Kids and Lying

How kids learn to lie. (Maybe it’s a bit off the security topic, but with all my reading on the psychology of security, I don’t think so.)

So when do the 98 percent who think lying is wrong become the 98 percent who lie?

It starts very young. Indeed, bright kids — those who do better on other academic indicators — are able to start lying at 2 or 3. “Lying is related to intelligence,” explains Dr. Victoria Talwar, an assistant professor at Montreal’s McGill University and a leading expert on children’s lying behavior.

Although we think of truthfulness as a young child’s paramount virtue, it turns out that lying is the more advanced skill. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require. “It’s a developmental milestone,” Talwar has concluded.

Posted on February 29, 2008 at 7:09 AM68 Comments


Ted February 29, 2008 7:38 AM

Bruce, this story is certainly not off the topic of security. And may I add that you generally have excellent judgment about what is a legitimate security concern and what is merely security theatre.

Nicholas Jordan February 29, 2008 7:47 AM

We could hire them to do our Military Grade Encryption, they seem to have the social engineering to make it work. I used to run with one for a few months in high school, I found that certain segments of society valued those skills deeply.

Sam Lowry February 29, 2008 7:48 AM

A good memory is needed once we have lied. [Fr., Il faut bonne memoire apres qu’on a menti.]
Author: Pierre Corneille
Source: Le Menteur (IV, 5)

ek February 29, 2008 8:15 AM

Dr. Vasudevi Reddy’s research indicates infants as young as 6 months use untruths to manipulate parents. Though one could argue the babies don’t know false pretense is wrong and don’t even understand the difference between true and false, her work indicates the basic processes of lying are learned even earlier.

lorenzo February 29, 2008 8:27 AM

so by telling kids not to lie we’re hindering their development, aren’t we?

then they believe in truth, grow older, and meet politicians 🙂

seriously, Bruce – interesting comment. Related somehow with the developing field of robotics, where researcher proved that under certain situations even simple robots “lie” ( to exploit other’s weaknesses (“gullibility”?) and drive them towards “poison”, so more “food” is left for the liars.

On the other hand, it has been shown that in a complex, dynamical population a certain amount of individuals always “lie” or tend to exploit others; the whole environment can still sustain those selfish individuals, but as soon as the resources grew scarce they tend to disappear. Of course, it’s simulated in a very small and controlled ecosystem, but the principle seem to hold.

Savik February 29, 2008 8:30 AM

Just because lying is an “advanced skill” does not mean it is a good thing…In any case the most advanced skill is called character; which in short is knowing both good and evil and choosing good no matter what.

Lying, in the end, is stupid.

J. February 29, 2008 8:31 AM

There’s a simpler explanation in my opinion: you get better immediate outcome when you get rid of constraints. It’s a good general rule in optimization, and it’s quite intuitive too.

Recognizing this principle probably is a mark of advanced skills in a kid; no need for the alternate reality wossname.

JohnJ February 29, 2008 8:34 AM

We start by lying to them about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and other either outdated or mythical topics. They’re just following our lead. We really should not be surprised.

suomynona February 29, 2008 8:41 AM

“A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else.”

So do politicians…….

Matt February 29, 2008 8:48 AM

I’d suggest that maybe succesful lying is the advanced skill. Being bad at lying tends to have negative consequences that would seem to deter some peoples desire to lie.

Lying is a useful tool and is used constantly by people and society. We’ve heard of little white lies, or social lies, ie: lies told to spare someones feelings. Most parents would much rather you lied to them about their baby than tell them the truth that their baby is ugly and malformed. Advertising and marketing makes great use of lying in one form or another, as do social engineers, police, parents etc.

If we didn’t lie to some extent, most people would of never married and the population would be much smaller than it is.

Ian Mason February 29, 2008 8:50 AM

“So when do the 98 percent who think lying is wrong become the 98 percent who lie?”

Probably about five minutes after the person who taught them lying is wrong, is caught lying to them.

Mr. Langley February 29, 2008 9:06 AM

I wonder if this has anything to do with the problems we’ve recently been having with our HAL9000?

