only features of our responses to the world. In that sense we might say that color-talk exists on the level of conventional truths about surface reflectance while claims about wavelengths of light would be the ultimate truths. If we were talking about the phenomenology of vision however, the case would be different. Then colors — or so-called “color qualia” — appear to be the basic features, for which no further analysis is possible: there just is a way this leaf looks green, and that’s an end to the analysis. So phenomenologically, the ultimate truths would involve color-talk.

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Christianity:

Christian truth is based upon the history, revelation and testimony from the Bible, and is central to Christian beliefs. Some Christians believe that other authorities are sources of doctrinal truth — such as in Roman Catholicism, the Pope is said to be infallible when pronouncing on certain, rather specific, matters of church doctrine. The central person in Christianity, Jesus, claimed to be Truth when he said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” Truth is thus considered to be an attribute of God. In Christian Science, (not recognised as a Christian organization by the bulk of mainstream churches) Truth is God. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig notes that the Bible typically uses the words true or truth in non-philosophical senses to indicate such qualities as fidelity, moral rectitude, and reality. However, it does sometimes use the word in the philosophical sense of veracity.

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Hinduism:

Truthfulness is the ninth of the ten attributes of dharma. Generally, truthfulness relates to speech: to speak only what one has seen, heard or understood, however the essence of truthfulness is far deeper in Hinduism: it is defined as upholding the central concept of righteousness. In the Upanishads of ancient India, truth is Sat (pronounced Sah’t), the One Reality and Existence, which is directly experienced when the vision is cleared of dross. The Rishi discovers what exists, Sat, as the truth of one’s own Being, the Self or Atma, and as the truth of the Being of God, Ishvara. In this usage, the term truth is used to refer to not merely a derived quality “true rather than false”, but the true state of being, truth as what really is there. This is described by Ramana Maharshi: “There is no greater mystery than that we keep seeking reality, though, in fact, we are reality.”

Satya:

Satya is an important concept and virtue in Indian religions. Rigveda, dated to be from the 2nd millennium BC, offers the earliest discussion of Satya. Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth.  It also refers to a virtue in Indian religions, referring to being truthful in one’s thought, speech and action.  In Yoga, satya is one of five yamas, the virtuous restraint from falsehood and distortion of reality in one’s expressions and actions.  Satya is one of the five vows prescribed in Jain Agamas. Satya was also preached by Mahavira. According to Jainism, not to lie or speak what is not commendable. The underlying cause of falsehood is passion and therefore, it is said to cause hiṃsā (injury).

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Jainism:

Although, historically, Jain authors have adopted different views on truth, the most prevalent is the system of anekantavada or “not-one-sidedness”. This idea of truth is rooted in the notion that there is one truth, but only enlightened beings can perceive it in its entirety; unenlightened beings perceive only one side of the truth (ekanta). Anekantavada works around the limitations of a one-sided view of truth by proposing multiple vantage points (nayas) from which truth can be viewed. Recognizing that there are multiple possible truths about any particular thing, even mutually exclusive truths, Jain philosophers developed a system for synthesizing these various claims, known as syadvada. Within the system of syadvada, each truth is qualified to its particular view-point; that is “in a certain way”, one claim or another or both may be true.

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Judaism:

There is no unilateral agreement among the different denominations of Judaism concerning truth. In Orthodox Judaism, truth is the revealed word of God, as found in the Hebrew Bible, and to a lesser extent, in the words of the sages of the Talmud. For Hasidic Jews truth is also found in the pronouncements of their rabbi, or spiritual leader, who is believed to possess divine inspiration.  Kotzk, a Polish Hasidic sect, was known for their obsession with truth.

Empirical Truth:

All knowledge belonging to the realm of the empirical is obtainable – if at all – only through scientific inquiry. Thus, if the term “truth” is used to refer to the historicity of events recounted, only historical scholarship can determine what may or may not be “true” in the Torah. Moreover, even in cases in which the facts are irretrievable, because scholarship is either indecisive or incapable of reconstructing them with certainty, this does not transform the question of an event’s historicity into a matter of religious belief.

Religious Truth:

Religious “truth” pertains exclusively to what is outside the realm of the empirical. It consists of the teachings accepted as normative by the community of believers with regard to God and what God expects of them. For Jews, these normative teachings, including the teaching that on some issues there is no single, binding “truth,” are conveyed by the totality of the tradition— halachic, aggadic, philosophical and theological — according to its systemic logic and rules. These teachings are often also expressed in the peshat of the Torah; in such cases one would say that the Torah contains religious “truth.” Just as often, they are read into the Torah, by a process of selective reading or reinterpretation; in such cases, one would say that the Torah as construed by post-biblical Jewish interpretation expresses religious “truth.” On the other hand, norms – both ideas and commands – clearly expressed in the peshat of the Torah but rejected by authoritative Jewish tradition are not religious “truth.” The literary, historical fact that the Torah contains them is empirically true but religiously irrelevant. Just as religious belief has no role whatsoever in determining facts, so too science has no role in determining norms.

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Truthfulness in Islam:

Islam is the only religion which guides its followers in every step of their lives. There are various good manners and excellent morals that Islam teaches us and truthfulness is one of them. Islam has declared it as one key element of a good character. Telling truth and avoiding lie are two basic characters of a true and faithful Muslim. To speak always truth means to be faithful, honest and trustworthy person. As a result, everyone in the society will trust such person and get inspiration from him. Many people will try to follow him, particularly his intimate friends and companions will also try to become like him and be distinguished in the society. Almighty Allah ordered the believers to tell the truth and urged them to be among the truthful. He revealed too many verses about truthfulness in His Book.

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Truth and morality:

Truthful information can help decide which moral principle should be accorded high priority under various circumstances. Moral concerns can provide a focus for truth seeking. Since both truth and morality are generally viewed as virtues, we might expect that pursuing each would help attain the other. Indeed, for some people, in certain situations, that is the case; but often it is not. Often the truth reveals a harsh reality and morality sometimes is considered in terms of good intentions; and that combination can result in unfortunate consequences. The truth may be harsh, for example, that power differentials are great and the strong can impose their will; but it also can be benign, for example, that people share identities and sympathize with each other. Morality includes fostering mercy and forgiveness, sustaining stability and order, advancing social justice and avoiding cruelty.

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Truth, traditionally considered, is the accurate depiction of reality; it is defined as the correct understanding of what has happened in the past and what is happening now. This assumes there is a reality that exists independently of the observers and is knowable by them. The whole truth may not be known, but knowledge is cumulative and seekers can help move toward an increasingly accurate view of truth. Traditionally, searching for truth requires reliance on reproducible methods for gathering and analyzing information. The search must avoid bias and put aside personal preferences. Neither personal values nor expectations about the consequences of knowing the truth are to affect the search for it. Even if all bias and subjective expectations cannot be avoided, as much care as possible should be taken to minimize distortions of the objective truth. Morality, on the other hand, is traditionally based on value preferences, and value preferences cannot be derived from beliefs about reality. Morality is articulated in the form of should statements, not factual statements. It is given authority by shared understandings for example about God or human nature. For many social scientists, this has meant that morality, unlike truth, is a matter of faith and conviction that is socially constructed. It follows that morality varies with the standards of each culture and cannot be judged by absolute standards. Accepting the differences between the domain of ‘values and morality’ and the domain of ‘facts and of truth’ does not mean people live in only one domain. People necessarily live and act in both. Seeking to advance either truth or morality with little regard to the other, moreover, can hamper advancing the other. In following moral imperatives, information may be distorted sometimes unintentionally when not guarding against bias due to expectations based on preferences. Distortion also may be intentional, when information is selectively gathered and reported to advance the course of action deemed morally correct. Similarly, in pursuing truth with little regard to moral concerns, the rights of humans may be sacrificed, as when they are treated as objects and subjected to experimentation without consent. Furthermore, advances in knowledge may provide instruments of coercion and control, and those with the power to apply them will do so, increasing their exploitation of others.

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Contradictions between Pursuing Truth and Morality:

With regards truth and morality, pursuing one may sometimes interfere with the advancement of the other. Thus, in some ways, the pursuit of truth can result in what would be widely regarded as immoral conduct. Certainly many people deplore some of the effects of the technological innovations based upon the advancement of a truth by natural scientists, whether these are nuclear weapons, pesticides, or automobiles. Clearly most of these technological developments have diffuse effects, many of which were unforeseen and unwanted, but many of the effects have been those desired by most people. On the other hand, seeking to advance morality may interfere with the pursuit of truth. The commitment to certain moral principles may lead people to avoid examining or recognizing truths they fear may undermine or hamper the implementation of those principles. In the arena of social conflicts, for example, whether people are committed to the righteousness of retribution or to the redemptiveness of forgiveness may influence the evidence sought and analyzed. Similarly, having loyalty to narrow identities such as a particular ethnic community or having loyalty to very broad identities encompassing the adversaries affects the consequences of struggles and whether they are evaluated as losses or gains. Commitments to the morality of avoiding killing people or to the morality of risking one’s life to protect one’s people also may channel the selection of evidence and entire research agendas.

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“It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care about how you got your money as long as you have got it.”

~ Edmund Way Teale

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Truth and law:

In 1966, the United States Supreme Court averred that “the basic purpose of a trial is the determination of truth.” In 1993, in the landmark ruling in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., that set new standards for the admissibility of expert scientific testimony, Justice Blackmun was a bit more cautious, writing that there are important differences between the quest for truth in the courtroom and the quest for truth in the laboratory. Justice is based on truth, on what really happened. That is a basic problem in law because facts are usually contested. Each side has their own story. The truth is out there, but requires search to discover. Truth and justice thus depend upon effective search. Truth in the law means objective, reliable facts that may be admitted as evidence in a trial. The testimony of witnesses is by nature inherently subjective. Testimony alone is an unreliable path to truth. Discovery of objective facts is often dependent on discovery of the writings made at the time by the people involved. Testimony taken later in legal proceedings, no matter how solemn the oaths, is filled with half-truths and, all too often, outright lies. Justice based on witness testimony alone is haphazard at best. Judge and jury must guess at who is lying. They are susceptible to lies, clever arguments, false hunches, publicity, and political pressures. Judges and juries today often do not see the key writings they need to do justice. The fault lies with the lawyers who, in the U.S. system, are the ones charged with the duty to discover the truth. They often fail in this duty, not for want of trying, but for the difficulty in finding the key documents. The evidence is lost in plain view, the signal is lost in the noise hidden by too much data. In many, perhaps even most law suits today, legal search efforts are neither effective nor affordable. This means our system of justice is in danger, for justice depends on truth, and truth on legal search.

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Legal disputes revolve around facts or: what actually happened. These facts relate to prior action (or lack of action) of one or more of the parties involved in the dispute. When a case is brought to court, parties will further elaborate on the facts that lie at the heart of the legal dispute. They will argue a scenario, a story of the facts, that serves their personal interests or the interests of the administrative body represented. The court subsequently establishes the facts in a judgment: these are the facts as conditioned by the context of the substantive and procedural aspects of the field of law involved. The facts as established by the court are the formal facts. The formal truth thus established should coincide, as far as possible, with the ’true’ story – the substantive truth – of what actually happened.

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It has been said that the ‘law has an extraordinary regard for truth’. The justice system’s approach to the truth is not altogether divorced from the coherence and correspondence approaches. A correlation can be established with both these epistemological positions. The construction of reality in the courtroom is ‘at base, a coherence as opposed to a correspondence theory of truth’ and its ‘aim is the construction of a coherent picture, rather like the construction of a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces come together’ The ‘basic core’ of the coherence theory of truth is the conception that beliefs or judgments are ‘true or false according to whether or not they fit in – cohere, with the body of other beliefs (or whatever) that are true’. The coherence theory measures truths by their ‘fit’ within a given system. In contrast the correspondence theory espouses the view that if the person is guilty ‘he did it’ – as if there was ‘some kind of independent reality by which we can measure the truth or falsity of the matter’. The correspondence approach, simply stated, is that when something happens ‘it really is so and the statement concerning it is true’. In a trial then, ‘guilt’ according to the correspondence theory means ‘he really did it’. Or, to put it in another way ‘a statement is true if, and only if, it corresponds to reality, and false if it does not do so’. The paradox that follows from this discussion is that there are at least two kinds of truth. The coherence/correspondence dichotomy creates the paradox that legal inquiry is amenable to at least two, potentially, different (or conflicting) truths. This has been referred to as substantive truth (or ‘actual truth’ that permits the conclusion that ‘he really did it’) and formal legal truth (which is created by the fact-finder which could mean, for example, that ‘he really did it’ or that ‘he really did it but is not guilty’ because the interests of justice would dictate this). While it is to be hoped that a properly designed legal system will result in the formal legal truth coinciding with the substantive truth, there are many instances in which a properly designed legal system will contain features that result in the formal legal truth and the substantive truth diverging.

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Truth as defence against Defamation claims:

Often the most straightforward defence of defamation is to prove that the communication in question stated the truth. This will result in complete and absolute exoneration for the defendant. Even if the defendant had malevolent intent when communicating the information, and regardless of whether it was in the public’s interest to make it known, the veracity of a claim will still provide a defence. The burden of proof rests solely upon the defendant. The information that causes the defamation, if damaging, will often be assumed to be untrue until the defendant proves otherwise. An exception to using truth as a defence is if the information concerned spent criminal convictions, and the claimant can show that the defendant acted with pernicious intent against the claimant. This would contradict the justice system in its attempts to rehabilitate offenders, who after having taken their punishment still have the offence used against them.

Noonan v. Staples: Truth and Defamation Clash; Truth Lost!!

Truth is almost always a valid and acceptable defence for defamation under U.S. law — except when it’s not. Though rare, someone who tells the truth can still lose a defamation lawsuit. One such “exception to the rule” case is Noonan v. Staples.

Noonan v. Staples Case Facts:

  • Alan Noonan lost his job at Staples (the office supply chain) because of irregularities on his expense account.
  • Upon Noonan’s firing, one of his superiors sent over 1,000 Staples employees – many of which had no reason to know the details of Noonan’s departure – an e-mail outlining the reasons for his ouster.
  • Prior to Noonan’s leaving, other employees had been let go for the same reason, but never was an email sent out in the same manner as it did for Noonan.

E-mail Libel Plaintiff’s Argument: Even though what you said was true, it was malicious and therefore defamatory Noonan argued that even though the email was factually accurate, the sinister tenor of it could lead a “reasonable person” to conclude he was a criminal. The judges’ decision rested on an obscure defamation provision in Massachusetts addressing “actual malice.”  In Noonan, due to the spiteful nature of the email (remember, Noonan’s boss had never sent a similar email when other employees were fired for the same reasons as Noonan), and since his firing was not a matter of public interest, but unnecessary people got the email anyway, Alan Noonan, truth defamation plaintiff, prevailed.

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Truth as defence in Contempt of court:

Scope of a Jurisdiction to punish for contempt touches upon two important fundamental rights of the citizens, namely, the right to personal liberty and the right to freedom of expression. That’s why the interpretation of the contempt of court must be crystal clear. Truth is a defence in contempt proceeding and it is now statutorily settled, the Indian Supreme Court said. “The Court may now permit truth as a defence if two things are satisfied, viz., it is in public interest and the request for invoking said defence is bona fide,” a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice R M Lodha said.

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The Supreme Court of Ghana thought otherwise: Truth of a ‘contemptuous’ statement not a defence:

The power given to the court to punish people for contempt of itself is very essential as it has the sole rationale of protecting the dignity, integrity, sanctity and veracity of the court. The dignity of the court is inviolable, to say the least. The rationale of any type of contempt is that the administration of Justice has to be protected. Thus if allegations of partiality, bias, dishonesty, partisanship or corruption, even if true, have the potential effect of lowering the Court’s repute and thereby undermining public confidence in the administration of Justice, the offence of contempt will have been committed.  The Supreme Court of Ghana succinctly stated the law in the case of Republic v Mensa-Bonsu And Others; Ex Parte Attorney-General [1995-96] 1 GLR 377 – 531. In rejecting the defence of truth and fair comment, the court held that: “Truth, what has truth got to do with the offence of contempt? Truth or otherwise of the matter published is no defence in law in the case of contempt of court… Once the matter published scandalises the court, truth is no defence nor is justification… it is no defence to a motion for contempt of court in publishing an account of proceeding held in camera which amounts to contempt, that the matter published was true.”

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How truth is viewed legally in the court of law:

  1. The actual state of things.
  2. In contracts, the parties are bound to tell the truth in their dealings, and a deviation from it will generally avoid the contract; and even concealment or suppression will be considered fraudulent
  3. In giving his testimony, a witness is required to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth; for the object in the examination of matters of fact, is to ascertain truth.
  4. When a defendant is prosecuted for defamation or contempt he may justify by giving the truth in evidence

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Truth and business:

The Bible says, “The truth shall make you free.” Witnesses in court proceedings swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” So why is candor in business still so rare? Telling the truth means many different things: delivering bad news to the boss; giving a negative performance review to a subordinate; disagreeing publicly with a colleague. But most people think it means something else – risking your future. In a survey of 40,000 Americans, 93% admitted to lying regularly at work. What everyone wants to know is, Can I tell the truth without jeopardizing my career? You never know until you try. Of course, for leaders, the flip side of telling the truth is hearing the truth. How can you make the right decision if you can’t get accurate information and honest opinions? People prefer to tell other people what they want to hear.

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The phrase “One version of the truth” has been used across all sectors as a succinct way of saying that data should be consistent without any ambiguity about which value to use by eliminating all the alternatives that might arise through inefficiency in the systems and processes used to collect and manage data.  Like many expressions its purpose has been blurred over the years and it is not unusual for business representatives, data architects, and data managers to raise it instinctively if anyone should so much as mention the words “data principle”.  Why does any of this matter? The first thing is it is important that organisations remember that their databases don’t store “the truth” but instead store someone or something’s perception of the truth. The moment you accept this it is worth considering why you might only want “one version of the perception of the truth”? For example, in a large retailer daily sales can be derived from what passes through the Point of Sale systems in stores. However, it can also be derived from the cash and card transactions, i.e. takings. When the raw data sets are consolidated through different systems (Supply chain and Finance) and then arrive at the boardroom as different figures, which one do you accept? When making decisions, should you only use one of them, and if so which one? Or might it be better to maintain both and try to determine why they are different and then eliminate the sources of error? No-one would deny that having one version makes it easier to make decisions but to make good decisions requires accurate data. One version that is wrong is worse than having two versions (right or wrong!) since it will be used as the truth despite being wrong. With two versions you have to investigate further and while that might be tedious and expensive it at least adds value compared to blindly accepting one version of the truth!

