On Why We Lie - The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind by David Livingstone Smith
November 18, 2004 11:35 AM   Subscribe

How often does the average person lie? First, it's important to point out that lying is normal, and more often spontaneous and unconscious than cynical and coldly analytical. Our minds and bodies secrete deceit. That said, Robert Feldman, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, suggests that there are three lies for every ten minutes of conversation. I think that's plausible. And bear in mind that his research measured only the frequency of narrow, explicit, verbal lying. The real rate of deception, which includes our movements and expressions, must be considerably higher.

Questioning Authority - David Livingstone Smith, author of Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind, is a liar. And he explains why you are too. ( More Inside )
posted by y2karl (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From Metapsychology, here is a somewhat skeptical Review of Why We Lie by Alex Sager with an ensuing conversation regarding it between him and David Livingstone Smith.

Still, what possible advantage could self-deception have? One possibility suggested by Robert Trivers is that self-deception is an adaptive mechanism: conscious deception often causes distress, partly because of the fear that the deception will be detected. For this reason, deceivers may not be able to control subtle tics that alert their victims. But if they, themselves, were unaware that they were deceiving others, this problem would be eliminated. Self-deception, then, becomes a tool for more effective manipulation.

I'm willing to seriously consider this hypothesis, but it raises questions. An obvious one is why selective pressures didn't simply create better conscious deceivers. Since conmen (and women) and expert poker players seem highly adept at concealing their lies, this hardly seems impossible. Smith asserts that "if human beings had the knack of consciously making penetrating inferences about each other's motives and strategies, our insights would come at a high price " This price would be losing the benefits of unconscious self-deception, since Smith seems to think that folk-psychology must treat oneself and others equally. This seems to me to be both false and highly speculative. First, many people do seem to be quite good at consciously interpreting people's behavior (it's something that can be improved through practice). Applying this knowledge to one's self may actually be an advantage. Second, why is it so implausible that our folk psychology could treat our self-conception and our conception of others differently? Can't a person with a grossly inflated self-opinion also make brutally accurate assessments of others? Smith's claim needs to be argued.

Also, The Architecture of Self-Deception: Why Freud is Still Worth Taking Seriously by David Livingstone

...Consciousness, for Freud, is a qualitative phenomenal state, an experience. The intricate fabric of conscious experience is woven from threads of sensation: the warmth of a flame, the smoothness of a cheek, the gentle patter of rain. The thesis that conscious states consist entirely of qualitative elements, or qualia as philosophers nowadays call them, brings us face to face with a basic explanatory problem. We require some explanation of how mere thoughts, which do not stimulate our sense organs, become objects of consciousness. How does an ethereal thought enter a consciousness that is responsive only to sensation? The problem becomes especially acute when we consider highly abstract thoughts like the concept of the square root of negative two. How on earth could such a thought be experienced in a sensory mode? The answer is actually rather obvious. When I type ‘The square root of negative two’ on this page, I am clothing the abstract thought in the black-and-white qualia of the printed page. If you were here in the room with me, sitting by the wood stove on a bitter Maine winter’s evening, I could accomplish the same thing by saying ‘The square root of negative two.’ Freud’s ingenious explanation of how we become conscious of our thoughts turns on something like talking to oneself. In order to become conscious of our thoughts - conscious in the strong, phenomenal sense - the brain must use a medium that preserves the syntactic structure of its cognitive states while representing them in a generously sensory fashion. Freud thought that natural language meets these requirements. Language flexibly and recursively codes information. It is also sensuous: we hear it, read it, write it, sign it and speak it. According to Freud’s story, cognitive states which enter consciousness arouse linguistic representations and ride piggyback on them into consciousness. These can’t be just any linguistic representations: they have to be motor representations of words and sentences, which generate afferent feedback. To put it more simply and directly, conscious thought is rather like talking to oneself.

Here is yet another interview in David Livingstone Smithby Ezrha Jean Black

CityBeat: You say that ''It was probably only after spoken language arrived that humans became able to lie to themselves.'' Yet, if other primates and infants can engage in deceptive behaviors, isn’t it likely that they can also lie to themselves?

David Livingstone Smith: Think about a non-human species, say, two cats in a fight. Before they fight, they puff themselves up and make their fur stand on end so they look bigger and more formidable. Well '' do they believe themselves to be bigger when they do that? It’s difficult to say. But certainly with the evolution of language it becomes possible for us to misrepresent ourselves to ourselves. It’s hard for me to conceive of self-deception without language, although I would concede that it’s possible. But with language, it’s a slam-dunk.

CB: Is what we call ''consciousness'' - that thin veneer of largely unconscious mental operations - simply equivalent to behavior?

DLS: No, there’s a distinction. Imagine a robot that’s a perfect simulacrum of you. Now, whether or not that robot that looks and behaves just like you, does it also have the same sort of experiences you do? No. So you can’t reduce consciousness to behavior. Consciousness is a convenient way of representing ourselves to ourselves. What we present to ourselves does not have any guarantee of its truth whatsoever. We write novels about ourselves in consciousness.