Carlo Graziani February 29, 2008 9:08 AM

“A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else.”

This reminds me of a deep distinction between liars and bullshitters, which was pointed out by Harry Frankfurt in his excellent essay “On Bullshit”.

The thing about liars is that at least they know what the truth is — it’s what they are trying to deceive someone about. In this sense, liars are intellectually honest, at least with themselves. This is what allows “Blarney” it’s roguish charm.

Bullshitters, on the other hand, have no use for the concept of “Truth”, and don’t care whether what they are saying is true or not — “Truth” is just not a valid attribute of belief to a bullshitter. What matters is persuasiveness. Reality is constructed from utterances and writings, not evidence. When Karl Rove talked about his political operation making its own reality, and deriding those in the “reality-based community”, he was (whether he knew it or not) setting himself up as the poster child for Frankfurt’s characterization of a bullshitter.

Beta February 29, 2008 9:12 AM

“A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else.”

…Whereas an adult seems to have at least one other mode: convince oneself of an alternative, then talk about it “honestly”, regardless of the contradictions with external reality. I vaguely remember that when I was a child and I told lies, I knew I was lying (and was terrified of being found out). But now I encounter adults who are clearly doing something more orwellian in their heads. And in my more introspective moments I worry that maybe I do it too sometimes and don’t realize it.

Roxanne February 29, 2008 9:19 AM

We encountered this over Christmas, when K went out and investigated the van between when S came home and when he emptied it of presents. I realized that what K was guilty of was not so much the peeking as the getting caught.

People need to know how to lie from time to time. How many examples do you want? 🙂

Roy February 29, 2008 9:35 AM

For children to lie successfully, they need examples from adults, both skilled and unskilled. Fortunately for kids, most of what grownups say are lies.

Ekman’s book, ‘Why Kids Lie’ (ISBN 0-684-19015-X) is insightful.

Dom De Vitto February 29, 2008 10:04 AM


Would you say you have advanced cognitive development and social skills ?

Yeah, me too 🙂

I guess this is why “poachers” and “gatekeepers” are impossible to distinguish from how they ‘are’, only what they ‘do’.

ZaD MoFo February 29, 2008 10:08 AM

I have read many post on this security blog and made a few myself since a little while but the real essence of security emerging in my mind (and I do come here to learn for that and be able to see the whole picture and i can have a better view of it now) is that everything about security issues is also about "truefullness, trust, trustmanship, integrity" and so on.

What make vulnerability of computer systems is that we must trust them… So we must also trust thoses who makes them…

The best crypto with the best password is a failure in a world of dishonesty and lies. When I acquire root privileges on someone machine, his trust must be equalled with my honesty. Two or more person engaged in a trustfull partneship have the common ground to edifiate empires – so than thoses who build into the sandbox with the liars.
I belive that if 98 percent of liars have build this machine, it’s not for nothing why we put just our 2 percent of confidence in it.
Thank you Bruce, this article hit 100 percent of my expectations.

sean February 29, 2008 10:22 AM

Several comments here about needing a good memory to pull lying off. As Mark Twain put it: “Always tell the truth, that way you have less to remember.”

I’m not sure about the intelligence factor, having watched several police videos where the young person was being shown the video of their felonious activity with their face prominently in the picture. They obviously believe that they can change reality by denying that they are the person in the video committing the act.

unnamed_one February 29, 2008 10:34 AM

This is an optimization problem. 100% honesty and 100% lying are not as effective as a certain mix of the two. Since even a bit of lying would have huge benefits for someone in the 100% honest society, after a while an equilibrium is reached with respect to how much lying occurs. Depending on individual’s inclinations, the border is shifted one way or another. But the lying skill is most likely genetic, since it is beneficial overall.

Having a realistic expectation toward children on this issue is beyond what many parents can master. Parents prefer to indoctrinate kids with the “always tell the truth” mantra, mostly in order to control them more easily. There are a lot of stupid adults out there, whose judgement many of us would not trust. Yet kids are stuck, so lying is the least they can do to cope with the problem.