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How Social Media, Content Marketing & Mobile continue to change Marketing:

Marketing Moments of Truth:

Marketing today is challenged by the increase in new connected mobile devices prospects have, the easy availability of low-cost valuable information they seek, and the ability to tap into a variety of resources including social communities for product recommendations. As a result, your customers are in control regardless the size of your marketing budget. This means you must work smarter to meet you prospects’ and customers’ needs without knowing when they’re in purchase mode or influencing someone else’s purchase. To this end, marketers must provide appropriate content marketing and social media engagement that can be consumed across an array of devices to win customers at each moment of truth. This means understanding your marketing persona and their content marketing triggers.

Marketing’s four moments of truth defined:

  1. Zero Moment of Truth. (Coined by Google.) This is when prospects recognize a need and goes online to gather information regarding a potential purchase. Understand that the word purchase is used loosely. It applies to acquiring a wide range of goods and services including face-to-face meetings (think interviews and dates). Based on Google’s research, people checked 10.4 sources of information to make a decision in 2011, an increase from 5.3 sources in 2010.
  2. First Moment of Truth. (Coined by P&G.) This represents the a-ha moment when confronted with the product and related alternatives, assumed to be in real life. The increase in showrooming behavior would confirm that this still happens. This is considered to be the decision point to buy a specific brand or product.
  3. Second Moment of Truth. (Coined by P&G.) This moment happens after the customer has bought and started using your brand or product. The resulting experience (hopefully) supports your pre-purchase promises, helping to build a relationship with your audience.
  4. Third Moment of Truth. (Coined by Pete Blackshaw) This happens post-product use. It’s when your customer becomes a true fan and gives back to your brand with new content: word of mouth, ratings and reviews. At this point, the customer has become a walking endorsement for your business. To ensure that this third moment of truth works for your organization, you must be willing to nudge your customers to act by encouraging them to return to your website, social media profile or other rating site to comment and contribute collateral content. Further, while you can’t erase negative comments because you don’t like them, you must respond to them and change your behavior.

As a marketer, you must understand each moment of truth in order to provide useful content marketing and social media engagement that build and maintain relationships with prospects and customers.

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Rethinking Sales and Marketing in the ‘Post-Truth’ Era:

Part of running any company entails communicating with your market and employees. In every one of those interactions you’re called on to make decisions about “the truth.” And many of those decisions are non-controversial, while others entice you to be more liberal in your characterization of the truth — as in, “We now have over 1,000 customers” — since the definition of “customer” is often stretched to be as flattering as possible. What’s more, in the Post-Truth Era, you might be wondering, Will I need to be even more liberal in my treatment of “the truth” just to keep up with my competitors? Actually, now seems like the perfect time to make truth a priority: You can differentiate yourself from your competitors and increase your chances for long-term loyalty and customer growth by emphasizing clarity, honesty and reality. Stretching the truth, on the other hand, is tempting; but misleading customers can have disastrous consequences. One recent example was Volkswagen’s fuel efficiency claims for its diesel vehicles, which resulted in billions of dollars of lost value. Another was the Irish meat company Tesco, which lost over $400 million in market cap in its horse meat fiasco. Trust and credibility are hard to come by, and very easy to lose. Laws protect consumers from false advertising, but they probably aren’t going to help you deal with a misleading competitor. So, there it is: The truth is not always self-evident, meaning you’ll need to win by persuading the market that the truth matters. Every day, we are tempted to mislead in small ways, by stretching the truth just a bit. And, in the sales and marketing universe, teams are measured on short-term goals. It’s therefore natural for them to want to make trade-offs that don’t prioritize the long-term needs of their company and brand. The Post-Truth Era has created a moment of general ambiguity and confusion. Sources of truth we used to take for granted are now questioned. This is the perfect time to center and ground your audience in rationality, and to demonstrate value by reestablishing confidence in the notion that logical thought, evidence and truth matter and lead people to good outcomes.

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Truth in Advertising:

When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence. The Federal Trade Commission enforces these truth-in-advertising laws, and it applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears – in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or buses. The FTC looks especially closely at advertising claims that can affect consumers’ health or their pocketbooks – claims about food, over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, alcohol, and tobacco and on conduct related to high-tech products and the Internet. The FTC also monitors and writes reports about ad industry practices regarding the marketing of alcohol and tobacco. When the FTC finds a case of fraud perpetrated on consumers, the agency files actions in federal district court for immediate and permanent orders to stop scams; prevent fraudsters from perpetrating scams in the future; freeze their assets; and get compensation for victims.

Truth vs. Perception in Advertising:

In advertising, a lot of things are sold not on truth, but on perception. If you’ve ever heard of the brand “Rolex”, you’ll know that it’s priced way higher than other watches. But still people buy it. People don’t buy a “Rolex” simply because it tells time better or more accurately, but because of the perceived quality of it. People perceive person with a Rolex as a person with success, prestige and class. In truth, it is nothing but a watch that tells time.

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Truth commission:

Truth and reconciliation commissions have played a critical role in a number of countries that had to come to terms with a past marked by protracted conflict, civil strife, violence, and massive human rights abuse. The most widely known example is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in 1995 in South Africa to examine Apartheid-Era crimes. In the past, truth commissions were used to investigate human rights violations in a variety of countries. In particular the commissions were used after countries had undergone major political changes, namely transition from an authoritarian regime to democratic rule, be it in the wake of violent internal conflicts, or a gradual peaceful revolution when civilian leadership took over from a military regime. The International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago undertook an empirical study on international and non-international conflicts since World War II. This study shows that from 229 international and internal conflicts, excluding the classic interstate armed conflicts, nine were the subject of a truth commission, and twenty-four were the subject of a national inquiry commission, while twenty-two were the subject of domestic prosecution and two of international prosecution. For many of these conflicts, of course, there were no redress mechanisms in place., A large number of new democratic governments, namely in Latin America, vested in truth commissions to examine human rights violations after they came to power., In some cases, the establishment of a commission seemed to give proof of the government’s political will to bring human rights offenders to justice, but the decision-makers changed their policy shortly after and granted amnesties for the perpetrators. In other countries, the legislature had already enacted blanket amnesties for human rights abuse. Later, a new government set up a commission to investigate those crimes and to provide reparation for victims.  In connection with the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Eastern European countries adopted democratic political systems and found themselves confronted with the human rights abuses of their former communist regimes. Truth commissions are not as popular in Eastern Europe as they have been in Latin-America. Only a few states set up investigative commissions, for instance, Lithuania, in 1991, to investigate collaboration with the KGB,’ or Germany, in 1992, to examine the impact of communist dictatorship on society and to foster the process of German unification.

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The table below provides a brief summary of truth commissions created through early 2004.

Country Date of Commission Time Covered Report Publicly Issued
Uganda 1974 1971-1974 1975
Bolivia 1982-1984 1967-1982 Commission Disbanded
Argentina 1983-1984 1976-1983 1985
Uruguay 1985 1973-1982 1985
Zimbabwe 1985 1983 No
Uganda 1986-1995 1962-1986 No
Philippines 1986 1972-1986 No
Nepal 1990-1991 1961-1990 1994
Chile 1990-1991 1973-1990 1991
Chad 1991-1992 1982-1990 1992
Germany 1992-1994 1949-1989 1994
El Salvador 1992-1993 1980-1991 1993
Rwanda 1992-1993 1990-1992 1993
Sri Lanka 1994-1997 1988-1994 1997
Haiti 1995-1996 1991-1994 Limited, 1996
Burundi 1995-1996 1993-1995 1996
South Africa 1995-2000 1960-1994 1998
Ecuador 1996-1997 1979-1996 Commission Disbanded
Guatemala 1997-1999 1962-1996 1999
Nigeria 1999-2001 1966-1999 Report in Process
Peru 2000-2002 1980-2000 2003
Uruguay 2000-2001 1973-1985 Report in Process
Panama 2001-2002 1968-1989 2002
Yugoslavia 2002 1991-2001 Commission Ongoing
East Timor 2002 1974-1999 Commission Ongoing
Sierra Leone 2002 1991-1999 Commission Ongoing
Ghana 2002 1966-2001 Commission Ongoing

While Germany conducted a truth commission consistent with the definition adopted here, it focused on the former East Germany. Comparative regional measures do not exist for the pre- and post-unification East. Because comparisons cannot be made, the case is not included in the analysis.

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Advantages of truth commissions:

  1. Focus on victims. Truth commissions focus on victims’ needs rather than on punishing perpetrators. They are non-judicial bodies that may make recommendations but do not themselves have the mandate or power to prosecute perpetrators.
  2. Establish an official historical account. Competing narratives about what took place, where and when events occurred, and who was involved often emerge after periods of abuse. Truth commissions, by aggregating and analyzing large amounts of data, can more accurately address these issues and dispel revisionist accounts of violence.
  3. Cover a broad spectrum of actors and periods of time. When violation of the law is the rule rather than the exception—as it is during times of large-scale systematic abuses—criminal justice mechanisms are often not able to provide accountability in every case in which it may be warranted. Truth commissions are designed to provide an opportunity for a wide range of victims to come forward and tell their stories so that the society can hear from a diverse base of those affected and can take steps to address a broad range of abuses and a large number of victims and perpetrators.
  4. Uncover patterns of abuse. Crimes such as sexual violence and torture can go underreported due to the prosecutorial need for victim statements and the stigma these acts place on victims who come forward. Truth commissions can be given the authority to engage with victims under conditions of anonymity and confidentiality. Thus commissions can make findings that sexual violence or torture occurred without needing to identify particular victims. Based on these findings, they can make recommendations to address the needs of victims and institute relevant reforms to prevent recurrence of such abuses.

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Despite the growing prevalence of the truth commission phenomenon, we do not yet have a clear understanding of their effectiveness. Studies have typically described operations, but it is not clear whether truth commissions have effects or that there are other factors causing an impact. Evidence is often anecdotal. Many of the existing comparative studies focus on a few prominent cases, namely Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, South Africa, and Guatemala. Most of the lessons learned from truth commission experiences have thus been drawn from only a small number of cases. Still, they are intuitively appealing and have many supporters in global civil society. The growing body of international human rights law is increasingly recognized as containing an obligation to deal with past crimes. As a result, the pressure to examine a legacy of human rights abuses is likely to remain strong.

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Truth in statistics, logic, mathematics and science:

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Statistical lies are worst lies which can mislead & deceive the entire population:

I have already proved through my articles on ‘Dengue’ and ‘Sex Education’ that erroneous studies produce erroneous statistical findings which can mislead people and therefore will be classified as statistical lies. The entire medical fraternity is full of statistical lies and pharmaceutical companies exploit statistical lies to sell various drugs in the hope of curing illness. Statistics show that 83 % of all statistics are lies. Mark Twain said in his autobiography that there are ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’ meaning the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions. While the numbers may mathematically provide a figure of great precision, the nature of the study leaves a margin of error of several percentage points – just like those public opinion polls in the press and on TV.  Statistics are often used to lie to the public because most people do not understand how statistics work. The most important thing for the people is to check for the sample size and margin of error. It is often the case that with small samples that a change in one data item can completely change the results. Generally the bigger the sample size, the more accurate the results are and the less likely a single error in sampling will affect the analysis. The main problem with statistics is that people like favourable numbers to back up a decision. Fundamental to the mathematics of probability is the requirement for conditional probabilities to be independent of each other, such as dice rolls or coin flips. If they are not independent, the mathematics stops working and the answers stop making sense. However, a lot of statistics are worked out at a distance from independence of conditional probabilities so that the validity of statistical result is questionable. I will prove with a classical example. When you toss a coin in the air, there is a 50 % chance that either ‘heads’ will fall or ‘tails’ will fall. Now, you toss a coin in the air and find that it is ‘heads’. Fine. Statistically speaking, when you toss the coin again, it will be ‘tails’ as previous toss was ‘heads’ but the truth is that another toss may result in ‘heads’ again. This is because every time you toss, there is a 50 % chance of getting either ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ independent of previous toss result. This is a difference between a statistical lie and the truth. ‘How to Lie with Statistics’ is a book written by Darrell Huff in 1954 presenting an illustrated volume outlining common errors, intentional and unintentional, associated with the interpretation of statistics, and how these errors can lead to inaccurate conclusions.

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Truth in logic:

Logic is concerned with the patterns in reason that can help tell us if a proposition is true or not. However, logic does not deal with truth in the absolute sense, as for instance a metaphysician does. Logicians use formal languages to express the truths which they are concerned with, and as such there is only truth under some interpretation or truth within some logical system.

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Logical truth:

A logical truth (also called an analytic truth or a necessary truth) is a statement which is true in all possible worlds or under all possible interpretations, as contrasted to a fact (also called a synthetic claim or a contingency) which is only true in this world as it has historically unfolded. A proposition such as “If p and q, then p” is considered to be a logical truth because of the meaning of the symbols and words in it and not because of any fact of any particular world. They are such that they could not be untrue. Logical truth is one of the most fundamental concepts in logic, and there are different theories on its nature. A logical truth is a statement which is true, and remains true under all reinterpretations of its components other than its logical constants. It is a type of analytic statement. All of philosophical logic can be thought of as providing accounts of the nature of logical truth, as well as logical consequence. Logical truths (including tautologies) are truths which are considered to be necessarily true. This is to say that they are considered to be such that they could not be untrue and no situation could arise which would cause us to reject a logical truth. It must be true in every sense of intuition, practices, and bodies of beliefs. However, it is not universally agreed that there are any statements which are necessarily true.

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Truth value:

In logic and mathematics, a truth value, sometimes called a logical value, is a value indicating the relation of a proposition to truth. In classical logic, with its intended semantics, the truth values are true (1 or T), and untrue or false (0 or ⊥); that is, classical logic is a two-valued logic. This set of two values is also called the Boolean domain.

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Principle of bivalence

In logic, the semantic principle (or law) of bivalence states that every declarative sentence expressing a proposition (of a theory under inspection) has exactly one truth value, either true or false.  A logic satisfying this principle is called a two-valued logic or bivalent logic.

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Many-valued logic:

In logic, a many-valued logic (also multi- or multiple-valued logic) is a propositional calculus in which there are more than two truth values. Traditionally, in Aristotle’s logical calculus, there were only two possible values (i.e., “true” and “false”) for any proposition. Classical two-valued logic may be extended to n-valued logic for n greater than 2. Those most popular in the literature are three-valued (e.g., Łukasiewicz’s and Kleene’s, which accept the values “true”, “false”, and “unknown”), the finite-valued (finitely-many valued) with more than three values, and the infinite-valued (infinitely-many valued), such as fuzzy logic and probability logic. Many-valued logics formalize ideas that a realistic characterization of the notion of consequence requires the admissibility of premises which, owing to vagueness, temporal or quantum indeterminacy, or reference-failure, cannot be considered classically bivalent. Reference failures can also be addressed by free logics.

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Contrary:

Contrary is the relationship between two propositions when they cannot both be true (although both may be false). Thus, we can make an immediate inference that if one is true, the other must be false.

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In classical logic, a contradiction consists of a logical incompatibility between two or more propositions. It occurs when the propositions, taken together, yield two conclusions which form the logical, usually opposite inversions of each other. Illustrating a general tendency in applied logic, Aristotle’s law of noncontradiction states that “One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time.” By extension, outside of classical logic, one can speak of contradictions between actions when one presumes that their motives contradict each other.

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Slingshot argument:

In logic, a slingshot argument is one of a group of arguments claiming to show that all true sentences stand for the same thing. These arguments are sometimes modified to support the alternative, and evidently stronger, conclusion that there is only one fact, or one true proposition, state of affairs, truth condition, truthmaker, and so on.

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Truth in mathematics:

In pure mathematics there is no absolute truth; we invent rules then see what they prove or see what is consistent with them. Mathematicians have agreed on a particular set of rules for deducing theorems from axioms, in much the same way that chess players have agreed on a particular set of rules for playing chess. Mathematics begins (logically) from a set of assumptions that we call axioms.  For example, we assume that the set of positive integers (1, 2, 3, …) is infinite, is in a progression (the first number is 1 and then every number has a “next” number), and is the smallest such set.  This gives us a place to start, and then we use these axioms to prove other things, such as that every subset of positive integers has a smallest number. The essential difference between mathematical truth and scientific truth lies in the direction of the reasoning.  In science, there is (we assume) some set of rules that defines ‘truth’; and we try to guess what they are by observing outcomes.  In math, we know what the rules are, because we get to make them up; and we then try to see what outcomes follow from those rules.  Another way to express this is that truths in mathematics are ‘formal’, that is to say, self-contained.  No mathematical truth exists independently of a set of axioms, and a set of agreed-upon rules for deducing theorems from axioms.  They all come together as a system; and strictly speaking, they have no necessary connection to anything outside the system.

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There are two main approaches to truth in mathematics. They are the model theory of truth and the proof theory of truth. Historically, with the nineteenth century development of Boolean algebra mathematical models of logic began to treat “truth”, also represented as “T” or “1”, as an arbitrary constant. “Falsity” is also an arbitrary constant, which can be represented as “F” or “0”. In propositional logic, these symbols can be manipulated according to a set of axioms and rules of inference, often given in the form of truth tables. In addition, from at least the time of Hilbert’s program at the turn of the twentieth century to the proof of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and the development of the Church-Turing thesis in the early part of that century, true statements in mathematics were generally assumed to be those statements that are provable in a formal axiomatic system. The works of Kurt Gödel, Alan Turing, and others shook this assumption, with the development of statements that are true but cannot be proven within the system. Two examples of the latter can be found in Hilbert’s problems. Work on Hilbert’s 10th problem led in the late twentieth century to the construction of specific Diophantine equations for which it is undecidable whether they have a solution, or even if they do, whether they have a finite or infinite number of solutions. More fundamentally, Hilbert’s first problem was on the continuum hypothesis. Gödel and Paul Cohen showed that this hypothesis cannot be proved or disproved using the standard axioms of set theory. In the view of some, then, it is equally reasonable to take either the continuum hypothesis or its negation as a new axiom.

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Concepts of truth in mathematics:

Let us review 4 distinct concepts of ‘truth’ for a mathematical formula, from the simplest to the most subtle.