And here is Bob Dylan on Self-deception

However, in his 2003 film, Masked and Anonymous, Dylan seems to fall back into a poetic despair that human nature is condemned to a state of forever changing masks in order to remain anonymous, without name--which brings Robert Zimmerman's adoption of "Bob Dylan" back to its origins in the ceaseless changing of masks. (A long-time companion of Dylan claims that the difficulty of getting to know the real person is that there are only few right moments in which "he just opens up and says, 'Okay, I'm just Bob, and Bob has no last name.'") One is reminded here of Oscar Wilde's quote, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person, but give him a mask and he will tell the truth." Thus in the film the Animal Wrangler (Val Kilmer) praises animals as having no "fantasies of glory"; "a lion don't try to be a tiger, a rabbit don't try to do an impression of a monkey. They don't try to be what they're not."

But if we put the following two statements together, a troubling picture emerges:

"A lot of people don't like the road, but it's as natural to me as breathing. I do it because I'm driven to it. . . . It's the only place you can be who you want to be."

"The stage is the only place where I'm happy."

Is Dylan's Neverending Tour simply a way for him to find happiness in being who he wants to be, as opposed to who he is? Or has he taken to heart in an authentic way the Greek aphorism appropriated by Nietzsche: "Become who you are"?

posted by y2karl at 11:37 AM on November 18, 2004

y2karl, you complete anchor.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2004

Tell me something i don't know.

posted by mic stand at 11:52 AM on November 18, 2004

How do we know he's telling the truth...?
posted by jpburns at 12:14 PM on November 18, 2004

I already knew all this. :-)

Thanks y2karl.
posted by nofundy at 12:15 PM on November 18, 2004

Lie Detector
posted by nofundy at 12:24 PM on November 18, 2004

That quote in praise of Freud captures pretty well why I think Freud is so bogus.

What he says is sorta interesting, but is it true? Freud doesn't know, he's just making up stories to try to explain things. How could you even begin to go about finding out if what he says is true?
posted by straight at 12:42 PM on November 18, 2004

"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." (Mark Twain)

But then again:
"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." (Mark Twain)
posted by liam at 1:21 PM on November 18, 2004

There's a scene in "Don't Look Back" where Dylan is chatting up a couple of young English fans. He asks the girls about their families; they ask about his. "Did you come from a big family?" they ask.

"Oh, yeah," Dylan responds, "I had lots of brothers and sisters."

I remember reading many moons ago that Dylan was an only child. Curiously, as I google and jeeves to check this out, I can't find anyone saying one way or another -- it's as though he's carefully crafted his own history, or something..... <g>
posted by lodurr at 1:32 PM on November 18, 2004

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at Human Beings
posted by breath at 1:51 PM on November 18, 2004

He has a younger brother--David Zimmerman.

In addition to being a prolific songwriter, Dylan developed a habit of inventing histories of his life. He wasn’t just a middle class kid from Hibbing, Minnesota to the people he met in New York. He was, at times, an orphan, a itinerate carnival worker from Gallup, New Mexico and a California railroad worker, none of which was true. All this came back to haunt him following a sold-out solo show at Carnegie Hall. A few days before the concert, Dylan spoke to a Newsweek reporter, telling him he didn’t know his parents and hadn’t spoken to them in years. In fact, his parents came to the show at Carnegie Hall. The Newsweek reporter found this out and also contacted David Zimmerman, Bob’s younger brother. Soon everybody knew that Bobby Dylan, the orphan carney from Gallup was really Bobby Zimmerman, a middle-class kid from Hibbing with proud parents, a kid brother and an apparently overactive imagination. The experience with Newsweek caused Dylan to avoid reporters, and when avoiding them was not possible, to never give a straight answer to their questions.

Bob Dylan by Mark Hunter

It is the chief accomplishment of the new book "A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks," and no small accomplishment at that, to bring those second-line Minneapolis musicians into the spotlight and even give credit to David Zimmerman, Dylan's long-suffering brother, for what turns out to have been his crucial role in the project. Not only did Zimmerman supervise the Minneapolis recordings, but he also had the savvy to recruit a pair of jazzbos for the rhythm section, possibly reasoning that experienced improvisers wouldn't be fazed by Dylan's off-the-cuff approach in the studio. The shrewdness of his thinking is clear right from the opening notes of "Tangled Up in Blue," in which drummer Bill Berg avoids a heavy backbeat in favor of a light weave of high-hat cymbals and fluttering snares. Where the original "Tangled Up in Blue" is resolutely earthbound, the Minneapolis version shimmers like a dream in motion -- the perfect setting for a deceptively simple narrative in which points of view constantly shift according to some mysterious, half-understood plan. Berg ought to be a household name for this performance alone, so kudos to the authors for doing what needed to be done.

Nothing was revealed
posted by y2karl at 1:58 PM on November 18, 2004

I wonder how, or if this ties into that theory posted here recently that our brains developed the way they did so that we could lie?
posted by amberglow at 4:00 PM on November 18, 2004

Those interested in reading more on self-deception and (social) performance / dissembling should check out Bill Miller's book Faking It. He's a professor of law at U-Michigan (had him for a seminar on this very topic), but the work (like his other books, incl. The Anatomy of Disgust, also very good IMHO) is both multi-disciplinary and entertainingly witty too.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:47 AM on November 19, 2004

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