Nicholas Jordan February 29, 2008 10:53 AM

@Of course the researchers presenting that were just lying, just wait until the government funding comes in and they take us all for a ride on the M$ Flagship !

I was thinking about this ( topic – not my rewrite of two-toed troll ) I saw an advert for spook gear promoting Iron Key brand thumb drives. Most passwords get lost, so maybe the kids got something here. A thumb-drive with a plastic window for a thumb-print reader is less likely to lose the thumb print than the thumb drive, but pw can still be deprived. With the iron key, a password has to be recoverable. Laptop with facial recognition software: Undermines cognitive participation in the un-locking protocol. Lying: A good memory is needed once we have lied.

If the operator does not have a good memory, do we want those hands on the keyboard ?

Steve February 29, 2008 11:04 AM

“[…] must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. ”

So, does that mean politicians are of high intelligence?

sooth_sayer February 29, 2008 11:07 AM

It’s not related to intelligence, it’s a skill .. like being an artist doesn’t mean you are “more intelligent”.
And I think you left one important part of children learning to lie.

They learn the first lessons in this art from their parents. I have seen kids of both kinds; there ARE kids who are very bright and will not lie! and there are kids who aren’t very bright but lie.

And this surely is not security related unless you tell me that these kids deliberately enter wrong MD5 hash in their parents computers to screw them up 🙂

Jason February 29, 2008 11:19 AM

I think American society puts more value on the acceptable lie than the unacceptable truth.

This is clearly evidenced by the “war on terror.”

Why else would security theater comfort the many even though it actually provides only a minimal security enhancement while greatly intruding on our privacy and our freedom?

I, for one, loathe lies. I tend to refuse to speak rather than tell a lie.

Although, there are ways of phrasing the truth that will cause the other party to infer their own erroneous conclusions. Doing so saves your conscience (if you have one) from dealing with a lie, yet has the same effect. For example, a child asked, “Did you knock over my potted plant?” can answer, “No, I did not knock over the plant,” even if he did pull the dogs tail which caused it to bolt across the room and knock the plant over. No lie was told, but the truth was left open for interpretation and the information given implied something other than reality.

Our politicians are well-versed in this art.

Savik February 29, 2008 11:35 AM


“I’d suggest that maybe succesful lying is the advanced skill. Being bad at lying tends to have negative consequences that would seem to deter some peoples desire to lie.”

All lies have negative consequences — at the core it erodes trust.

“Lying is a useful tool and is used constantly by people and society. We’ve heard of little white lies, or social lies, ie: lies told to spare someones feelings. ”

Better to say nothing at all than to lie.

“Most parents would much rather you lied to them about their baby than tell them the truth that their baby is ugly and malformed.”

Better to find asomething nice to say than to even address the looks issue. Besides your evaluation of the looks of a baby are your -opinion- anyway.

“Advertising and marketing makes great use of lying in one form or another, as do social engineers, police, parents etc.”

This does not make it right.

“If we didn’t lie to some extent, most people would of never married and the population would be much smaller than it is.”

Wrong. If we didn’t lie there would be more solid relationships built on trust. And there would not be marriages that should not have happened in the first palce.

In the end there is no good to any lie. And your warped view on it shows that your parents didn’t teach you properly.

Savik February 29, 2008 11:37 AM


“We start by lying to them about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and other either outdated or mythical topics. They’re just following our lead. We really should not be surprised.”

You mean YOU not “We”. I do not teach my children those or any other lies.

Nick Lancaster February 29, 2008 12:03 PM

The question is not about the intelligence of the person telling the lie; it should be about those factors that cause other intelligent people to sign off on that lie. It’s a case of ‘all security involves tradeoffs.’

We accept claims made in ads because we desire the convenience of the item being sold, or the image ascribed to those using the product – whether it be sexy, smart, or powerful. We accept the lies of politicians for the same reason, or because we can’t be bothered with the details. Or, we accept the lies because we want to be considered wise or in-the-know, and because someone else’s ego is involved (the Emperor’s New Clothes).