  1. First the relative truth, that is the value of a formula interpreted in a supposedly given model (like an implicit free variable, ignoring any difficulty to specify any example). In this sense, a given formula may be as well true or false depending on the model, and on the values of its free variables there.
  2. Provability: Then comes the quality of being relatively true in all models of a given axiomatic theory, which coincides with provability in this theory, i.e. deduction from its axioms by the rules of first-order logic. Namely, there are known formal systems of proof for first-order logic, with known proof verification algorithms, universally applicable to any first-order theory while keeping this quality (ability to prove exactly all universally true formulas). This remarkable property of first-order logic, together with the fact that all mathematics is expressible there (what is not directly there can be made so by insertion into set theory, itself formalized as a first-order theory), gives this framework a central importance in the foundations of mathematics : it reconciles Platonism and formalism, while giving a clear, natural sense to the concepts of ‘proof’, ‘theorem’ and ‘consistency’. Different systems can do this job but all such formalisms, when correct, are equivalent to each other: any proof according to one is automatically convertible into a proof according to any other.
  3. Arithmetic truths: This involves the third concept of mathematical truth, that is the realistic truth in first-order arithmetic. This is the ideally meant interpretation of arithmetic: the interpretation of ground formulas of first-order arithmetic in ‘the true set N of all, and only all, really finite natural numbers’ called the standard model of arithmetic. But any axiomatic formalization of arithmetic in first-order logic is incomplete, in both following senses of the question:
  • Due to the incompleteness theorem, the set of all real truths of arithmetic (formulas true in N) cannot be exhaustively produced by any algorithm (using unlimited resources but a finite amount of initial information). Thus, they cannot be all logical consequences of any algorithmically produced axiomatic theory either (since logical deduction from given axioms is algorithmic). This first incompleteness result can be easily deduced from truth undefinability as we already saw it: as provability is definable, it cannot coincide with truth.
  • Even when abstractly considering to take all real truths as axioms, it still would not suffice to determine the model, as it cannot exclude non-standard models. (This last form of incompleteness does not have any name because it equally affects the first-order description of any infinite system, according to the Löwenheim-Skolem theorem, and is thus unremarkable.)
  1. Set theoretical truths: The above can be read as an indispensability argument for our last concept of truth, which is the truth of set theoretical statements. To progress beyond logical deduction from already accepted ones, more set theoretical axioms need to be introduced, motivated by some Platonist arguments for a real existence of some standard universes where they are true; the validity of such arguments needs to be assessed in intuitive, not purely formal ways, precisely in order to do better than any predefined algorithm. Arguments for a given axiomatic set theory, lead to arithmetic conclusions:

(1.) The claim of formal consistency of this set theory;

(2.) The arithmetic theorems we can deduce in its framework

Both conclusions should not be confused:

  • By the second incompleteness theorem, 1. cannot come as a particular case of 2. (unless it is wrong) even though it must be true for 2. to be consistent and thus of any interest. We can already see how the naive attempt to deduce 1. from 2. fails : consistency is logically deducible from the existence of a model, but the truth undefinability prevents the theory from using the current model as an example of existing model where to interpret its formulas and thus witness their consistency.
  • the reason for the truth of 2. refers to the existence of a standard model of this theory, while 1. only means that non-standard models exist.

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Defending Truth of mathematical theorems:

Truth can be defended in a variety of different ways. Common to all defences is that they first identify some standard by which the truth-values of mathematical statements can be assessed and then argue that mathematical theorems meet this standard.

  1. One option is to appeal to a standard that is more fundamental than that of mathematics itself. Logicism provides an example. Frege and other logicists first claim that any theorem of pure logic is true. Then they attempt to show that the theorems of certain branches of mathematics can be proved from pure logic and definitions alone.
  2. Another option is to appeal to the standards of empirical science. The Quine-Putnam indispensability argument provides an example. First it is argued that any indispensable part of empirical science is likely to be true and therefore something we are justified in believing. Then it is argued that large amounts of mathematics are indispensable to empirical science. If both claims are correct, it follows that Truth is likely to be true and that belief in Truth therefore is justified.
  3. A third option is to appeal to the standards of mathematics itself. Why should one have to appeal to non-mathematical standards, such as those of logic or empirical science, in order to defend the truth of mathematical theorems? When we defend the truth of the claims of logic and physics, we do not need to appeal to standards outside of respectively logic and physics. Rather we assume that logic and physics provide their own sui generis standards of justification. Why should mathematics be any different? This third strategy has received a lot of attention in recent years, often under the heading of ‘naturalism’ or ‘mathematical naturalism’.

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Desperately seeking Mathematical Truth:

The mathematicians have a naive belief in truth. They prove theorems. Theorems are deductions from axioms. Each line in a proof is a simple consequence of the previous lines of the proof, or of previously proved theorems. Their conclusions are true, unconditionally and eternally. The Babylonians’ quadratic formula and the Greeks’ proof of the irrationality of √2 are true even in the Large Magellanic Cloud. How do we know that a proof is correct? By checking it, line by line. A computer might even be programmed to check it. To discover a proof, to have the imagination and genius to conceive a chain of reasoning that leads from trivial axioms to extraordinarily beautiful conclusions—this is a rare and wonderful talent. This is mathematics. But to check a proof—any fool can do this. Still, there is a nagging worry about this belief in mathematical certitude. In 2000 the Clay Mathematics Institute announced million dollar prizes for the solution of seven “Millennium Problems”. Solve one of the problems and receive a million dollars. According to CMI’s rules, two years after the appearance of the solution in a “refereed mathematics publication of worldwide repute” and after “general acceptance in the mathematics community”, the prize would be awarded. But why the delay? Surely, any competent person can check a proof. It’s either right or wrong. Why wait two years? The reason is that many great and important theorems don’t actually have proofs. They have sketches of proofs, outlines of arguments, hints and intuitions that were obvious to the author (at least, at the time of writing) and that, hopefully, are understood and believed by some part of the mathematical community. But the community itself is tiny. In most fields of mathematics there are few experts. Indeed, there are very few active research mathematicians in the world, and many important problems, so the ratio of the number of mathematicians to the number of problems is small. In every field, there are “bosses” who proclaim the correctness or incorrectness of a new result, and its importance or unimportance. Sometimes they disagree. In any case, there is a web of semi-proved theorems throughout mathematics. Our knowledge of the truth of a theorem depends on the correctness of its proof and on the correctness of all of the theorems used in its proof. It is a shaky foundation. Even Euclid got things wrong, in the sense that there are statements in the Elements that do not follow logically from the axioms. It took 150 years after Leibnitz and Newton until the foundations of differential and integral calculus were formulated correctly, and we could backfill proofs of much eighteenth and nineteenth century mathematical analysis.

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Truth in science:

Science centers on the systematic collection and analysis of facts.  In the scientific view, worldly happenings acquire a certain status when we are able to register them by means of our senses, either directly (through sight, touch, taste, smell, or hearing) or indirectly (through the outputs of some instrument).  Our readings of occurrences are deemed factual when they are “reliable” (that is, when other people using the same instruments in the same ways as ourselves make the same observations) and when they are “valid” (that is, when they describe actual events that may be verified in other, relatively “objective” ways).  Stated simply, scientists believe it is possible to systematically record verifiable information about the goings-on of the world and to share this information openly.  That information is the basis of theories about how the world works.  When facts contradict theories, it is the theories that must be changed.

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Theories of science are proposed that seem at variance with gospel principles. How, then, can we find for sure that which is true? The way to find truth is called the scientific method. That involves a group of facts and statistics, combined and analyzed, from which is distilled a theory or a postulate or what might be called a principle. Often the reverse is true: we advance a principle, then perform experiments to establish its validity. The scientific method is a sound and most valuable way of arriving at truth. There are two limitations, however, with that method. First: We never can be sure we have absolute truth, though we often draw nearer and nearer to it. Secondly: Sometimes, no matter how earnestly and sincerely we apply that principle, we come up with the wrong answer. It was Nils Bohr, who first postulated an atomic explanation of matter—a nucleus of neutrons and protons surrounded by spinning particles called electrons. As scientists and experimenters tested that theory they developed great contributions in the field of chemistry, and the periodic table was organized using that theory as a key; but further investigations proved that it was not a satisfactory explanation of the truth. More scientific endeavor has brought us nearer and nearer until now there is a tremendously expanded understanding of matter. Yet anyone would admit that we are far from the essence of truth. Sometimes mistakes are made. You applied scientific method and got the wrong conclusion because you lacked the insight.  Some deny the fact that there is any method of finding truth other than the scientific method. According to the correspondence theory of truth, a proposition is true if and only if the world is as the proposition says it is. Many adopt the correspondence theory as a plausible theory of truth and relate it to science. The theory uniquely fulfils a crucial function in research, because the interpretation of truth claims as suppositions that concern states of affairs in the world clearly explicates what it means for a theory to be true, and what it means for a theory to be false. For this reason, correspondence truth has the advantage of allowing researchers to properly understand the assumptions of scientific research as claims about the factual state of the world, and to scrutinize these assumptions. So correspondence truth plays an important part in our understanding of science.

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Let’s not ask what truth is: let us ask instead how we can recognize it reliably when it appears. Four factors determine the truthfulness of a theory or explanation: congruence, consistency, coherence, and usefulness.

  • A true theory is congruent with our experience – meaning, it fits the facts. It is in principle falsifiable, but nothing falsifying it has been found. One way we can infer that our theory is congruent with the facts as we experience them is when what we experience is predictable from the theory. But truth is always provisional, not an end state. When we discover new facts, we may need to change our theory.
  • A true theory is internally consistent. It has no contradictions within itself, and it fits together elegantly. The principle of consistency (same as the principle of non-contradiction) allows us to infer things consistent with what we already know. An inconsistent theory – one that contains contradictions – does not allow us to do this.
  • Alongside this criterion, a true theory is coherent with everything else we consider true. It confirms, or at least fails to contradict, the rest of our established knowledge, where ‘knowledge’ means beliefs for which we can give rigorous reasons. The physical sciences – physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy – all reinforce each other, for example.
  • A true theory is useful. It gives us mastery. When we act on the basis of a true theory or explanation, our actions are successful. What is true works to organize our thought and our practice, so that we are able both to reason with logical rigor to true conclusions and to handle reality effectively. Truth enables us to exert our power, in the sense of our ability to get things done, successfully. It has predictive power, allowing us to make good choices concerning what is likely to happen.

Does this mean that what is useful is true? That is not a useful question, as it’s not the sole criterion. Rather, if a theory is congruent with our experience, internally consistent, coherent with everything else we know, and useful for organizing our thinking and practice, then we can confidently consider it true.

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The world is awash with non-truths. How does one detect such non-truths. We need to apply the following tests:

  • Above all, what is the evidence?
  • Has the evidence been reviewed by a group of peers? If not, why not? If so, what was the response of the peer group? Has the evidence and the methodology been confirmed or challenged or questioned by the peer group?
  • Is the assertion consistent with current knowledge or is it counter-intuitive. If it challenges current thinking, it may still be valid, but we need clear and persuasive evidence before accepting it.
  • Are we sure that there is not merely correlation but actual causality?
  • Does the assertion lend itself to prediction? If one believes in homeopathic medicine, then one can predict that those using it will recover from various ailments. This can and should be tested in a controlled experiment. When carrying out such experiments, one needs to be aware of ‘the placebo effect’, whereby people often report improvements in health even when no drug has been administered, and ‘the Hawthorne effect’, whereby people’s behaviour changes simply as a response to being observed in an experiment.

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Science in a Post-Truth Era:

When scientific issues become publicly controversial, Nobel Laureates have a history of making strong statements at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, starting at the second meeting in 1955. There, eighteen laureates signed the first Mainau Declaration urging world leaders to not use nuclear weapons. The second Mainau declaration, signed by 36 laureates at the 65th Lindau Meeting in 2015 and by 40 additional laureates soon after, encouraged government leaders to take action to minimize the risks of climate change. And in 2017, Laureates, young scientists and former science diplomats made their position known about speaking up when “alternative facts” drive unpredictable political changes in the United States, United Kingdom and other countries. “Scientists cannot ignore what is happening in the world,” Countess Bettina Bernadotte auf Wisborg, President of the Council of the Lindau Meetings, said in her speech opening the 67th Lindau Meeting this year. “Some rulers, and people, seem to feel threatened by progress and the fact-oriented power of science.”  This year it seems politics are a common topic during informal gatherings at Lindau, with young researchers asking international colleagues about their experiences, seeking to better understand situations behind the headlines. Conversations about science and politics continued with a discussion on post-truth. Although public questioning of scientific information is particularly widespread today, alternative facts can be found even during the Renaissance, said Helga Nowotny, Vice-President of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and former president of the European Research Council, Austria. “We have never lived in a truth era.”

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When science and politics intersect, a natural part of the scientific method – that scientific facts are not determined forever — presents a challenge for the perceptions of scientific truthfulness. Even when a large consensus of scientists agrees about a particular position, such as humanity’s role in climate change, the iterative process of science leaves uncertainty that some politicians can use to support their efforts to gather more votes. “Elections have become very close to marketing campaigns,” said Arturo Borja, Director of International Cooperation at the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) in Mexico. Marketing campaigns can trigger scepticism and critical analysis, leading to a general public distrust of politicians. Scientists, however, still have the public’s trust: More than 75% of Americans trust scientists to act in the public interest, while less than 50% have a similar trust in elected officials, according to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center. But when politics make it seem like the public is losing confidence in science, how do scientists help rebuild that trust?

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Two ways to counteract post-truth science:

Citizen science projects, where non-scientists help scientists do research, are one way to help the public learn about the process of science by engaging with it themselves. These projects are also a way for scientists to give back to society, said Melania Zauri, a young scientist from Italy working at the Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.  In communication courses, Marian Nkahsah, a young scientist from Kwame Knrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, learned how to identify her audience so she can speak directly to them. Scientists’ voices should be as loud as those who are propagating lies, she said. William E. Moerner, 2014 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and professor at Stanford University encouraged other scientists to talk to their friends and family about the scientific method. He also speaks publically, including at the March for Science in San Jose, California. He said speaking from an established connection of shared humanity could help break down barriers to misinformation. “Science is not an alternative fact,” Moerner said. “It is something we have to use if we want to push our future forward.”

In my view, science is the fifth pillar of democracy besides legislature, executive, judiciary and media. Science is not post-truth and alternative facts. The world cannot move forward in future without science and scientific method. Those who propagate post-truth science need to be condemned.

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Psychology of truth and lies:

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Leonard Saxe, Ph.D., a polygraph expert and professor of psychology at Brandeis University, says, “Lying has long been a part of everyday life. We couldn’t get through the day without being deceptive.” Yet until recently lying was almost entirely ignored by psychologists, leaving serious discussion of the topic in the hands of ethicists and theologians. Freud wrote next to nothing about deception; even the 1500-page Encyclopedia of Psychology, published in 1984, mentions lies only in a brief entry on detecting them. But as psychologists delve deeper into the details of deception, they’re finding that lying is a surprisingly common and complex phenomenon. Saxe points out that most of us receive conflicting messages about lying. Although we’re socialized from the time we can speak to believe that it’s always better to tell the truth, in reality society often encourages and even rewards deception. Show up late for an early morning meeting at work and it’s best not to admit that you overslept. “You’re punished far more than you would be if you lie and say you were stuck in traffic,” Saxe notes. Moreover, lying is integral to many occupations. Think how often we see lawyers constructing far-fetched theories on behalf of their clients or reporters misrepresenting themselves in order to gain access to good stories.  Lying, whether from a politician, an athlete or a poker player is an important determinant of who wins and loses. Elections, court cases, card games . . . all rely on lying and lie detection abilities.

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The work by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Virginia, confirms Nietzche’s assertion that the lie is a condition of life. In a 1996 study, DePaulo and her colleagues had 147 people between the ages of 18 and 71 keep a diary of all the falsehoods they told over the course of a week. Most people, she found, lie once or twice a day—almost as often as they snack from the refrigerator or brush their teeth. Both men and women lie in approximately a fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes; over the course of a week they deceive about 30 percent of those with whom they interact one-on-one. Furthermore, some types of relationships, such as those between parents and teens, are virtual magnets for deception: “College students lie to their mothers in one out of two conversations,” reports DePaulo. (Incidentally, when researchers refer to lying, they don’t include the mindless pleasantries or polite equivocations we offer each other in passing, such as “I’m fine, thanks” or “No trouble at all.” An “official” lie actually misleads, deliberately conveying a false impression. So complimenting a friend’s awful haircut or telling a creditor that the check is in the mail both qualify.)

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The capacity to lie is noted early and nearly universally in human development. Social psychology and developmental psychology are concerned with the theory of mind, which people employ to simulate another’s reaction to their story and determine if a lie will be believable. The most commonly cited milestone, what is known as Machiavellian intelligence, is at the age of about four and a half years, when children begin to be able to lie convincingly. Before this, they seem simply unable to comprehend why others do not see the same view of events that they do – and seem to assume that there is only one point of view, which is their own. The evolutionary theory proposed by Darwin states that only the fittest will survive and by lying, we aim to improve other’s perception of our social image and status, capability, and desirability in general.  Studies have shown that humans begin lying at a mere age of 6 months, through crying and laughing, to gain attention.  Scientific studies have also shown the presence of gender differences in lying. Although men and women lie at equal frequencies, men are more likely to lie in order to please themselves while women are more likely to lie to please others. We are individuals living in a world of competition and strict social norms, where we are able to use lies and deception to enhance our chances of survival and reproduction. Stereotypically speaking, men like to exaggerate about their sexual expertise but shy away from topics that degrade them while women understate their sexual expertise to make themselves more respectable and loyal in the eyes of men and avoid being labelled as a ‘scarlet woman’.

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Young children learn from experience that stating an untruth can avoid punishment for misdeeds, before they develop the theory of mind necessary to understand why it works. In this stage of development, children will sometimes tell outrageous and unbelievable lies, because they lack the conceptual framework to judge whether a statement is believable, or even to understand the concept of believability. When children first learn how lying works, they lack the moral understanding of when to refrain from doing it. This takes years of watching people tell lies, and the results of these lies, to develop a proper understanding. Propensity to lie varies greatly between children, some doing so habitually and others being habitually honest. Habits in this regard are likely to change in early adulthood.

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Those with Parkinson’s disease show difficulties in deceiving others, difficulties that link to prefrontal hypometabolism. This suggests a link between the capacity for dishonesty and integrity of prefrontal functioning. Pseudologia fantastica is a term applied by psychiatrists to the behavior of habitual or compulsive lying. Mythomania is the condition where there is an excessive or abnormal propensity for lying and exaggerating. A recent study found that lying takes longer than telling the truth. Or, as Chief Joseph succinctly put it, “It does not require many words to speak the truth.” Some people believe that they are convincing liars, however in many cases, they are not.

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People lie all the time. According to the psychologist Robert Feldman, who has spent more than four decades studying the phenomenon, we lie, on average, three times during a routine ten-minute conversation with a stranger or casual acquaintance. Hardly anyone refrains from lying altogether, and some people report lying up to twelve times within that time span.  We lie in most any context—Feldman’s work has turned up frequent lies in relationships ranging from the most intimate (marriage) to the completely casual. Some lies are small (“You look like you’ve lost a bit of weight”) and some bigger (“I did not have sex with that woman”). Sometimes they are harmless, and sometimes they are not.

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Many of us believe that we can tell when someone else is lying, and, over the years, a folklore has developed around the facial and physical cues that can give someone away. Liars don’t look you straight in the eye. When someone is lying, he looks up and to the side, as if searching for something. A liar fidgets and seems somehow nervous. Sometimes, he’ll scratch or pull his ear. He’ll hesitate, as if he’s not sure he wants to tell you something. These, however, are all “old wives’ tales,” Leanne ten Brinke, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley whose work focuses on detecting deception said. “The empirical literature just doesn’t bear that out.” The mismatch between our conception of a liar and the reality—that there’s no “Pinocchio’s nose,” as ten Brinke put it—is surely one reason that, despite our confidence, our ability to tell a lie from the truth is hardly different from chance. The psychologist Paul Ekman, professor emeritus at U.C. San Francisco, has spent more than half a century studying nonverbal expressions of emotion and deception. Over the years, he has had more than fifteen thousand subjects watch video clips of people either lying or telling the truth about topics ranging from emotional reactions to witnessing amputations to theft, from political opinions to future plans. Their success rate at identifying honesty has been approximately fifty-five per cent. The nature of the lie—or truth—doesn’t even matter. Over time, Ekman did find that one particular characteristic could prove useful—microexpressions, or incredibly fast facial movements that last, on average, somewhere between one-fifteenth and one-twentieth of a second and are exceedingly difficult to control consciously. Those, however, were too fleeting and complex for any kind of un-trained expert to spot: out of Ekman’s fifteen thousand subjects, only fifty people could consistently point them out. To ten Brinke, something about the existing narrative of deception didn’t quite make sense. Why would we be so bad at something that was so necessary? If the only predictive signs of deception took so much time and energy to learn, that wouldn’t make them of much use. “It didn’t fit well with our evolutionary perspective of human development,” ten Brinke says. “Wouldn’t it have been helpful for us to be able to detect lies and cheats?”

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Maybe the untrained “us” wasn’t so bad at lie detection as all that. It could instead be the case that researchers had simply been asking the wrong questions. It wasn’t conscious lie detection, a forced, yes-or-no judgment, that mattered. Maybe, instead, our ability lay in our unconscious perception: in our sensing something if we weren’t looking for it, something that might disappear if we tried to probe it head on. “For lie detection to be an adaptive skill, that helps us to avoid liars and befriend truth-tellers, it doesn’t have to be conscious alarm bells. It could be more subtle,” ten Brinke says. “More of a feeling that you don’t really want to lend this person twenty dollars, that you’re not excited to go on a second date with this guy.” Ten Brinke and her colleagues decided to focus their efforts on finding evidence for unconscious lie detection. In a series of studies, in the journal Psychological Science, the Berkeley team had students watch a video of a possible criminal who was being questioned about stealing a hundred dollars. As in an actual interrogation, the suspect responded to both baseline questions (“What are you wearing?” “What’s the weather like outside?”) and target questions (“Did you steal the money?” “Are you lying to me right now?”). Half of the potential criminals were lying; half were telling the truth. Each participant watched one truthful and one deceptive video. Next, the students completed a simple assessment: Were the pleaders in the videos telling the truth? Just as in prior studies, ten Brinke’s subjects, when asked direct questions, did no better than chance at determining who was truthful and who wasn’t. But then the students participated in one of two unconscious lie-detection tasks. In each, they saw still photos of the two pleaders alongside words that were associated with either truth, such as “honest” and “genuine,” or lies, such as “deceitful” and “dishonest.” Their goal was to categorize the words as indicative of either truth or lies, as quickly and accurately as possible, regardless of the face they saw along with it. If “genuine” flashed on the screen, they would press a button to classify it as a truth-category word as soon as possible. When the researchers dug deeper, they saw that the participants’ unconscious instinct fared far better: in both studies, they were significantly faster at properly categorizing lie- and truth-related concepts when those concepts were presented with the lying or truthful face, respectively, from the video. Seeing a liar’s face made people faster at classifying lie-related words than truth-related words—and seeing a truth-teller had the opposite effect. “When you see a liar’s face, the concept of deception is activated in your mind even if you’re not consciously aware of it,” ten Brinke hypothesizes. “It’s still unclear just how high a percentage of lies our unconscious mind is able to sense accurately, but discrimination is definitely occurring.”

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In a series of prior studies, conducted by an unrelated group at the University of Manheim, the psychologist Marc-André Reinhard and his colleagues found that the ability of student judges to detect deception improved drastically if they were given time to think—but only if, in that time frame, they thought about something other than the case they were judging. If they had to make an immediate judgment, they did no better than chance. The same was true if they were allowed to deliberate consciously. But when they were kept from consciously deliberating, by, for example, completing a demanding word-search puzzle, their accuracy improved significantly. Reinhard concluded that, in the unconscious-deliberation condition, the brain had had time to integrate the subtle cues that our conscious mind can’t quite perceive into a more complete judgment.

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In 2008, ten Brinke was still working on her master’s degree, at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, about an hour from Bridgewater. For the past year, she had been researching signs of deception in people who turned to television for help in finding a loved one. She had collected dozens of tapes, along with the eventual outcomes of their cases—approximately half the time, it turned out that the pleader was, in fact, guilty of the crime in question. She and her adviser, Steven Porter, had been working on compiling the characteristics of those who were genuinely emotionally distressed—and of those who were faking it. Over time, they had been able to build up a list of behavioral signals that differed consistently in the two groups. On the afternoon of January 29, 2008, ten Brinke was alone in her office, a small, windowless room tucked in the back corner of the psychology department. She turned to the local news, and there, in the middle of her screen, was Penny Boudreau, pleading tearfully for her daughter’s safe return. Ten Brinke frowned. Something felt—off. “Something is not right,” ten Brinke recalls thinking. “Penny raised some red flags for me.” Concerned, ten Brinke shared her observation with her adviser. He agreed—but their data was still incomplete and largely unproven. Ten Brinke had been going on a subtle hunch and not much else; she didn’t feel at all confident in her intuition. They waited to see how the case would progress. On June 14th, after four months of intensive investigation, Bridgewater Police Chief Brent Crowhurst announced that, at long last, the department had more news: Penny Boudreau had been arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Today, Boudreau is serving a life sentence. She confessed to murdering Karissa—she wanted to save her faltering relationship with her boyfriend, she told the court, and he’d told her that she would have to choose between him and the child—and described in quiet detail her daughter’s final moments. (“Mommy, don’t,” Boudreau says, were Karissa’s last words, as Boudreau straddled her chest and strangled her with twine.) Would ten Brinke have gone to the police with her hunch today? “I would have much more data to back up my assessment now,” she told me. “And yes, it might be helpful to share with police to aid them in directing their investigation. But it isn’t a silver bullet.” All cues of lying are just that: cues. They are fallible, and they are misleading. No matter how much data you have and how many thousands of hours of training you acquire, you will never have the certainty of a Pinocchio to guide you. And the worst thing you can do? Become so confident in your ability to tell a lie that your conscious certainty gets in the way of your unconscious perceptions. We can tell who’s lying—as long as we don’t think about it too much.

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Research on Deception Detection:

Your body processes lies in a completely different way than it does the truth. Telling the truth is a lot easier than lying. Your body is almost instinctive in its response. That’s because it doesn’t have to work as hard as it does when you are telling a lie. The bigger the lie, the harder it is to pull off. Lying takes more cognitive effort than being honest in general, because you have to work harder to keep your facts straight. Once you start down the pathway of lying, you not only have to remember facts, but which facts you changed, and how. What this means is that you can spot a liar if you are familiar with some of the psychological and physiological signs.

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“Liars have a dilemma,” says Ray Bull, PhD, a professor of criminal investigation at the University of Derby, in the United Kingdom. “They have to make up a story to account for the time of wrongdoing, but they can’t be sure what evidence the interviewer has against them.” Both Bull and Hartwig conduct research on criminal investigative interview techniques that encourage interviewees to talk while interviewers slowly reveal evidence. Their research consistently shows that being strategic about revealing evidence of criminal acts to suspects increases deception detection accuracy rates above chance levels (Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, 2011; Law and Human Behavior, 2006). For example, Hartwig and colleagues conducted a series of studies to show that withholding evidence until late in the interview leaves room for guilty suspects to blatantly lie, for instance by denying being in the area of the crime. When the interviewer reveals evidence showing the suspect was there — such as surveillance footage — the suspect has to scramble to make up another lie, or tell the truth. The suspect may admit to being in the area, but still deny the crime. If the interviewer then presents more evidence, such as matching fingerprints from the crime scene, the liar will find it increasingly difficult to keep up the deception (Credibility Assessment: Scientific Research and Applications, 2014). Aldert Vrij, PhD, a professor of applied social psychology at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, also focuses his research on using strategies to outsmart liars. “Liars are doing more than telling their stories — they need to make a convincing impression,” he says. “If the interviewer makes the interview more difficult, it makes the already difficult task of lying even harder.” Another way to make lying more difficult is to increase interviewees’ cognitive load by, for example, asking them to tell their stories in reverse order. Truth tellers can rely on their memories to tell their story backwards, often adding more details, but liars tend to struggle. Research shows that liars also often provide fewer details about time, location and things they heard. They also speak more slowly, with more hesitations and grammatical errors (Law and Human Behavior, 2008). Encouraging interviewees to say more during their interviews also helps to identify liars. “Truth tellers do not immediately say everything they need to say, so when the interviewer encourages them to say more, they give additional information,” says Vrij. “Liars typically have a prepared story with little more to say. They might not have the imagination to come up with more or they may be reluctant to say more for fear they will get caught.” It’s particularly useful to ask unexpected questions in interviews, Vrij has found. Because liars often prepare their stories, surprise questions can leave them floundering for a response or contradicting themselves (Applied Cognitive Psychology, 2014).

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Other avenues of research are examining how liars and nonliars talk. Burgoon studies sentence complexity, phrase redundancy, statement context and other factors that can distinguish truth tellers from liars (Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 2006). “If liars plan what they are going to say, they will have a larger quantity of words,” she says. “But, if liars have to answer on the spot, they say less relative to truth tellers.” That’s because trying to control what they say uses up cognitive resources. They may use more single-syllable words, repeat particular words or use words that convey uncertainty, such as “might” rather than “will,” she says. Examining word count and word choice works well for analysis of text, such as interview transcripts, 911 call transcripts, witness and suspect written statements, and in analysis of written evidence such as emails and social media posts. Research is still needed to understand how well investigators can pick up these cues in real time, says Burgoon. Research is also examining the communication between co-conspirators by exploring how two or more people interact as they try to deceive interviewers (Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 2012). “In field situations, such as checkpoints and street corners, people conspire and collude to get away with crime and terrorist acts,” says psychologist James Driskell, PhD, president of the Florida Maxima Corporation, a company that conducts research in behavioural and social science. “If two people are lying, they have to concoct a story that is consistent with their co-conspirator so they don’t arouse suspicion,” says Driskell. “If an officer needs to engage them on the street, it would be useful to know what indicators to look for in their responses.” Compared with truth tellers, when liars tell their story together they tend to not interact with each other and they are less likely to elaborate on each other’s responses, he says. “Truthful dyads are much more interactive as they reconstruct a shared event from memory,” he says.

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Key linguistic cues can help reveal dishonesty during business negotiations, whether it’s a flat-out lie or a deliberate omission of key information, according to research by Lyn M. Van Swol, Michael T. Braun, and Deepak Malhotra.  Van Swol and Malhotra. Want to know if someone’s lying to you? Tell-tale signs may include running of the mouth, an excessive use of third-person pronouns, and an increase in profanity. While recent lie-detection research has centered on verbal reports, there is still a role for behavioural cues in deception detection research, says David Matsumoto, PhD, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and CEO of Humintell, a consulting company that trains people to read human emotions. Behavioural cues might change depending on the types of questions asked and the interview circumstances, he says. “Researchers need to take into account different investigative contexts and circumstances that might elicit different behavioural responses.” One context Matsumoto has studied is culture. In recent research, he found culture-specific differences in tone of voice and vocal characteristics. For example, his research shows that Chinese participants tend to speak in higher pitched voices when lying compared to truth telling whereas Hispanics tend to speak in lower pitches when lying compared to truth telling (International Journal of Psychology, 2015).

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According to Houston et al: There are five categories of deceptive behavior that you need to look for:

  1. Evasion: Think of these behaviors as linguistic acts of concealment. Example: Failure to answer the question.
  2. Persuasion: These behaviors are aimed at convincing you of something, rather than conveying the information you’re asking for. Example: Invoking religion.
  3. Manipulation: These behaviors are meant to disrupt your game plan. Example: Failure to understand a simple question.
  4. Aggression: These behaviors are typically exhibited by a person who feels cornered, and who needs to lash out to get you to back off. Example: Attacking your credibility.
  5. Reaction: These are behaviors that are triggered by the autonomic nervous system when your question creates a spike in anxiety. Example: Hand-to-face activity.

Your aim is to identify a cluster, which is defined as any combination of two or more deceptive behaviors, which can be verbal or nonverbal. Under this model, the first deceptive behavior has to occur within the first five seconds after the stimulus, which is your question. This way, you can reliably conclude that the behavior was prompted by your question.

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Psychology seems like it should be a good place to start trying to figure out how to sift the truth from the lies. If you don’t have access to a polygraph, there may be some behavioural clues that can tip you off. Although the science isn’t completely there yet, a recently-published test seems to have potential. University of Texas at Tyler psychologist Jacqueline Evans and her colleagues (2013) developed the Psychologically Based Credibility Assessment Tool (PBCAT), an 11-item rating scale you can readily adapt for your own purposes. With this background, here are some basic rating scales from the PBCAT that will allow you to detect when you’re being told a lie:

  1. Leaves out sensory details. A liar skips many of the little flourishes that embellish stories told by honest people. These are harder to keep straight later, so he or she just leaves them out. Someone telling the truth might mention what music was playing in the background or what color the flowers on the table were. A liar will try to be as incomplete as possible on details, including time, because these are difficult to construct and then keep consistent to in later renditions of the story.
  2. Admits frequently to faulty memory. People telling the truth don’t have that much trouble remembering a true event, situation, or occurrence. They lived it, so it comes pretty easily to them. Liars, however, will give themselves the “excuse” of having a poor memory when, in reality, it’s only the lies they’re having trouble recalling.
  3. Makes spontaneous corrections. Because liars have to backtrack so much, they will edit heavily their stories: “Her name was Lily, no it was Lisa, wait, maybe it was Linda.” You don’t have to keep an exact count of how many of these occur in a person’s speech, but if they happen often enough for you to notice, the individual is probably covering something up.
  4. Keeps it short and vague. The longer, more complete, and spelled out a story is, the more likely it is to be true. Again, telling a lie or a string of lies takes more effort because it means that you have to create an entire scenario out of your head. Brevity may be “the soul of wit,” but it’s also the soul of a lie.
  5. Doesn’t make sense and is full of contradictions. By now, if you’re catching on, it should be clear that a true story will hang together better than a string of lies. Returning to the case of the shirt, it’s quite likely that clothing from a more expensive store will look more expensive. If what you’re seeing doesn’t fit with what you know to be the case, it’s very likely that you’re not being told the truth.
  6. Seems to be thinking hard. If your speaker seems to be unsure or, worse, to be putting a great deal of effort into coming up with a plausible account of events, this is a cue that his or her cognitive load is mounting. Obviously people telling the truth may have difficulty remembering past events, but especially if an event wasn’t that long ago, and was of some significance, they should not seem to be sweating over every sentence they relate. If you ask your partner how his or her last relationship ended, that person should be reasonably sure. As time goes on, a partner who’s lied about that breakup will have to work even harder to keep the details consistent with other things you learn about that past relationship.
  7. Is nervous, tense, and fidgety. It takes a great liar to be able to pull off a string of falsehoods without looking at least a little anxious. (In fact, that’s one of the cues to suggest that someone might be a psychopath.) Someone telling the truth will seem relaxed—maybe not happy, but at least not especially uncomfortable, assuming the story they’re telling isn’t a painful one.
  8. Makes few complaints or negative comments. This seems counterintuitive, but it makes sense that someone trying to create a good impression would want to be positive. People high in the desire to impress others try to cover up their own negative reactions so you’ll like them (and believe them).
  9. Talks unusually slowly. The speech of a truth-teller is reasonably normal, but people who are lying tend to take quite a bit longer as they self-edit, try to be consistent, and leave out negative commentaries. We hear about “fast-talking salespersons,” but rather than lying specifically, those characters may simply be trying to confuse you. Besides, a salesperson may be able to talk quickly when reciting a well-rehearsed lie, but a lying lover will probably proceed with greater caution in retelling fictional tales of his or her past.

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So far we discussed how to catch lies, now let us discuss how to catch truth.  Here are some scientific ways to tell if someone is telling you the truth.

  1. Their Story is Longer & Detailed:

If you’re suspecting someone is lying, yet they tell you a story that is lengthy, complete, and fully detailed, it’s likely they’re actually telling the truth. A short story, or one that seems to be strung together and incomplete, might tend to be one that is fabricated.

  1. They’re holding the right amount of Eye Contact:

Eyes have the power to be extremely telling at times, particularly when it comes to whether people are telling the truth or not. We assume liars would have a difficult time holding eye contact, but it turns out the opposite is true. According to research reported on in Psychology Today, “liars maintain more deliberate eye contact than do truthful people.” With that in mind, pay attention to the eye contact the person in question is maintain with you — if it doesn’t feel like a complete stare down, and rather is moments of eye contact followed by glances away, it could be a sign they’re being genuine.