Heather February 29, 2008 12:08 PM

I read back thru the magazine article, it wouldn’t surprise me if it drew it’s own conclusions from the actual research. There’s an assumption that is laid out first. That a young child first learns truth, then to lie. We’ve had lots of research on implanted memories though where a person’s sense of the world is manipulated. In my family, a younger brother plus one of my three children, as young children, had trouble with distinguishing between the world as it is (truth) and what they would like it to be (quite different from a lie). Both outgrew this stage and became productive citizens, (one is a military vet and small business owner, the other is active duty), both are quite creative, and, both are aware of what the world actually is.

scott February 29, 2008 12:20 PM


The assumption you make is that society optimizes itself towards being effective, but you never say what it’s being effective at.

Based on your observation, parents should teach children to detest lying as the evil which keeps us from the trusting society, where we could abandon the overhead of security and be truly effective.

Teaching your children to optimize for personal effectiveness (look out for #1)is a greedy algorithm, and as such suffers severe limitations.

At a micro level, completely trusting environments do exist, and are incredibly effective. Unfortunately, optimized individuals are unable to participate in, or benefit from them.

Daniel C. February 29, 2008 1:49 PM

Quote: “I, for one, loathe lies. I tend to refuse to speak rather than tell a lie…

Although, there are ways of phrasing the truth that will cause the other party to infer their own erroneous conclusions. Doing so saves your conscience”

I don’t believe that it saves your conscience. I think that it is despicable and much worse than lying because when you lie you are at least being honest enough with yourself about what you are doing. Manipulating the truth to achieve the same deception of a lie is morally equivalent to telling a lie; but if you additionally deceive yourself into thinking that you are not really lying, then what you are doing is morally much worse. You have deceived yourself, and purposely removed the moral compass and the conscience which is supposed to guide your behavior. I have more trust on someone who recognizes his actions as they are than someone who looks for a way to tweak his moral compass and put his conscience in a jar where it won’t bother him.

Roy February 29, 2008 1:59 PM

People who insist that lying is always wrong really piss me off.

Consider a girl who learns someone’s secret in confidence. Later, her mother demands that the girl tell her what was so secret. The girl could refuse, but the mother will give her the third degree — no joke here, it’s what cops do so well — and eventually get the truth out of her. When the mother blabs to the story to anyone who will listen, real damage is done. It is wrong for the mother to betray the confidence, but it is also wrong for the girl to trust her mother. And of course it is wrong for the mother to coerce the girl into betraying the confidence. In this case, telling the truth is wrong.

Consider a workplace dilemma. You discover evidence that one of the partners is stealing from the company. Do you tell the other partner? What if both partners are stealing? Do you tell the police? What if the police turn you into a snitch and start making you work cases for them, where your avocation becomes winning, and then betraying, confidences? If you take your evidence to the district attorney, you risk getting a snitch jacket in work history, which dooms you for any future jobs.

Suppose you witness some high crime or treason. We all know what happens to whistleblowers, which makes every whistleblower law a sad sick joke.

There was an Internet site, Wikileak, for leaking documents showing corruption or crime, and it was a California court which shut it down. The law is not on the right side of the law, make no mistake about it.

And that’s the truth.

Mango February 29, 2008 2:18 PM

I’m working through this with my young children. I don’t want to tell them that they should never lie because, of course, that would be lying. Everybody has to lie sometimes.

I make it part of a bigger education: analyzing consequences of actions. I make them understand that lying to Mommy and Daddy increases the consequences of something they have done wrong. I try to guide them to consider those consequences before making that decision.

The 5-year-old gets it. The 3-year-old is still working on that. But she sucks at lying anyway. Fortunately, when they first start lying, they aren’t very good at assessing plausibility.

Eg. We know the 3-year-old wrote on the wall, not the 1-year-old (as the 3-year-old claims), because the 1-year-old can’t draw those shapes.

Anonymous February 29, 2008 2:35 PM

Let’s ponder this further. How old were you when you first came to realize that the sayings,”Land of the free” and “Anyone can be president” were really crocks of shit?

US incarcerates more than any other nation: report

Powerless cows sucking their high fructose corn syrup and chomping down meat from sick and diseased cattle, but at least they participate in voting on the next American Idol!