  1. Their breathing is Steady:

Business Insider spoke to Dr. Lillian Glass, a behavioural analyst and body language expert and author of The Body Language of Liars, who said someone who is lying to you may begin to breathe heavily as they’re speaking. “In essence, they are out of breath because their heart rate and blood flow change,” Glass said of liars. “Your body experiences these types of changes when you’re nervous and feeling tense — when you lie.” Is the person you’re speaking with maintaining steady breathing? The words they’re speaking could likely be the truth.

  1. Their voice is steady too:

In addition to steady breathing, those who are telling the truth also tend to have a steady speaking voice. Gregg McCrary is a retired FBI criminal profiler and a crime analyst who said it’s important to first pick up on how the person usually speaks (animated, subdued, etc.) and then take note of if their voice is changing as they tell certain parts of a story. If their voice is steady, it’s a good indication the person is telling the truth.

  1. They do not blame Negative outside Forces:

While liars tend to use negative outside forces as excuses (e.g., “I’m late again because there was so much traffic”), truth tellers are less likely to do so. Noah Zanden, science communicator and chief executive of Quantified Communications  said liars will tend to blame these outside forces because deep down — on some level — they might actually feel guilty about the fact that what they’re saying isn’t true. Listen closely to the person you’re speaking with. Are they constantly blaming in this way? If not, they might be in the clear.

  1. You haven’t noticed them touching their Nose:

Watch the person’s hands. Are they reaching up and touching their nose as they’re speaking? Nose touching is a sign of fibbing, according to Dr. Alan Hirsch of The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. This is because certain tissues in the nose usually engorge when a person is telling a lie, releasing histamine and making the nose itch. If the person hasn’t been touching their nose at all, take this as a good sign.

  1. They’re not covering their Throat:

Likewise, hands will cover certain “vulnerable” body parts when someone is telling a lie, according to Glass. Glass says that the areas liars tend to cover include their throat, head, abdomen, or chest. On the flip side, truth tellers won’t have the urge to do so, so watch their body movements and take note of how they’re moving and what they’re covering.

  1. Their rate of blinking doesn’t change:

Back to the eyes for a moment — blinking is a very easy way to detect if someone is telling you the truth. Those who are being honest will maintain a consistent rhythm of blinking as they’re speaking to you. Oppositely, according to research, a liar will blink more slowly when they’re telling a lie, and then the blinking speed will increase up to eight time faster than normal after the lie has been told.

  1. They’re speaking in Complete Sentences:

According to research out of UCLA on the topic of lying, liars tend to use sentence fragments more often while speaking, while truth tellers tend to speak in complete sentences. So, in addition to picking up on the non-verbal cues, be sure to pay attention to how the person is forming sentences.

  1. There’s no Fake Smile in Sight:

A genuine smile (that which engages the eye muscles) is good. A fake smile could mean something is up. A study showed one of the body movements associated with a lie is a fake smile. Why? According to the study, liars have an “increased activity of the ‘zygomatic major muscles’, located around the mouth,” and it can force the face into a fake smile.

  1. Your instincts are telling you it’s The Truth:

Did anyone ever tell you that you should follow your instincts? Turns out that when we’re deciding whether to trust someone or not, we really should rely on those automatic instincts we have after all. According to research out of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, our instincts for determining whether someone is lying or telling the truth are fairly strong. The research showed, rather, that it’s our conscious minds that sometimes let us judge the situation the wrong way. If you have that gut feeling either way, listen to it. I have already discussed many studies in previous paragraphs which show that sub-conscious mind is better than conscious mind in detecting lies.

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Research has consistently shown that people’s ability to detect lies is no more accurate than chance, or flipping a coin. This finding holds across all types of people — students, psychologists, judges, job interviewers and law enforcement personnel (Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2006). Particularly when investigating crime, the need for accurate deception detection is critical for police officers who must get criminals off the streets without detaining innocent suspects. Traditional police practices in deception detection stem from early theories on lying that assume liars will exhibit stress-based cues because they fear being caught and feel guilty about lying. This theory led researchers to search for reliable behavioral indicators of deception. They examined behaviors such as posture shifts, gaze aversion, and foot and hand movements, without much success. “There really is no Pinocchio’s nose,” says Judee Burgoon, PhD, a professor of communication at the University of Arizona. Given these early findings, today’s researchers are exploring new methods of deception detection. Instead of looking at people for visual cues that they may be dissembling — such as a lack of eye contact or fidgeting — psychologists are now focused on developing proactive strategies that interviewers can use to elicit signs of deception, says Maria Hartwig, PhD, associate professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The view now is that the interaction between deceiver and observer is a strategic interplay,” she says. Such research has “enormous potential to revolutionize law enforcement, military and private sector investigations,” says Christian Meissner, PhD, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University, who studies the psychological processes underlying investigative interviews.

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Does polygraph work?

Most psychologists agree that there is little evidence that polygraph tests can accurately detect lies.

Lie detector tests have become a popular cultural icon — from crime dramas to comedies to advertisements — the picture of a polygraph pen wildly gyrating on a moving chart is readily recognized symbol. But, as psychologist Leonard Saxe, PhD has argued, the idea that we can detect a person’s veracity by monitoring psychophysiological changes is more myth than reality. Even the term “lie detector,” used to refer to polygraph testing, is a misnomer. So-called “lie detection” involves inferring deception through analysis of physiological responses to a structured, but unstandardized, series of questions. The instrument typically used to conduct polygraph tests consists of a physiological recorder that assesses three indicators of autonomic arousal: heart rate/blood pressure, respiration, and skin conductivity. Most examiners today use computerized recording systems. Rate and depth of respiration are measured by pneumographs wrapped around a subject’s chest. Cardiovascular activity is assessed by a blood pressure cuff. Skin conductivity (called the galvanic skin or electrodermal response) is measured through electrodes attached to a subject’s fingertips. The recording instrument and questioning techniques are only used during a part of the polygraph examination. A typical examination includes a pretest phase during which the technique is explained and each test question reviewed. The pretest interview is designed to ensure that subjects understand the questions and to induce a subject’s concern about being deceptive. Polygraph examinations often include a procedure called a “stimulation test,” which is a demonstration of the instrument’s accuracy in detecting deception. Several questioning techniques are commonly used in polygraph tests. The most widely used test format for subjects in criminal incident investigations is the Control Question Test (CQT). The CQT compares responses to “relevant” questions (e.g., “Did you shoot your wife?”), with those of “control” questions. The control questions are designed to control for the effect of the generally threatening nature of relevant questions. Control questions concern misdeeds that are similar to those being investigated, but refer to the subject’s past and are usually broad in scope; for example, “Have you ever betrayed anyone who trusted you?” A person who is telling the truth is assumed to fear control questions more than relevant questions. This is because control questions are designed to arouse a subject’s concern about their past truthfulness, while relevant questions ask about a crime they know they did not commit. A pattern of greater physiological response to relevant questions than to control questions leads to a diagnosis of “deception.” Greater response to control questions leads to a judgment of nondeception. If no difference is found between relevant and control questions, the test result is considered “inconclusive.”

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The accuracy (i.e., validity) of polygraph testing has long been controversial. An underlying problem is theoretical: There is no evidence that any pattern of physiological reactions is unique to deception. An honest person may be nervous when answering truthfully and a dishonest person may be non-anxious. Also, there are few good studies that validate the ability of polygraph procedures to detect deception. As Dr. Saxe and Israeli psychologist Gershon Ben-Shahar (1999) note, “it may, in fact, be impossible to conduct a proper validity study.” In real-world situations, it’s very difficult to know what the truth is. A particular problem is that polygraph research has not separated placebo-like effects (the subject’s belief in the efficacy of the procedure) from the actual relationship between deception and their physiological responses. One reason that polygraph tests may appear to be accurate is that subjects who believe that the test works and that they can be detected may confess or will be very anxious when questioned. If this view is correct, the lie detector might be better called a fear detector. Some confusion about polygraph test accuracy arises because they are used for different purposes, and for each context somewhat different theory and research is applicable. Thus, for example, virtually no research assesses the type of test and procedure used to screen individuals for jobs and security clearances. Most research has focused on specific incident testing. The cumulative research evidence suggests that CQTs detect deception better than chance, but with significant error rates, both of misclassifying innocent subjects (false positives) and failing to detect guilty individuals (false negatives). Research on the processes involved in CQT polygraph examinations suggests that several examiner, examinee, and situational factors influence test validity, as may the technique used to score polygraph charts. There is little research on the effects of subjects’ differences in such factors as education, intelligence, or level of autonomic arousal.

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There has been a lot of controversy about whether lie detectors work. Some experts claimed that a high proportion of persons who “failed” the polygraph subsequently confessed to crimes. On the other hand, the test generates a lot of false positives, i.e., people who are telling the truth but whose polygraph test suggests they are lying. Whereas the American Polygraph Association claims accuracy rates of over 90 percent, leading critics, such as David Lykken put the polygraph accuracy rate at around 65 percent that is only slightly better than the 50 percent correct one would get by flipping a coin. Interestingly, the polygraph is quite good at identifying liars but does no better than chance at detecting honest people according to Lykken. In other words, there is a 50:50 chance that a polygraph test will say an honest person is lying (a 50 percent “false positive” rate). It is bad enough that polygraph tests are so indirect, prompting some researchers to look for more direct evidence of lying through analysis of brain scans. Another major weakness is that the test can be faked. In the normal administration of the test, technicians rely upon responses that they know to be true to provide a baseline against which deceptive answers can be judged as an increase in nervous arousal. One of the most effective means of faking the test is to enhance arousal accompanying honest answers so that it is difficult to detect increased arousal theoretically accompanying lies.

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Evidence indicates that strategies used to “beat” polygraph examinations, so-called countermeasures, may be effective. Countermeasures include simple physical movements, psychological interventions (e.g., manipulating subjects’ beliefs about the test), and the use of pharmacological agents that alter arousal patterns. Despite the lack of good research validating polygraph tests, efforts are on-going to develop and assess new approaches. Some work involves use of additional autonomic physiologic indicators, such as cardiac output and skin temperature. Such measures, however, are more specific to deception than polygraph tests. Other researchers, such as Frank Andrew Kozel, MD, have examined functional brain imaging as a measure of deception. Dr. Kozel’s research team found that for lying, compared with telling the truth, there is more activation in five brain regions (Kozel et al., 2004). However, the results do not currently support the use of fMRI to detect deception in real world individual cases.

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Polygraph testing has generated considerable scientific and public controversy. Most psychologists and other scientists agree that there is little basis for the validity of polygraph tests. Courts, including the United States Supreme Court (cf. U.S. v. Scheffer, 1998 in which Dr.’s Saxe’s research on polygraph fallibility was cited), have repeatedly rejected the use of polygraph evidence because of its inherent unreliability. Nevertheless, polygraph testing continues to be used in non-judicial settings, often to screen personnel, but sometimes to try to assess the veracity of suspects and witnesses, and to monitor criminal offenders on probation. Polygraph tests are also sometimes used by individuals seeking to convince others of their innocence and, in a narrow range of circumstances, by private agencies and corporations.

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Various studies regarding neurobiology of truth and lies:

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A cognitive neurobiological account of deception: evidence from functional neuroimaging: a 2004 study:

An organism may use misinformation, knowingly (through deception) or unknowingly (as in the case of camouflage), to gain advantage in a competitive environment. From an evolutionary perspective, greater tactical deception occurs among primates closer to humans, with larger neocortices. In humans, the onset of deceptive behaviours in childhood exhibits a developmental trajectory, which may be regarded as ‘normal’ in the majority and deficient among a minority with certain neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism). In the human adult, deception and lying exhibit features consistent with their use of ‘higher’ or ‘executive’ brain systems. Accurate detection of deception in humans may be of particular importance in forensic practice, while an understanding of its cognitive neurobiology may have implications for models of ‘theory of mind’ and social cognition, and societal notions of responsibility, guilt and mitigation. In recent years, functional neuroimaging techniques (especially functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI) have been used to study deception. Though few in number, and using very different experimental protocols, studies published in the peer-reviewed literature exhibit certain consistencies. Attempted deception is associated with activation of executive brain regions (particularly prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices), while truthful responding has not been shown to be associated with any areas of increased activation (relative to deception). Hence, truthful responding may comprise a relative ‘baseline’ in human cognition and communication. The subject who lies may necessarily engage ‘higher’ brain centres, consistent with a purpose or intention (to deceive). While the principle of executive control during deception remains plausible, its precise anatomy awaits elucidation.

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Deceiving others: distinct neural responses of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala in simple fabrication and deception with social interactions: a 2007 study:

Brain mechanisms for telling lies have been investigated recently using neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography. Although the advent of these techniques has gradually enabled clarification of the functional contributions of the prefrontal cortex in deception with respect to executive function, the specific roles of subregions within the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions responsible for emotional regulation or social interactions during deception are still unclear. Assuming that the processes of falsifying truthful responses and deceiving others are differentially associated with the activities of these regions, authors conducted a positron emission tomography experiment with 2 (truth, lie) x 2 (honesty, dishonesty) factorial design. The main effect of falsifying the truthful responses revealed increased brain activity of the left dorsolateral and right anterior prefrontal cortices, supporting the interpretation of previous studies that executive functions are related to making untruthful responses. The main effect of deceiving the interrogator showed activations of the ventromedial prefrontal (medial orbitofrontal) cortex and amygdala, adding new evidence that the brain regions assumed to be responsible for emotional processing or social interaction are active during deceptive behavior similar to that in real-life situations. Further analysis revealed that activity of the right anterior prefrontal cortex showed both effects of deception, indicating that this region has a pivotal role in telling lies. These results provide clear evidence of functionally dissociable roles of the prefrontal subregions and amygdala for human deception.

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Lie-specific involvement of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in deception: a 2008 study:

Lies are intentional distortions of event knowledge. No experimental data are available on manipulating lying processes. To address this issue, authors stimulated the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Fifteen healthy volunteers were tested before and after tDCS (anodal, cathodal, and sham). Two types of truthful (truthful selected: TS; truthful unselected: TU) and deceptive (lie selected: LS; lie unselected: LU) responses were evaluated using a computer-controlled task. Reaction times (RTs) and accuracy were collected and used as dependent variables. In the baseline task, the RT was significantly longer for lie responses than for true responses ([mean +/- standard error] 1153.4 +/- 42.0 ms vs. 1039.6 +/- 36.6 ms; F(1,14) = 27.25, P = 0.00013). At baseline, RT for selected pictures was significantly shorter than RT for unselected pictures (1051.26 +/- 39.0 ms vs. 1141.76 +/- 41.1 ms; F(1,14) = 34.85, P = 0.00004). Whereas after cathodal and sham stimulation, lie responses remained unchanged (cathodal 5.26 +/- 2.7%; sham 5.66 +/- 3.6%), after anodal tDCS, RTs significantly increased but did so only for LS responses (16.86 +/- 5.0%; P = 0.002). These findings show that manipulation of brain function with DLPFC tDCS specifically influences experimental deception and that distinctive neural mechanisms underlie different types of lies.

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Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex specifically processes general – but not personal – knowledge deception: Multiple brain networks for lying: a 2010 study:

Despite intensive research into ways of detecting deception in legal, moral and clinical contexts, few experimental data are available on the neural substrate for the different types of lies. Authors used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to modulate dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) function and to assess its influence on various types of lies. Twenty healthy volunteers were tested before and after tDCS (anodal and sham). In each session the Guilty Knowledge Task and Visual Attention Task were administered at baseline and immediately after tDCS ended. A computer-controlled task was used to evaluate truthful responses and lie responses to questions referring to personal information and general knowledge. Dependent variables collected were reaction times (RTs) and accuracy. At baseline the RTs were significantly longer for lies than for truthful responses. After sham stimulation, lie responses remained unchanged (p = 0.24) but after anodal tDCS, RTs decreased significantly only for lies involving general knowledge (p = 0.02). tDCS left the Visual Attention Task unaffected. These findings show that manipulating DLPFC function with tDCS specifically modulates deceptive responses for general information leaving those on personal information unaffected. Multiple cortical networks intervene in deception involving general and personal knowledge. Deception referring to general and personal knowledge probably involves multiple cortical networks.

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The anterior prefrontal cortex in deceptive behavior: a 2010 study:

Recent neuroimaging studies have indicated a predominant role of the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) in deception and moral cognition, yet the functional contribution of the aPFC to deceptive behavior remains unknown. Authors hypothesized that modulating the excitability of the aPFC by transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) could reveal its functional contribution in generating deceitful responses. Forty-four healthy volunteers participated in a thief role-play in which they were supposed to steal money and then to attend an interrogation with the Guilty Knowledge Test. During the interrogation, participants received cathodal, anodal, or sham tDCS. Remarkably, inhibition of the aPFC by cathodal tDCS did not lead to an impairment of deceptive behavior but rather to a significant improvement. This effect manifested in faster reaction times in telling lies, but not in telling the truth, a decrease in sympathetic skin-conductance response and feelings of guilt while deceiving the interrogator and a significantly higher lying quotient reflecting skillful lying. Increasing the excitability of the aPFC by anodal tDCS did not affect deceptive behavior, confirming the specificity of the stimulation polarity. These findings give causal support to recent correlative data obtained by functional magnetic resonance imaging studies indicating a pivotal role of the aPFC in deception.

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fMRI for lie detection:

Over the last decade, scientists have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to more accurately locate regions of the brain that change when a person lies [vide supra]. This technique measures changes in blood flow in the brain — a reflection of neural activity — as people answer questions while inside of a scanner. The resulting images pinpoint brain activity in specific regions during the lie and truth phases of the deception paradigms.

Regions of deceit:

Although several brain areas appear to play a role in deception, the most consistent finding across multiple fMRI studies is that activity in the prefrontal cortex increases when people lie. The prefrontal cortex, situated just behind the forehead, is a collection of regions responsible for executive control (the ability to regulate thoughts or actions to achieve goals). Executive control includes cognitive processes such as planning, problem solving, and attention — all important components of deception — so it’s no surprise the prefrontal cortex is active when we lie. Dishonesty requires the brain to work harder than honesty, and this effort is reflected by increased brain activity. Studies even show people take longer to respond when lying.  While lies lead to greater activity in the prefrontal cortex, so do many everyday tasks, such as cooking dinner or playing a game of chess, explains Josh Greene, who studies moral judgment and decision-making at Harvard University. “It’s not like there’s some ‘lying’ part of the brain” that is only involved in deception, he says.