“You are free to do as we tell you!” – Bill Hicks

Savik February 29, 2008 2:50 PM


People that have a use for lying really piss me off.

Your examples are pathetic.

If some girl learned a secret in confidence — how would her mother, or anybody know, unless the girl was blabbing in the first place?

If the mother was blabbing the secret to others — well that is wrong. It is called gossip in case you did not know.

It is not wrong for a mother or any parent to demand the truth or any other bit of information from their minor children. If a child told somebody they would keep a secret then that would be a lie — because a child should know that her parents have a right to demand she tell them anything she may know. So the fault would be upon the child for saying she would keep it in confidence — not on the mother who forced the child to tell. Good parents would teach their children that. For non-minor children the child should be strong enough to tell mom to bugger off. If the child broke down and told — again the child lied to her confidant. The mother was wrong for being a busy body and demanding a right she no longer has. But ultimate fault is upon the person who made the promise but did not keep it.

Your workplace dilemma is equally pathetic. If a partner is stealing — THEY have betrayed the public trust, your trust, their partner’s trust, etc. If you told the other partner you would not be betraying anybody’s trust. Same for if both partner’s are stealing. THEY have betrayed trust. They are the liars. That is not to say you should lie to them. You can refuse to be an informant if it causes you to lie. Take it to the DA or if you are a pansy of a man (which you sound like) and do not want to get labeled as a snitch, just quit and get a new job.

Nicholas Jordan February 29, 2008 3:00 PM

@Let’s ponder this further. How old were you when you first came to realize that the sayings,”Land of the free” and “Anyone can be president” were really crocks of shit?

Somewhere along about the second or third grade.

David Harmon February 29, 2008 3:03 PM

Of course, not everyone has the same developmental paths! Folks on the Autistic Spectrum are famously bad at lying, and even as adults often have a visceral revulsion to doing so. It’s perhaps relevant that such autistic types have been central to the development of computers in general, going back to Alan Turing.

Nostromo February 29, 2008 3:28 PM

‘Although we think of truthfulness as a young child’s paramount virtue, it turns out that lying is the more advanced skill.’

What is the word ‘although’ doing in that sentence? Honesty and ability are uncorrelated. A person can be honest and clever, honest and stupid, dishonest and clever, or dishonest and stupid.

Not Charlie Brown February 29, 2008 3:39 PM


Just curious here, but is your name really Savik? Apart from you, the only instance I can recall of that particular moniker is a Vulcan character in Star Trek.

If it is your real name, then my apologies for doubting you.

If it isn’t, then how do you square the pseudonym which, at the end of the day is just a euphemism for a small but significant lie, with your diatribes against lying?

Skorj February 29, 2008 3:41 PM

If you believe that it’s OK to deceive, and to hide information, as long as you don’t actually speak an untruth, then you are just lying to yourself. The acts are morally equivalent.

Lying is often simply good manners. Social deceptions are important when groups of humans interact. When someone asks “how are you doing??? they don’t want an honest answer about the state of your health! And, of course, when groups of humans are in conflict hiding information is always part of that conflict – that’s why we have crypto in the first place.

Achieving the necessary information hiding in a social or confrontation situation by lying is not practically different from deceiving while telling the truth, and simply refusing to speak is often impractical or downright rude.

SumDumGuy February 29, 2008 4:29 PM

@Not Charlie Brown

I can feel the waves of cognitive dissonance exploding from Savik’s brain already!

Leo February 29, 2008 5:07 PM

@Not Charlie Brown

A pseudonym by itself isn’t a lie any more than a nickname, or any other name, is. If Savik is always Savik in this forum then there is no deception. The fact that he hides part (most) of his identity from you, again, isn’t by itself a lie. Concealment is not itself deception. Denying access to information is not the same as providing false information.

Clive Robinson February 29, 2008 5:28 PM

Just one thing about this that concerns me.

Without going into the background of it there is no such thing as truth only perception.

If you accept that then not telling the truth is actually all you can actually do.

The honest thing is not to distort your perception when reporting it to others.

However that still gives you a very large lee way as to what you do or do not report.

Also as ther are mulfiple perceptions you inherantly expect anothers perception to differ to some degree to your own. The greater the divergance however the less likely you are to believe they are honest.

I suspect that the reason we have convincing liers is that they can distort others perception in their favour simply by marginaly distorting their own perception in a favourable direction when they report it.

If they remain convincing then the listener will go along gradually alowing their own perception to be altered.

The measure of how gullable the listener is is in how far they alow their own perception to bend towards that of the teller at any given point.

Therefor if you wish to be dishonest the best policy is to keep your reporting as close to the other persons perception as possible whilst still achive your goal.

An easy way to adjust a persons perception is the guided question. You tell part of your perception to the other person and invite them to compleat the picture with their perception. The part you wish to change you simply ask them if they are sure. This opens the door to you giving a slight distortion, natural politness by the other party generaly does the rest.

Oh and the best way to deal with “Did you take my xxxx” is to turn it around as a question such as “What on earth makes you think I would want to take your XXXX?” the accuser then hast to justify them selves. You just answer with questions long enough and a normal person would start to doubt their reasons for asking you in the first place.

wkwillis February 29, 2008 5:59 PM

If you punish children for telling the truth they will learn to lie. Be patient because it takes a while.

Savik March 1, 2008 12:03 AM

@Not Charlie Brown

Though Leo eloquently defended my position I must say you should be careful not to display your ignorance.

“Apart from you, the only instance I can recall of that particular moniker is a Vulcan character in Star Trek.”

This comment is laughable. Savik isn’t a common name but it isn’t uncommon either – very ancient. Originating in Persia I believe.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro March 1, 2008 1:59 AM

Denying access to information is not the same
as providing false information.

Yes, it most certainly can be the same thing, and often is. Imagine if Savik was actually the same person as Roy: concealing that information allows the poster to create a sock puppet–a Simplicio to their Salviati, if you like–to make their arguments seem more credible.

Not Charlie Brown March 1, 2008 5:24 AM


I note that in addition to an immediate resort to ad hominem, you apparently carefully worded your reply to avoid stating unequivocally that Savik is your given name.

Is Savik, regardless of its commonality or otherwise in the near-East or elsewhere and other distractions, the name given to you by your parents/guardians and also the one which is formally registered to you in the country of your residence for official purposes? Yes, or no.

If yes, then the advance apology for questioning you thus, which I offered in my initial post and which you chose to elide in your reply, still stands (and why, in that case, do you feel the need to dissemble and bluster so?).

If no, then you need to justify the deception of a pseudonym against your previous assertions as to the unacceptability of lying under any circumstances.

@Leo: Anonymity is concealment, but does not of itself constitute a lie; pseudonymity extends the concept of anonymity by the addition of an untrue fact (e.g. my name is “Not Charlie Brown”), and is by definition a lie albeit one which is socially acceptable in many circumstances, including this forum.

chris j March 1, 2008 8:44 AM

the Nazi secret police are looking for Jews. Do you lie or tell the truth.

The sheriff is looking for runaway slaves. Do you lie or tell the truth.

The British army wants to arrest Jefferson for treason. Do you lie or tell the truth.

Pax. -chris

Nick Lancaster March 1, 2008 4:00 PM

FYI Roy:

A judge just overturned the ruling on Wikileak, and the site is free to post leaked documents as before.


In light of that, there must be ‘snake oil’ for liars just as there is for security products. Bad vendors toss technical jargon about … so what phrases would tip you off that a lie is being told, or that someone’s not being realistic about the risks?

With the above example of Wikileak, I could almost hear someone say, “How’s anyone going to find out without a security clearance?”



Assuming you spoke to the Jews / slaves / Thomas Jefferson before hiding them in your basement, haven’t you already made the decision to lie or tell the truth when you offered protection? (i.e., offer protection vs. turn them in at earliest opportunity)

Kanly March 1, 2008 8:03 PM

Not off topic at all Bruce. Security is ultimately about (for want of a better word) managing Human Behavior. To do that, you need to understand how people think (and how and why they lie).