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Dr. Daniel Langleben of the University of Pennsylvania used functional M.R.I.’s to study brain activity in 18 normal volunteers. They were told either to lie or tell the truth to a computer about whether they had a certain playing card. Dr. Langleben found that activity in two brain regions, the anterior cingulate cortex and superior frontal gyrus, increased when subjects lied. These same areas were activated when subjects told the truth, but lying produced even greater activity. The implication is that the brain must exert more effort to lie than to tell the truth and that deception involves active suppression of a truthful response, Dr. Langleben said. Or as Mark Twain used to say, when in doubt tell the truth. It’s obviously a lot easier than lying. Although this study tried to minimize the confounding effect of anxiety, the fact is that the anterior cingulate cortex is involved in emotional processing, so there is no way to know for sure whether the increased activity in this area is the neural signature of lying or is just being nervous about lying.

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Most neuroimaging studies of deception have examined this behavior in healthy people, so information about how the brains of people who lie compulsively differ from healthy people remains largely unknown. Even without a clear ‘lying’ region, researchers can use fMRI to detect when a study participant is telling a lie in the laboratory with about 85 percent accuracy. Even with such a high rate of accuracy, however, use of fMRI and polygraph tests to identify deceit outside of the laboratory is controversial.  Two U.S. companies market fMRI lie detection commercially and a few court cases around the world have considered using it as evidence. But both have received much opposition from the neuroscience community.  How closely do laboratory paradigms model real-world lies? Not very closely, says Stanford University’s Anthony Wagner, who studies memory and has testified in court against the validity of fMRI lie detection. As Wagner explains, laboratory studies involve instruction to tell a low-stakes lie about an action they recently performed. However, in the real world, lies are self-generated, often high risk and emotionally charged, and lie detection may occur years after the event in question.  Another issue that has not been adequately studied, Wagner says, is how countermeasures, such as small movements, changes in breathing, or altered cognitive processing, can affect the accuracy of fMRI lie detection. By using countermeasures, a person may be able to deliberately offset any brain changes associated with deception to defeat lie detection technology. A recent study found the accuracy of fMRI for lie detection dropped to a mere 33 percent when participants used countermeasures during questioning. As neuroscientists like Wagner and University of Plymouth professor Giorgio Ganis see it, right now there isn’t enough evidence to support the use of fMRI for lie detection. “Any application of this technique in the real world is premature,” says Ganis, who studies deception using brain imaging. However, with more sophisticated analysis and technology development, he concedes there may one day be a future for accurately detecting deception.

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Deceptive informed consent in Deception studies:

Deception is a common feature of research design in neuroscience, which is adopted to promote scientific validity. Nevertheless, it is ethically controversial because it compromises informed consent. Deception of research subjects typically involves deliberately misleading communication by investigators about the purpose of the research and the nature of experimental procedures. Such deception is used when it is thought that truthful disclosure to subjects may influence the very phenomena under investigation. For some important scientific questions—especially concerning human perception, sensation, interpretation, behaviors, and attitudes—if subjects are fully informed of the hypothesis or research design, the experiment might be unable to provide valid knowledge. For example, informing subjects that the object of study is visual processes that are not the subject of conscious attention might change the visual processes being studied. Or investigating how different amounts of monetary reward or peer pressure influence decisions or neural networks cannot be easily undertaken if the study goal is declared. In some circumstances, transparent informed consent can produce bias and jeopardize scientific knowledge. Hence, there are often sound methodological reasons to adopt deception or the absence of full disclosure to promote the internal and external validity of the research. Scientific articles publishing the results of deceptive research typically do not explicitly mention that deception was used and include misleading statements that informed consent was obtained from the research participants.

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Neuroscience of truth:

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We need to go back and reread Descartes, who remains the pivotal figure of this venerable alliance between philosophy and what today are known as the cognitive sciences. In the fourth part of the Discours de la me´thode (1637), he asked how we are able to decide whether our ideas are true or false: “It is quite easy to show that the dreams that we imagine while [we are] asleep ought in no way make us doubt the truth of the thoughts that we have when we are awake. For in the end, whether we are awake or whether we are sleeping, we ought always to be persuaded only by the evidence of our reason.”  Can the anatomical organization and physiological states of activity of the brain be shown to be causally related to the mind’s higher cognitive functions and, in particular, to the acquisition of knowledge and the testing of its truth or falsehood? Despite the limited nature of the scientific evidence currently available to us, we are nonetheless in a position to formulate the problems that arise in trying to explain human thought in physical terms with greater precision than ever before. Solving these immensely difficult problems, while frankly acknowledging the provisional character of our present understanding, now stands as the major intellectual challenge of our age. In embracing this challenge we should nonetheless be modest about what we can reasonably hope to achieve. “Of reality,” Democritus said, “we do not grasp anything that is absolutely true, but only that which occurs by chance, in keeping with the momentary dispositions of our body and the influences that affect us or strike us.” The representations that we construct in our brain of our own inner world and of the world around us are themselves, as we shall see, physical objects. They cannot claim to exhaust the reality of the world. There will, moreover, always exist an element of uncertainty in every advance of scientific knowledge. But surely this is no reason to renounce the ambition of knowing more. The search for the neurobiological bases of consciousness and rationality, far from impoverishing our conception of human integrity, offers an unprecedented opportunity to properly value the multiplicity of personal experience, the richness of cultural diversity, and the variety of our ideas about the world.

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The concept of truth arises from puzzling over distinctions between the real and the apparent, while the origin of these distinctions lies in the neurobiology of mammalian cerebral lateralization, that is, in the evolution of brains that can address the world both indicatively and subjunctively; brains that represent the world both categorically and hypothetically. After some 2,500 years of thinking about it, the Western philosophical tradition has come up with three major theories of truth: correspondence, coherence, and pragmatist. Traditional philosophy has nevertheless failed to arbitrate much among these views; certainly no clear winner has emerged. The contemporary neuroscience provides adequate theoretical grounds for a unified theory of truth. It has been postulate by some neuroscientists that the correspondence, the coherence, and the pragmatic utility of symbols are each biological features of our neurophysiological information processing systems—that is to say, our brains. The traditional trifurcation of philosophical accounts of the predicate, “is true”, stems from a trifurcation of focus on the information latent in sensory, motor, and somatosensory cortices of the human brain. Modern neuroscience, which studies the organization of the brain as a physical object, proceeds by first dividing it into territories, known as “areas” which jointly constitute a “workspace”. Yet the passage from the atomic scale to cognitive structures is neither simple nor direct. The essential feature of cerebral organization, which may explain the genesis of subjective experience—not only sensory perception and what is commonly called thinking, but also feelings and emotions— is the architecture of the brain’s cellular and molecular network and the activities that occur within this network.  Developed over the course of biological evolution, and established during embryogenesis and postnatal development, this neuronal architecture supports capacities that are peculiar to the human species and allow it to learn, to store information, and to test the truthfulness of the knowledge it has acquired—in other words, to have the intellectual and affective experience that is the hallmark of human life.

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Russell’s claims that in the case of true beliefs, there exists a congruence—an analogy of form, or isomorphism—between a belief (or category) and its object. Patterns of activation in neuronal networks do not, as it happens, exactly reproduce the features of an object of the outside world. Imaging studies done in the rat of the primary visual areas of the cerebral cortex have revealed patterns of neuronal activity in which the object perceived by the retina can actually be recognized, allowing for some small degree of deformation. But it is generally the case that, in passing through the hierarchy of visual areas, retinal images are drastically altered. Another way of posing the question is to ask if the retrieval of traces from memory, for example of a visual object, in the form of a mental image mobilizes the same pathways and the same territories as those involved in the direct perception of the object. The matter is still undecided. Yet imaging studies of the human brain reveal a great similarity between the two, with the primary visual areas playing a dominant role when memory seeks a finer resolution of the details of the image. One interesting experiment involves asking subjects to mentally rotate images of hands and feet. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (a method that transiently inactivates the underlying neural structure) of the primary motor cortex affects the performance of this task, demonstrating the causal role played by the activation of this part of the brain. Knowledge acquisition by the child has been extensively and elegantly investigated, though until now mostly by behavioural methods. These methods do not suffice to test the neurobehavioral conjectures. It nonetheless seems likely that the early acquisition of physical knowledge about fluids and solids, and the continuity of material objects, proceeds through a constant testing of “hypotheses” formed by the child at definite moments of development. Further study of the physiology of these early stages of knowledge acquisition is needed in order to identify the neural mechanisms underlying the cognitive games involved. The importance of this work is all the greater since the attempt to place the inquiry into the nature of human knowledge on secure physical foundations is no longer an impossible dream, but a well-defined program of ongoing research in cognitive neuroscience and psychology.

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The roughly 30,000 genes that make up the genetic endowment of the human species confer upon the brain the universal traits that make us human beings. The architecture of the brain in its main outlines is constrained by an envelope of genes that govern its development. Even so, the human race is distinguished from other species by its remarkable ability to learn and conserve stable traces of past experience. In the course of evolution, this aptitude has grown to an extent unrivalled in the living world. Moreover, vestiges of man’s evolutionary past are still perceptible in the early stages of the brain’s development. The formation of the million billion synapses found in the adult brain escapes control by the genes to a limited extent, and that, to this extent, it is properly regarded as an epigenetic evolutionary process characterized by variation and selection that begins during embryonic development and continues after birth. Epigenetic combines two meanings: the idea of superimposition upon the action of the genes, chiefly as a result of learning and experience; and the notion of coordinated and organized development. The neural systems of the brain are not in fact assembled similar to a computer, with prefabricated parts fitted together in accordance with a blueprint that exactly specifies the nature and purpose of each circuit and switch. If this were the case, an error in even the smallest detail of the implementation of a program could have catastrophic consequences. As against an exclusively genetic conception of the brain as the embodiment of a strictly predetermined genetic inheritance, the epigenetic model postulates that the connections between neurons are established in stages, with a considerable margin of variability, and are subject to a process of selection that proceeds by means of trial and error. The opening of the genetic envelope to epigenetic variability and to evolution by selection is made possible, by the incorporation of a random component in synaptic development within cascading and nested sequences of synaptic outgrowth that begin in the earliest stages of embryogenesis and last until puberty. Each successive wave of connections, whose type and timing are very probably determined by the genetic envelope, is correlated with the acquisition of particular skills, but also with the loss of certain abilities (possibly due to top-down processes of selective inhibition). Innate knowledge and epigenetic learning are closely associated during pre- and postnatal development. This period is marked by a series of crucial events: the infant’s first applications of practical knowledge; the emergence of reflective consciousness and, subsequently, of a theory of mind; and the learning of language, epigenetic rules, and social conventions. Epigenesis makes possible the diversification, transmission, and evolution of culture. A sound education ought to supplement these developmental patterns with an appropriate basis for learning and experience. The individual character of each person is thus constructed as a function of what the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called a habitus of a unique synthesis of one’s genetic endowment, circumstances of birth and upbringing, and subjective experience of the social and cultural environment in which one has grown up.

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Both innate knowledge and innate disposition to acquire further knowledge and to consciously test its truth developed through the genetic evolution of species. The exceptionally long period of epigenetic evolution undergone by the human brain enabled it to incorporate information about the external world that is unobtainable by genetic mechanisms. This process also made possible the production of a cultural memory that is not directly subject to the intrinsic limitations of the brain, and so can be epigenetically transmitted at the level of the social group. In view of the considerable variability that epigenesis introduces in the neuronal network, however, the question arises how invariant and universal truths have been able to be discovered despite the multiplicity of personal experience and the diversity of human cultures.

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Now let me enlighten readers about the book ‘The Physiology of Truth: Neuroscience and Human Knowledge’ by Jean-Pierre Changeux.

Jean-Pierre Changeux is arguably one of the great neuroscientists of our day and certainly France’s most famous. His writing is lucid and engaging, and in the tradition of other French authors he writes books which appeal to a wide audience. In The Physiology of Truth Changeux takes us on a whirlwind tour of the progress of neurosciences to outline his personal view of how human being should relate to both their physical surroundings and each other. What results is a kind of hopeful naturalism, an attempt to explain an evolutionary basis for a neurobiology of truth. Jean-Pierre Changeux draws on provocative new findings about the neuroscience and psychophysics of perception and judgement both in humans and in non-human primates. His case is that belief in objective knowledge is a characteristic feature of human cognition, and the scientific method it’s most sophisticated embodiment. Professor Changeux seeks to explain the ways in which modern science has made it possible to understand how language, truth and even morals are related to our genes and gene products, and to interactions with the environment. Changeux promises a radical understanding in neurophysiological terms of how perception, exploration, trial and error, cognitive games, the cultural sharing of language, and consciousness, can provide us with representations of reality that are both reliable and profound. In doing this, he draws on neuroscience, molecular biology, computer modelling, philosophy, linguistics and social psychology. Changeux proposes a theory of the brain in which truth experiences that concern our ideas literally operates on our genetic endowment to shape our brain development and functioning. How is this possible? Changeux hypothesizes the existence of neurobiological processes that are part of a kind of learning in which experience affects the brain’s cellular and molecular architecture. These neurobiological processes are constantly in operation in the brain, from the early stages of development into adult life. They make possible a permanent dialogue between the environment (our experience) and our brain, which frees the developing brain and mind from what would otherwise be the rigid constraints imposed by our genes.

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The thesis of The Physiology of Truth is that our brains have evolved to provide representations of the world and to make judgements about it that are useful for action. Some of these actions take place in social contexts and involve planning many steps ahead. In order to operate in this realm, the brain has needed to develop an understanding of social systems, strategies to achieve goals, and useful heuristics for guiding behaviour, including social behaviour. These heuristics lead Changeux to consider the biological background to morality and how plans to achieve long-term goals are produced. In seeking to understand how animals, including humans, work, Jean-Pierre Changeux is attempting to develop a scientific understanding of how and why we behave as we do. The core of Changeux’s thesis lies in the philosophically ancient and yet still relevant question: how can we know the world as it really is? Changeux’s response is multidisciplinary, and as such he draws on neuroscience, philosophy, social psychology, linguistics, molecular biology and computer modelling. He aims to show that the evolution of the human brain can provide an explanatory basis not only for the behaviour of humans, but also that the way the brain is structured to provide representations of the world that are both reliable and profound. In short, objective knowledge does exist, and our brains have evolved the equipment to recognise it. To the old question, ‘what is truth?’, Changeux answers ‘cerebral representations’, which are themselves physical objects. The brain is a ‘truth apparatus’.

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Changeux draws on his own research—spanning the area from acetylcholine receptors to models of planning, how plans can be changed and the brain processes that may be related to consciousness—as well as on that of others. He appreciates the need to integrate knowledge derived from the spectrum of neuroscience disciplines to produce an explanation of how the brain functions. He realizes that, to understand how the brain performs its computations, it is important to know how single neurones are responding in particular situations, for it is single neurones that are the building blocks of computation by the brain. Single neurones are the information-processing elements of the brain; they act as non-linear computational devices and exchange information among themselves. It is only by analysing the spiking activity exchanged among neurones that one can understand how representations of information are provided by neural activity. It is then possible with modern computational neuroscience to take the responses of large groups of neurones and to understand their collective computational properties, as demonstrated in a series of interesting contributions by theoretical physicists and mathematicians (Amari, 1982; Hopfield, 1982; Amit, 1989; Hertz et al. 1991; Rolls and Deco, 2002). Jean-Pierre Changeux has worked in many of these different areas. Although Professor Changeux has combined information from many of these areas, one source that he might perhaps have drawn on more heavily is the activity of single neurones in the tasks that he discusses. This is an essential area of neuroscience in terms of understanding how the brain works, and it is now possible to model the activity of single neurones as they relate to, for example, changes in decision making as the required behavioural strategy changes. For example, Deco and Rolls (2003) produced a model of the prefrontal cortex that shows how the sets of neurones that map stimuli to actions can be switched using a top-down biased competition attentional modulation. The source of the modulation is a short-term memory that maintains a representation of the current mapping rule active. Deco and Rolls (2004) went on to consider how the controlling short-term memory attractor network could be switched as a result of changes in the rewards and punishments received. One aspect of these particular models is that they start with the biophysics of single neurones (including the conductances that are opened at each synapse as a result of the inputs received by a neurone, and the time constants of the synapses and the membranes) to produce at this integrate-and-fire neuronal level a model of the dynamics of the operation of networks of large numbers of neurones. It is at this level that one makes direct contact with the activity of single neurones recorded neurophysiologically, for it is single-neurone spiking that is made explicit in these models.

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The same integrate-and-fire models (Deco and Rolls, 2003, 2004) can be used to make predictions about what would be obtained at the next level up of explanation. For example, it is possible to integrate over the synaptic currents in the integrate-and-fire model of a particular brain area and to predict the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) BOLD (blood oxygenation level-dependent) signal that would result, given that it is ion flows across the neurones that require energy and thus lead to the BOLD signals that are measured using fMRI. An example of the way in which fMRI signals can be predicted from integrate-and-fire neuronal network models is described by Deco et al. (2004). Researchers showed that differences between the dorsal and ventral parts of the prefrontal cortex during spatial and non-spatial aspects of a memory task could be related to different levels of neurophysiological inhibition in these areas. The same type of integrate-and-fire neuronal network model can also be used to make predictions about the effects of brain damage. For example, Deco and Rolls (2002) showed, using a model of attention, how object-based visual neglect could arise as a consequence of interactions between graded increasing damage from right to left across a representation of visual space produced, for example, by a parietal cortex lesion and local lateral inhibition. These were the two essential components of an account of why patients with right parietal cortex damage might not see the left half of each of a series of objects spread out horizontally in the visual field. Thus, part of the power of modern computational neuroscience is that it can help in producing models of behaviour that span from the biophysics of single neurones, the spiking neuronal activity of each neurone and the interactions of large populations of such neurones, to measures at a much higher level, for example of regional cerebral blood flow changes or the effects of brain damage. Jean-Pierre Changeux is interested in exactly this approach to understanding how the brain functions. Changeux also considers some of the biological underpinnings of morality. Advances in this area have been made by understanding how animals, including humans, interact socially and have developed particular heuristics that are useful in optimizing social interactions. These approaches have led to the application of game theory to help understand some aspects of the way in which animals, including humans, may behave socially (Ridley, 1996). The modern field of neuroeconomics is also attempting to understand human decision-making, by taking into account not only the magnitudes of rewards, but also the probability that they will be obtained (Glimcher, 2004).