Many very interesting posts on this thread. The six month old screaming for Mums attention for example, even though he doesn’t need it, doesn’t think he’s lying, and in a sense, he isn’t. But it’s still a lie, of sorts. Deep.

zxhrue March 2, 2008 12:53 PM

Took me awhile to find this.

Sherman, Allan. 1973. The Rape of theA.P.E. — The Official History of the Sex Revolution 1945-1973: The Obscening of America. An RSVP Document. Playboy Press. ISBN 0-87216-453-5



I. Credibility

All Lies are designed to seem true. The expert liar carefully uses elements that seem probable and logical and are therefore easy to believe. On the other hand, The Truth is often illogical, wildly improbable, and hard to explain.

Lies are more believable than The Truth.

II. Reliability

The Truth is spontaneous, accidental, and unpredictable. Lies, however, can be planned in detail long in advance and are thus guaranteed to turn out just as predicted.

Lies are more dependable than The Truth.

III. Economy

To be The Truth, an account of a given event must be completely accurate. This requires painstaking resourcefulness, expensive research, time-consuming attention to detail, complex logistics, and thoroughness. In spite of all that, some people will believe it and some will not. A Lie will produce identical results without all the fuss and bother.

Lies are simpler than Truth; Lies cost less than truth in time, money, and effort.

IV. Value

The Truth can be found anywhere; it belongs to anybody who finds it, absolutely free. Lies are custom-made, often by experts, and the best ones are highly polished works of art.

Lies are worth more money than Truth. Have you ever heard of anyone bribing a witness to tell The Truth?

V. Respectability

A. Great fortunes have been made by selling Lies to the public. The people who sell these Lies are often grateful to the gullible public, so they endow libraries and universities and cultural centers.

B. Nobody ever made a fortune selling The Truth. First of all, as already stated, The Truth is free. The only people who will pay money for The Truth are people who are being blackmailed–and they are only buying The Truth so they can hide it before anybody else sees it.

Lies lead to libraries and universities, while The Truth leads to blackmail.

VI. Stability

A. Take one thousand parts Truth, add one part Lie. Result: a Lie.

B. Take one-thousandth part Lie, add one part Truth. Result: again, a Lie.

C. Note that you can make a Lie out of The Truth, but you can’t make The Truth out of a Lie.

Lies are stronger and last longer than The Truth.

VII. Imagination

In reporting The Truth, a person must research the precise facts and stick to them exactly as they occurred. The liar can report the same incident without doing any research, merely saying whatever comes to his mind, filling in “details” according to his fancy.

Lies are more creative than Truth.

VIII. Recognizability

People are accustomed to hearing Lies all the time.

If you tell The Truth, people will think you are lying. If you convince them you are telling The Truth, they will become suspicious. Why is he suddenly telling The Truth? What’s going on?

IX. Supply and Demand

A. In describing any given incident, only one version can possibly be The Truth, whereas the number of Lies possible is unlimited. Obviously, Lies are in far greater demand than Truth.

B. There is a great demand for Lies, if they are flattering, if they build up one’s hopes, if they help one escape reality or if they promise health, wealth, power or potency. Nobody is very anxious to hear The Truth. The only people who demand The Truth are those who are investigating something (lawyers, etc.)–and they only want The Truth to prove somebody is lying.

Lies are the acceptable medium of exchange in our society. They are in
good supply and the demand for them remains strong. The Truth is in extremely short supply, but even this tiny supply far exceeds the demand. Thus, in our society, Truth occupies a position identical
to that of Dinosaur Dung.


Lies are superior to Truth in numerous ways.

Lies are more ingenious.

Lies make the world seem more pleasant.

Lies make the world less embarrassing than Truth, And less frightening.

Furthermore, in fields such as diplomacy, statesmanship, merchandising, advertising, public relations, and bookkeeping, The Truth is an out-and-out handicap.

In friendship, Truth is harmful;

In love, it is disastrous.

…the Truth will be phased out of our
society, almost unnoticed, in less than a generation. It will become a curio like the two-dollar bill. Probably, there will be museums where samples of The Truth will be displayed for the benefit of curious children who want to know what it was like. One can only hope that the curators of these Truth Museums will have the good taste not to fake the exhibits.