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Changeux’s hypothesis offers a challenge to two fundamental and popular models of the brain — namely, the general functionalist idea that the brain is modular and no more than a sophisticated computer and the nativist view that the brain is a genetically inherited and determined organ. If Changeux is correct, and the brain is not only able to produce objective knowledge, but is in some sense evolved in order to do so, it is possible to see how neither the functionalist nor nativist views hold. Rather, Changeux would argue, language, truth and morality are products of our genes and molecular composition. The brain is neither a passive receptacle of external input (a mistake Changeux calls ’empiricism’) nor an innately wired genetic machine but a locus of autonomous activity (here he refers to the work of Alain Berthoz); this builds on decades of work on the ‘epigenetic’, self-organized model of the brain. Drawing on recent and challenging findings in the neuroscience of both humans and primates, and the psychophysics of perception and judgement, Changeux makes the case that belief in objective knowledge is a function of human cognition. The interrelation between language and meaning, including in evolutionary terms (as nicely studied by Terrence Deacon) involves, for Changeux, a ‘pooling of neuronal workspaces’ and a ‘contextualized sharing of representations’ . Further to this, he argues that the scientific method is the most sophisticated embodiment of this cognitive faculty, along with freedom and communication. Changeux outlines the birth of the scientific method, from Aristotle to evolutionary biology, and argues that religion and mysticism are too readily open to the intellectual death of dogma. In contrast, the scientific method, with its fundamental basis on rationality is open to constant revision in the light of new evidence. He argues that it is time for scientists, especially those in the fields of neurobiology and cognitive science, to attempt to explain mythic thought. In fact, he argues, they have a ‘duty’ to do so in concert with those in the social sciences. Rationality is the order of the day, for without rationality we cannot find truth.

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While over-simplified, Changeux’s explanation of the evolution of the brain and nervous system is interesting. He explained that as organisms evolved to be multicellular, a nervous system came about in order to regulate internal functions, representations of the external world, and the agreement of these representations with the facts of the world. Basically, it is the nervous system’s job to make our internal representations of the world match what is “out there.” (This checking or matching is what is abnormal in delusional/psychotic states.) And each organism, interestingly, devises representations of the world which favour its survival. According to Changeux, truth is when thoughts equal reality and consciousness is a way of evaluating truth that is useful to the survival of the species. This evolutionary perspective is one that was not known, and which is a very interesting addition to the conversation on consciousness.  As the nervous system evolved to be more complex, it became hierarchical, began showing parallel processing, and organisms began to more thoroughly investigate their world and picture the world and themselves in it. This is evolutionarily the most recent piece, and the piece which might set us apart as humans. Changeux argues that as brains gained more plasticity more learning occurred and every organism has an “instinct to learn” that is necessary for its survival (to eat, drink and mate you usually need to explore the world). The big question, with all of this more complex, hierarchical and parallel processing, is how truth is established or verified. (Why, because I can see that apple, does it mean that it is really there?) The main question here is what the representation of the world looks like in individuals, and how it can be so similar in different people. This is especially intriguing because, as Changeux mentions, some people believe that no object “has ever been or can ever be represented in the brain in any form.” (This goes against what we learned in class that objects, or reality, only exist in the brain.) That is, reality can never exist as it is in the brain, and it cannot be represented identically in everyone since neuronal structure and connections differ between individuals. Yet individuals behave remarkably similarly, and we can understand each other, so there must be some basic set of representations or concepts common to all human brains. These are what Changeux is fascinated by. He wants to know how common “mappings” between connections and behaviors are established. He hints that part of the answer might lie in temporal synchronization of neuronal firing—which he says integrates and coordinates actions of connected groups of neurons. Another interesting topic is the effect of genes on the brain. Changeux seems to believe that the brain is constrained by our limited number of genes. He claims that there are about 30,000 genes responsible for about 100 billion neurons in the brain, and so there is limited genetic information for constructing the brain. He does not go on to explain what this limitation would mean in terms of brain development, but it would seem to suggest that this might be a reason we all have a good amount of similar brain networking, since such a small percentage of our genes varies from person to person.

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One angle Changeux takes to try and describe how we devise our representations, is through development. He claims that as we develop we use “cognitive games,” also known as thought experiments, in which we test hypotheses/pre-representations about the world in a trial and error fashion (getting it less wrong!). In this way we are able to recognize and categorize the world. The more experienced we become the fewer experiments we need to make, as we “learn to eliminate.”  One large question that is very central to the book, is how consciousness arises from neurobiological processes. How is consciousness, or our sense of “I” (I-function), a “pattern of action potentials,” when it seems for all the world that the sum is greater than all of the parts? Again Changeux know that it must lie in the workings of neurons, and in the more recently evolved brain regions at that. Changeux looks to sleep/hallucinations/anesthesia to try and explain the neural basis of consciousness. He actually links the two, showing that in REM sleep, and during hallucinations in one schizophrenic patient, there are activations in auditory and visual areas but not in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). He is thus implying that the PFC might be involved in important conscious reality testing. He also mentions that from chimpanzees to man, there is a 70% increase in the number of possible neural connections in the PFC, further suggesting that some of what makes us human might lie in this region.

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Natural born liars:

To an extent, it would seem that humans are wired to trick their fellows. In our closest primate relatives, who also have sophisticated social structures in which they live, deception is rife. Chimpanzees for example will purposefully mislead troop members away from a tasty food source and then return later to gobble it solo. Researchers have discovered that the more conniving a primate species, the bigger its brain. It therefore makes sense that with our giant brains, humans are veritable founts of hogwash. The faculties of memory and abstraction needed to mince language and appearance so as to deceive require a lot of brainpower, researchers have learned. Interestingly, brain scans have revealed that the prefrontal cortices in frequent liars are built differently from those in a typical brain. A 2005 study showed that liars had 22 percent more “white matter” than average, as well as about 14 percent less “gray matter.” The former acts like wiring in the brain, while gray matter cells in this region play a role in impulse control. “If you have more white matter, you are more able to manipulate information and words,” said Dike. “You can weave thoughts in ways others probably can’t.” Dike, who was not involved in the 2005 study, pointed out that it was conducted on criminals and people with antisocial behaviors who lie with purpose, unlike pathological liars. Indeed, the motivation behind pathological liars’ duplicity remains another big mystery. Researchers speculate that pathological liars experience some sort of psychological excitement from fooling others. “There has to be some sort of internal satisfaction that makes them go on with this behavior, but no one knows for sure,” said Dike.

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Evolutionary theory of self-deception and deceit:

Largely through historical examples and personal anecdotes, Robert Trivers builds the foundation for an evolutionary theory of self-deception and deceit in his recent book, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. Beginning with the evolutionary roots and logic of our unrivalled ability to hide the truth from ourselves and others, Trivers then explores phylogenetic, psychological, anthropological, and historical examples of deception, its consequences, and its propagation. Perhaps the most thought-provoking aspect of The Folly of Fools is Trivers visiting, and revisiting of the (seemingly) incompatible notions that: (1) of the most complex creatures that have ever evolved, we have a sensory system that provides us with an incredibly rich image of the world around us; yet (2) our brains swiftly bend, distort, or ignore this information. In other words, why, at the expense of valuable energetic resources, has evolution favored such sensitive truth-detecting and truth-dispensing processes? To marry these two general findings – that we are sensitive and attentive to information in our environment and that we are adept self-deceivers – Trivers proposes, ‘we deceive ourselves the better to deceive others’. It becomes clear that Trivers favors, as he explains it, this ‘offensive’ view of self-deception, compared to a more popular ‘defensive’ view of self-deception – that we deceive ourselves to protect against attacks to our happiness and contentment from the (sometimes painful) truth of our surroundings. This is a convincing claim, and establishes the foundation for a theory of deception – which will hopefully provide the impetus for much-needed empirical work in this area.

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Building an evolutionary theory of deception necessitates not only examples of self-deception – which seem to run deep in our evolutionary waters, as evidenced by the extensive deceit and self-deception involved in cuckoo hatchling care by self-deceived foster parents and overconfident chimpanzee warfare – but a compelling case for selection for such a costly enterprise. Trivers’ case for why evolution should favor deceit and self-deception is two-fold: first, deception is unconscious, and second, deception is bounded. These two points are important to keep in mind as Trivers explores examples of deception in our lives: the lies we tell to our partner(s), the lies we tell to ourselves about our abilities (which, when overestimated can lead to losses on the stock market or catastrophes such as plane crashes and war), and our histories (which cleverly disguise the blemishes of our past so that derogation, discrimination, and even genocide can continue to be perpetuated to further personal and political gain). Indeed, our talent for hiding the truth from ourselves – designed to provide social benefits, specifically the ability to exploit others with conflicting goals – can make us quite socially vulnerable: if we are found out, ‘Your entire environment may be oriented against you, all with superior knowledge, while you peer out, ignorant and hobbled by self-deception’. In sum, selection for deception must involve advantages that outweigh, or circumvent, the social and personal (for example, suppressed immune function, negative affect) costs.

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Trivers suggests that circumventing (some of) these costs is indeed possible, given the unconscious quality of our deception. Many of the costs associated with deception – from being discovered as a liar by those around you to the personal immunological costs of suppressing some known truth – imply conscious awareness of the truth and the lie. However, ‘The bias occurs right away. People simply do not attend to the negative information, do not look at it, and do not remember it. Thus, the possible negative immune effects of affect suppression do not need to arise. This must be a general rule – the earlier during information processing that self-deception occurs, the less its negative downstream immunological effects’.  If, as Trivers contends, our deception occurs early enough that conflicting information from the outside world can simply be ignored, we can successfully sidestep many of the negative consequences mentioned above. Further, some of these negative consequences are protected against given the bounded quality of our deception. To understand this point, Trivers uses an example of the popular connotation of ‘narcissist’. The narcissist does not welcome being named so this name suggests that their self-deception is so widespread that it is no longer an advantage to them. Alternatively, Trivers suggests that our systems of self-deception run alongside truth-storing mechanisms. Although we may not be consciously aware of the whole truth that it might be more advantageous to ignore (perhaps that we are not, as we believe, better-than-average professionals, lovers, and fighters), this information is not completely unavailable to us. Trivers describes this bounded quality with the following empirical finding, ‘When people are shown a full array of photos of themselves, from 50 percent more attractive to 50 percent less attractive, they choose the 20 percent better-looking photo as the one they like the most and think they most resemble. This is an important, general result: self-deception is bounded – 30 percent better-looking is implausible, while 10 percent better fails to gain the full advantage’.

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In The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, Trivers has demonstrated his continued ability to further the fields of evolutionary biology, psychology, and anthropology (among others), by reaching just beyond what anecdote and empirical evidence suggests to establish an evolutionary theory of deceit and self-deception. It is likely that this theory, much like his theory of parental investment (Trivers 1972), can inform our empirical investigations of the individual acting in a social context where, often, his/her own goals are not compatible with the goals or interests of others.

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How liars create the ‘illusion of truth’:

Repetition is used everywhere—advertising, politics and the media—but does it really persuade us? Psychology studies reveal all…We see ads for the same products over and over again. Politicians repeat the same messages endlessly (even when it has nothing to do with the question they’ve been asked). Journalists repeat the same opinions day after day.

Can all this repetition really be persuasive?

It seems too simplistic that just repeating a persuasive message should increase its effect, but that’s exactly what psychological research finds (again and again). Repetition is one of the easiest and most widespread methods of persuasion. In fact it’s so obvious that we sometimes forget how powerful it is. People rate statements that have been repeated just once as more valid or true than things they’ve heard for the first time. They even rate statements as truer when the person saying them has been repeatedly lying (Begg et al., 1992). And when we think something is more true, we also tend to be more persuaded by it. Several studies have shown that people are more swayed when they hear statements of opinion and persuasive messages more than once. In fact we can effectively persuade ourselves through repetition. A study has shown that when an idea is retrieved from memory, this has just as powerful a persuasive effect on us as if it had been repeated twice (Ozubki et al., 2010).

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Easy to understand = true

This is what psychologists call the illusion of truth effect and it arises at least partly because familiarity breeds liking. As we are exposed to a message again and again, it becomes more familiar. Because of the way our minds work, what is familiar is also true. Familiar things require less effort to process and that feeling of ease unconsciously signals truth (this is called cognitive fluency). As every politician knows, there’s not much difference between actual truth and the illusion of truth. Since illusions are often easier to produce, why bother with the truth? The exact opposite is also true. If something is hard to think about then people tend to believe it less. Naturally this is very bad news for people trying to persuade others of complicated ideas in what is a very complicated world.

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Repetition makes a fact seem more true, regardless of whether it is or not. Understanding this effect can help you avoid falling for propaganda, says psychologist Tom Stafford.  “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the “illusion of truth” effect. Here’s how a typical experiment on the effect works: participants rate how true trivia items are, things like “A prune is a dried plum”. Sometimes these items are true (like that one), but sometimes participants see a parallel version which isn’t true (something like “A date is a dried plum”). After a break – of minutes or even weeks – the participants do the procedure again, but this time some of the items they rate are new, and some they saw before in the first phase. The key finding is that people tend to rate items they’ve seen before as more likely to be true, regardless of whether they are true or not, and seemingly for the sole reason that they are more familiar. So, here, captured in the lab, seems to be the source for the saying that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth. And if you look around yourself, you may start to think that everyone from advertisers to politicians are taking advantage of this foible of human psychology. But a reliable effect in the lab isn’t necessarily an important effect on people’s real-world beliefs. If you really could make a lie sound true by repetition, there’d be no need for all the other techniques of persuasion.

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One obstacle is what you already know. Even if a lie sounds plausible, why would you set what you know aside just because you heard the lie repeatedly?

Recently, a team led by Lisa Fazio of Vanderbilt University set out to test how the illusion of truth effect interacts with our prior knowledge. Would it affect our existing knowledge? They used paired true and un-true statements, but also split their items according to how likely participants were to know the truth (so “The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” is an example of a “known” items, which also happens to be true, and “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” is an un-true item, for which people are likely to know the actual truth). Their results show that the illusion of truth effect worked just as strongly for known as for unknown items, suggesting that prior knowledge won’t prevent repetition from swaying our judgements of plausibility. To cover all bases, the researchers performed one study in which the participants were asked to rate how true each statement seemed on a six-point scale, and one where they just categorised each fact as “true” or “false”. Repetition pushed the average item up the six-point scale, and increased the odds that a statement would be categorised as true. For statements that were actually fact or fiction, known or unknown, repetition made them all seem more believable. At first this looks like bad news for human rationality, but when interpreting psychological science, you have to look at the actual numbers. What Fazio and colleagues actually found, is that the biggest influence on whether a statement was judged to be true was… whether it actually was true. The repetition effect couldn’t mask the truth. With or without repetition, people were still more likely to believe the actual facts as opposed to the lies. This shows something fundamental about how we update our beliefs – repetition has a power to make things sound more true, even when we know differently, but it doesn’t over-ride that knowledge.

The next question has to be, why might that be? The answer is to do with the effort it takes to being rigidly logical about every piece of information you hear. If every time you heard something you assessed it against everything you already knew, you’d still be thinking about breakfast at supper-time. Because we need to make quick judgements, we adopt shortcuts – heuristics which are right more often than wrong. If repetition was the only thing that influenced what we believed we’d be in trouble, but it isn’t. We can all bring to bear more extensive powers of reasoning, but we need to recognise they are a limited resource. Our minds are prey to the illusion of truth effect because our instinct is to use short-cuts in judging how plausible something is. Often this works. Sometimes it is misleading. Once we know about the effect we can guard against it. Part of this is double-checking why we believe what we do – if something sounds plausible is it because it really is true, or have we just been told that repeatedly? This is why scholars are so mad about providing references – so we can track the origin on any claim, rather than having to take it on faith. But part of guarding against the illusion is the obligation it puts on us to stop repeating falsehoods. We live in a world where the facts matter, and should matter. If you repeat things without bothering to check if they are true, you are helping to make a world where lies and truth are easier to confuse. So, please, think before you repeat.

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Stafford argues that logically analyzing each new piece of information would take far too much time, and so it makes sense that we rely on repetition as a judgment shortcut. “Any universe where truth gets repeated more often than lies, even if only 51% vs. 49% will be one where this is a quick and dirty rule for judging facts,” he writes. But he also points out that, though repetition influences whether we regard a statement as true, so does truth. In the Vanderbilt study, true statements were still more widely believed than often-repeated false ones. The idea that we’re not blind to the truth is heartening. Humans are perfectly capable of reasonable judgments, and can use logical capabilities to guard against the effects of repetition. But in an age characterized by competing political narratives and spin, there’s no room to be lazy about questioning the facts.

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Cognitive overload:

Psychology writer Maria Konnikova investigates 20 years’ worth of research on what happens when your brain is overloaded with a constant stream of untruths, and comes to a bleak forecast for the next four years. In short: Sorting fact from fiction can become so exhausting that, after a while, your brain simply stops trying.  Upon first hearing a lie, your brain must accept it as truth. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has theorized that to do the work of separating truth and lies, our brains first must accept the false statement as if it were true; otherwise, it’s impossible to engage with it. “For instance, if someone were to tell us — hypothetically, of course — that there had been serious voter fraud in Virginia during the presidential election, we must for a fraction of a second accept that fraud did, in fact, take place,” Konnikova explains. “Only then do we take the second step, either completing the mental certification process (yes, fraud!) or rejecting it (what? no way).” If you hear a lie often enough, it starts to sound true. In a fascinating 2015 study, researchers showed that if people repeated the phrase ‘The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” enough times, the Atlantic Ocean did indeed begin to seem like the largest ocean on Earth’. A constant stream of lies becomes so mentally taxing that your brain gives up. “It’s called cognitive load,” Konnikova writes, meaning that “our limited cognitive resources are overburdened.” Lie detection is difficult work, and your brain can only handle so much.

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When repetition fails:

Repetition is effective almost across the board when people are paying little attention, but when they are concentrating and the argument is weak, the effect disappears (Moons et al., 2008). In other words, it’s no good repeating a weak argument to people who are listening carefully. But if people aren’t motivated to scrutinise your arguments carefully then repeat away with abandon—the audience will find the argument more familiar and, therefore, more persuasive. This suggests we should remain critical while watching TV adverts or the message will creep in under our defences. You might think it’s better to let the ads wash over you, without thinking too much, but just the reverse is true. Really we should be highly critical otherwise, before we know it, we’re singing the jingle, quoting the tag-line and buying the product. When the argument is strong, though, it doesn’t matter whether or not the audience is concentrating hard, repetition will increase persuasion. Unfortunately, people with the best arguments don’t repeat them enough.

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My theory about truth and lies:

The concept of truth arises from puzzling over distinctions between the real and the apparent in our brains where we construct representations of the world around us. Let me give example. A child knows that apple is apple because his parents told him since childhood that this is apple, this is how it looks and tastes. A representation of apple is formed in child’s brain. Now when you show orange, child will say that it is not apple because it does not match with its representation in brain. Now another child wants the apple. The first child says that it is not apple but stone. He is lying. He is telling contrary to the representation in his brain. He is lying because he wants to eat apple. Lies are always purposeful. Now it is up to other child to accept lie as truth or challenge it by saying that it is not stone but apple due to its color, texture and smell. But that challenge will come only if other child had representation of apple in brain. We can challenge lies only if we know the truth otherwise lies will go undetected masquerading as truth.

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Yes, there are two models of brain.

  1. The brain is modular and no more than a sophisticated computer, a passive receptacle of external input.
  2. The brain is a genetically inherited and determined organ, an innately wired genetic machine having a locus of autonomous activity.

I assert that both models are not mutually exclusive but intimately linked.

Our 30,000 genes modulate 100 billion neurons, the genetic component of brain. These genes are evolved through gene-culture evolution. Over these genetic components of brain, we have epigenetic components i.e. modular brain where connections between neurons are established in stages, with a considerable margin of variability, and are subject to a process of selection that proceeds by means of trial and error. The functioning of brain is association between gene-culture co-evolution and epigenetic evolution. Genes are evolved through gene-culture co-evolution and environment allows epigenetic evolution as child grows. We consider some object or event or proposition to be true when it coincides with its representation in brain. This representation is not genetic but through epigenetic evolution i.e. formation of neuronal connections as child grows. Although our brains have been evolved to provide representations of the world, the representations themselves are not in-built but constructed as child grows. So truth can never be inherited. It has to be learned. That learning process, that process that makes representation of the world can be faulty resulting in calling apple an orange. The faulty representation can be found in all human being, for example, for thousands of years people thought that the sun revolves around the earth. So something that whole world believes need not be true. Majority of the world believes that God exists because of faulty representation of God in their brain and not because of objective reality.  Although representation of the world around us is learned since childhood, the ability to deceive and lie contrary to these representations is in-built in us (genetic).  Deception offer advantage (albeit unfairly) in a competitive environment to improve chances of survival and reproduction. The evolutionary theory proposed by Darwin states survival of the fittest, and by lying and deceiving, we aim to improve other’s perception of our social image and status, capability, and desirability in general. Also, larger the neo-cortex, greater the ability to deceive according studies on primates. We the humans deceive far more than Chimpanzees because our neo-cortex is highly developed. Despite having best brain among all species, humans deceive more than any other species because deception offers advantage that outweighs its negative effects. Remember only humans lie and no other primate can lie although they do deceive other members of their species. Brain scans have revealed that the prefrontal cortices in frequent liars (criminals and people with antisocial behaviours) are built differently from those in a typical brain. The liars had 22 percent more “white matter” and 14 percent less “gray matter” than average. The white matter acts like wiring in the brain, while gray matter cells in this region play a role in impulse control. If you have more white matter, you are more able to manipulate information & words, and weave thoughts in ways others probably can’t making you highly deceptive. Less gray matter means less impulse control and deception is not suppressed. In other words, neurobiological pathway exist for deception and lying, more so in criminals and people with antisocial behaviour. Of course environment and will power can modify expression of deception, so there is always a hope for improvement.  In a nutshell, deception and lying is evolved evolutionary biologically i.e. through genetic component of brain while truth is perceived epigenetically i.e. through connection between neurons as child grows. Although it appears counterintuitive that deception precedes truth in our brain; a 6 month old child does cries unnecessarily without hunger or discomfort just to grab attention of mother without knowing any representation of the world. The problem lies with how we define truth and lie and thereby determine order of their existence. We define lie as a false statement made to convince others that it is truth. So apparently truth exists before lie. We forget that lying is only one type of deception. Other types of deception are half-truth, paltering, misrepresentation, fabrication, exaggeration, denial, lack of transparency, redirection, false recognition, broken promise, cover-up, hypocrisy, bait and switch etc.  Chimpanzees will purposefully mislead troop members away from a tasty food source and then return later to gobble it solo. Chimpanzee is not lying but deceiving. That ability to deceive is genetically hard-wired. Representations about the external world are made in brain as child grows but ability to bend, distort, ignore, falsify or bypass these representations is genetically hard-wired with the sole purpose of survival and reproduction. In my article ‘are ordinary people bad?’ I have proposed a theory of human’s good or bad behaviour wherein I have shown that genes for good behaviour and genes for bad behaviour express themselves with the sole biological goal of survival and reproduction depending on environmental situations. This conforms to the genetically hard-wired ability to deceive with the sole purpose of survival and reproduction as postulated by me in this article. The biological ability to deceive (vial bad behaviour genes) is counterbalanced by biological ability to show altruism (via good behaviour genes). So although truth is epigenetic, deception and altruism is genetic. It is another matter that people use genetic ability of deception not for survival but for other motives.

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Moral of the story:

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  1. Truth has no single definition about which a majority of philosophers and scholars agree, and various theories of truth continue to be debated.

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  1. A fact is something that is postulated to have occurred or to be correct based on provisional understanding of the world. Fact ought to be verifiable. Facts are subject to revision based on new evidence and new understanding. Truth is the interpretation and apprehension of a fact, so the same fact may appear as different truths to different individuals. That is why there are honest disagreements among intelligent people of goodwill as to what constitutes the truth of a case. That is why there is no such thing as the absolute truth. Truth can be challenged because it is characterized by facts. Facts can always be challenged, disproved or revised.

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  1. A belief is an internal though in which a person thinks something to be the case with or without any reasoning or evidence whatsoever. Many beliefs are pervaded and purported as “truth” because of uncritical thinking. There are two ways to be fooled: to accept what isn’t true or to refuse to accept what is true.

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  1. Truth is not what the majority believe. Indeed, truth can easily not be known by the majority. Public opinion polls do not determine truth. Truth means an idea or claim corresponds with its object. It corresponds to the way things really are. Truth means proposition is true if it coheres (or agrees) with other propositions we already hold to be true. Here ‘proposition’ simply refers to the bearers of truth values, whatever they may be. Truth has to be internally consistent with no contradictions within itself. What works may or may not be true, but what fails cannot be true because the truth always works. Truth is “self-corrective” over time.

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  1. Truth-telling is one of the only moral imperatives across cultures. Human communication is pointless unless we assume that others will tell the truth.

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  1. We acquire information through perception, language, emotion and reasoning; all these give us access to truth. Any limitation of information acquisition also limits truth. Although reason is the best way by which truth can be established or known, reason is not necessarily infallible compared to other ways of knowing because reason has its own limitations and may not necessarily give us the truth. Religious, cultural and subjective beliefs also distort our attempts to acquire truth. Humans have difficulty distinguishing the truth from the seeming reality of their own perceptions.

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  1. Human brain is the final arbiter of truth and the criteria by which we define truths are always relative and subjective. We often start with the ‘truth’ we want to believe, and then work backwards to find supporting evidence. People often exhibit a ‘confirmation bias’ – seeking out information supporting their existing views, and ignoring, dismissing or selectively reinterpreting information that contradicts them. There is reluctance of the establishment to engage with emerging truth, choosing to ignore rather than risk disputing and refuting them.

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  1. Our conscious experience is crucial to our grasping truth, to our knowing that we know the truth. The reality is filtered through our perceptions and biases; and that it comes out the other side distorted but believed to be truth. We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are. Truth does not belong to the world, but by the way your brain processes the world. The concept of truth arises from puzzling over distinctions between the real and the apparent in our brains where we construct representations of the world around us.

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  1. Truth must be distinguished from error, so we have criteria of truth. Using weak criteria of truth one may label untruth as truth but that is not a lie. Not all untruths are lies. Belief, opinion, delusion and fantasy maybe untrue but not lies. People make false statements for a range of reasons but it is the intention that separates lie from other untruths. A lie is a statement believed to be false or omission of an important detail from a statement, made with the intention of getting another to accept it as truth and whole truth so as to deceive or mislead another person. A statement completely unrelated to the truth just to cover up a lie would also be classified as lie. Silent lie is where someone assumes something about you, which you know to be untrue, but their mistaken view makes you look good or benefit you, so you just let it go by and don’t say anything to correct it. Error must be distinguished from lie.

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  1. Myth is widely held false idea. The great antagonist of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.

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  1. The evolutionary theory proposed by Darwin states survival of the fittest and by lying, we aim to improve other’s perception of our social image and status, capability, and desirability in general. We are individuals living in a world of competition and strict social norms, where we are able to use lies and deception to enhance our chances of survival and reproduction. An organism may use misinformation, knowingly (through deception) or unknowingly (as in the case of camouflage), to gain advantage in a competitive environment. The ability to deceive others is a skill critical to survival.

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  1. From an evolutionary perspective, greater tactical deception occurs among primates closer to humans, with larger neo-cortices. In our closest primate relatives, who also have sophisticated social structures in which they live, deception is rife. Chimpanzees for example will purposefully mislead troop members away from a tasty food source and then return later to gobble it solo. Researchers have discovered that the more conniving a primate species, the bigger its brain. It therefore makes sense that with our large and highly developed brains, humans are masters of deception. The faculties of memory and abstraction needed to mince language and appearance so as to deceive require a lot of brainpower, researchers have learned. Although higher primates like chimpanzee can deceive other member of the same species, only humans can lie. Lying require theory of mind which only humans possess. To lie effectively, one has to have a notion that other people have minds and can be deceived.

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  1. In the human adult, deception and lying exhibit features consistent with their use of ‘higher’ or ‘executive’ brain systems. There is a link between the capacity for lying and integrity of prefrontal functioning. Deception is associated with activation of executive brain regions particularly prefrontal cortex and specifically the anterior cingulate cortex and superior frontal gyrus. These same areas were activated when subjects told the truth, but lying produced even greater activity. The implication is that the brain must exert more effort to lie than to tell the truth and that deception involves active suppression of a truthful response. While lies lead to greater activity in the prefrontal cortex, so do many everyday tasks, such as cooking dinner or playing a game of chess; meaning there are not specific lying areas. The anterior cingulate cortex is involved in emotional processing, so there is no way to know for sure whether the increased activity in this area is the neural signature of lying or is just being nervous about lying.

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  1. “Lying handicap” is a common feature of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. These people cannot lie. It has nothing to do with morality. They have poorly developed theory of mind due to less activity in parts of the social brain such as the prefrontal cortex, which makes it tough to construct a deceitful lie.

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  1. About 90 % people lie every day and despite lying, they are satisfied with their ethics and character. Their religiosity has no impact on lying.

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  1. Lying is only one type of deception. Other types of deception are half-truth, paltering, misrepresentation, fabrication, exaggeration, denial, lack of transparency, redirection, false recognition, broken promise, cover-up, hypocrisy, bait and switch, etc.

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  1. Children begin to lie as early as preschool years and the tendency to lie continues to increase with age. Not only do children lie to conceal their own transgressions or to trick others, but they also tell white lies to spare the feelings of others. Children start to tell lies as they learn to strategically use their knowledge about the world and other people’s minds to their advantage. Lying can serve as a window into many aspects of children’s developing minds, for example, intelligence, theory of mind, moral understanding, personality and character formation, and children’s competence as witnesses in the courts of law.

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  1. We can challenge lies only if we know the truth otherwise lies will go undetected masquerading as truth.

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  1. Research has consistently shown that people’s ability to detect lies is no more accurate than chance, or flipping a coin. This finding holds across all types of people — students, psychologists, judges, job interviewers and law enforcement personnel. Our sub-conscious mind (gut feeling, instincts) is good at catching lies than our conscious mind. Sub-conscious mind catches subtle cues that our conscious mind can’t quite perceive.

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  1. Illusion of truth is created when lies are repeated. Everyone from advertisers to politicians are taking advantage of this weakness of human mind. Repetition brings familiarity and because of the way our minds work, what is familiar is true. Familiar things require less effort to process and that feeling of ease unconsciously signals truth (this is called cognitive fluency). Also, brain is bombarded with plenty of information both true and false, and sorting fact from fiction can become so exhausting that, after a while, your brain simply stops trying as our limited cognitive resources are overburdened. Understanding this effect can help you avoid falling for propaganda. Unfortunately, people telling truth don’t repeat them enough.

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  1. Truthiness is the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition…without regard to logic or factual evidence. Our judgments are based on not only the information we’re considering, but the way in which that information is processed and organized. The ease with which information is processed has long been known to lead to specific biases. A statement in the presence of images or other additional information enhances people’s feelings of truthiness, even when they don’t provide any evidence the statement is true. Also, the more easily bits of information are retrieved from memory connected to the new information, the more likely new information is going to be tagged as true. This proves the ease with which our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors can be manipulated through relatively innocuous means.

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  1. When we think that we know the truth, make sure that we have not adopted views of those around us uncritically, look for contrary evidence, try to correct cognitive and motivational biases in our thinking, look for missing issues, never be overconfident, and avoid ease of information processing in brain. Remember, we are often not only wrong, but completely unaware of it.

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  1. Post-truth is defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. We are living in a post-truth world, where alternative facts and fake news compete on an equal footing with peer-reviewed research and authoritative sources. In post-truth world people are persuaded by emotions, beliefs and intuitions rather than logic. It is human nature is to jump straight to a judgment by trusting our intuitions, beliefs and emotions rather than reasoning and analysis to reach a judgment. This tendency to leap to judgment has always existed but increased recently due to constant bombardment of information (true and false) through media and internet making individuals relatively ignorant and less able to see what’s coming next, so people fall back on their intuitions, subconscious beliefs and emotions rather than hard evidence. Also it is easy to undermine truth by manufacturing doubt.

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  1. The way to counter post-truth, fake news and alternative facts (pseudo-facts and misinformation) is to present a compelling narrative that is true, defensible, and based on the enduring values and goals that people share, paying attention to people’s underlying fears, grievances, and beliefs; and not rebuttal because rebuttals may actually work to reinforce the original misinformation rather than dissipate it. We need to go beyond just exposing facts, we need to make people interested, and we need to promote curiosity.

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  1. Happiness does seem to be a more important goal than is the Truth for most people, but once Happiness is achieved; Truth-seeking becomes more important. Unhappy people are unlikely to seek truth.

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  1. We need a worldwide policy about doctor-patient relationship so that unpleasant truths about patient’s diagnosis and treatment are told to patient using compassion, intelligence, sensitivity, and a commitment to staying with the patient after the truth has been revealed. Telling the truth is not denying hope. Lying in a clinical context is wrong for many reasons but less than full disclosure may be morally justifiable in some cases.

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  1. Science essentially means getting truth from facts and religion essentially means belief and faith rather than fact and truth. Scientific facts can change and so does scientific truth while religious beliefs and faiths are unchangeable. Science admits wrong while religion proclaims to be right all the time. Science uses reason while religion uses fear. Science displays intelligence which may be fallible while religion displays faith which is infallible. Science explains paradox and exceptions while religion denies any paradox or exceptions.

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  1. Truth is about facts, and morality is about values, and although truth and morality are virtues, they do not necessarily enhance each other but in fact often contradict each other.

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  1. Law has an extraordinary regard for truth. Legal inquiry is amenable to at least two, potentially different (or conflicting) truths. This has been referred to as substantive truth or ‘actual truth’ according to correspondence theory of truth and formal legal truth as per the facts available to court according to coherence theory of truth. The divergence between formal truth and substantive truth results in acquittal of the guilty.

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  1. Although truth is a valid defence against defamation and contempt of court, truth spoken with malicious and contemptuous intent may not hold as valid defence in some jurisdiction. In my view, if allegation of partiality, bias, dishonesty, partisanship or corruption against any judge or court is true, then that truth must be spoken. Everybody in society has right to justice; and the rationale of protecting the dignity, integrity, sanctity and veracity of the court by invoking contempt of court proceeding cannot override the right to justice. I support right to justice as fundamental human right.

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  1. “One version of the truth” in business and marketing means that data should be consistent without any ambiguity about which value to use by eliminating all the alternatives that might arise through inefficiency in the systems and processes used to collect and manage data. Although having one version makes it easier to make decisions but to make good decisions requires accurate data. One version that is wrong is worse than having two versions (right or wrong!) since it will be used as the truth despite being wrong. With two versions you have to investigate further and while that might be tedious and expensive, it at least adds value compared to blindly accepting one version of the truth!

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  1. The scientific method is based on rationality and therefore open to constant revision in the light of new evidence. A natural part of the scientific method is that scientific facts are not determined forever which presents a challenge for the perceptions of scientific truthfulness. Even when a large consensus of scientists agrees about a particular position, such as humanity’s role in climate change, the iterative process of science leaves uncertainty that some politicians use to support their efforts to gather more votes. This is post-truth science by politicians to garner votes by denying climate change. Scientists’ should speak louder than politicians and media who are propagating scientific lies. Also scientists should engage with people directly to counteract post-truth science.

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  1. In my view, science is the fifth pillar of democracy besides legislature, executive, judiciary and media. Post-truth science is propagated by post-truth politics and post-truth media. The world cannot move forward in future without science and scientific method. Those who propagate post-truth science need to be condemned. Scientists have the public’s trust: More than 75% of Americans trust scientists to act in the public interest, while less than 50% have a similar trust in elected officials, according to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center.

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  1. My theory of truth and lies shows that representations about the external world (truths) are constructed in brain as child grows but ability to bend, distort, ignore, falsify or bypass these representations (deception) is genetically hard-wired with the sole purpose of survival and reproduction.

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Dr. Rajiv Desai. MD.

August 4, 2017

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Postscript:

I support science as fifth pillar of democracy besides legislature, executive, judiciary and media because we are living in post-truth world and only scientific method can bring out truth.

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