The Truth is that The Truth has become old-fashioned. It’s full of odd-shaped little nooks and crannies, like so many old-fashioned things; some people find them fascinating, but most people find them a pain in the neck. For those who care, it is a wonderful feeling to hold The
Truth in your possession, to keep and cherish it., never to misuse it, then pass it along freely to anyone who wants it, giving it to them undamaged, unpainted, unadded to and unsubstracted from, and every bit as glowingly alive as ever. To find all those joys in the handling of the Truth is a labor of love, but most of us in today’s society have no time for such things.”

While this was a humor piece, there is a lot of truth too it.

More generally I’ll add two observations:

The most convincing lies are those the liar believes to be true themselves.

The best way to lie is to tell the truth in such a manner as to have the listener convinced that one is lying.

Very interesting article.

Nicholas Jordan March 2, 2008 4:35 PM

@A judge just overturned the ruling on Wikileak…

Judges have to make verbalizationis of concepts which will steer the ship of state. One judge says one thing, another something seemingly different. We are losing an era where they came from walks, in which the Neanderthal Security Model was effective – if only because it was the only thing that worked.

Now consider the moment a document is leaked. Frank Abagnale stands at the moment considering the options. If he was issued authority, what would leaking gain in a world where most money flows through hands that will not read the directions on the back of a lottery ticket. And what good would be gained by protecting a disclosure that release of a ton or two of hydrazine, a substance declared by the National Toxicology Program to be “Reasonably Anticipated to be Human Carcinogen” at a value of unimaginably divergent scales from intentional production of CCC – a known toxin ( carcinogenic or otherwise ) would have some effect ? None on someone who could not figure out that an observation satellite must be recovered quietly, not with a blaze of media coverage.

A distractionary entertainment – at most. Dozens of these satellites must be recovered, you never hear about it. Consider the cause of alzheimer’s: Sitting under a heated canopy with dermal biomembrane transport agumented by heat would drive topical biointake of biological toxins with greymeat-consequences localized in the region in a manner that makes Jet-A look mild by comparison.

Don’t believe it for a second, the Judges are in with Wicked Wikki’s – all of them – and will do anything to distract you from the world around you using the U-Tube right in front of you.

Ever seen a company survive telling the truth ?

Ever seen how much a judge makes ?

Not a real name March 2, 2008 6:06 PM

@Not Charlie Brown

pseudonymity extends the concept of anonymity by the addition of an untrue fact

Pseudonym is a fictitious name, which can be used for different purposes, in particular, to hide the real name. Using pseudonym (without presenting it as a real name) does not constitute lie; in the same way, as writing a factious story does not mean lying unless you are saying that this story is true… Lie is a false statement deliberately_presented as being true.

JohnJ March 3, 2008 7:20 AM

@Savik: “You mean YOU not “We”. I do not teach my children those or any other lies.”

That was the colloquial “we”. I do not have any children and would do my best to not lie to them if I did.

EricD March 3, 2008 8:28 AM

Deception is a valid evolutionnary strategy. We find it widely represented in nature among preys and predators, wether it improves survivability, energetic efficiency, mating chances, etc.

Children learn early how to deceive, by acts or speech. As a parent, I’m pretty sure it begins even before 2, e.g. when your newborn cries to have you in the room, or sits there throwing things.

About the specifics of lying, the article looks a lot at the moral value of lying, and too few at the results of it.
This is like a prisoner dilemna game with social dynamics. The rewards, punishments, example we give the children all constitute the payoffs matrix. The children, as evolving indivuals, are bound to explore and use deception tactics if the results favors it.

At a later age, they have to realize that we use deception everywhere in our societies (think ads, makeup, standings…) and adapt.

Jason March 3, 2008 2:29 PM

@ zxhrue

That was an entertaining read. Thank you for providing it and sourcing it.

My immediate concern with the contents are that it seems to confuse “facts” with “truths.”

Truth exists in the realm of consciousness and perception while facts are things considered immutable and completely objective.

Effectively telling the truth can be just as harrowing as constructing convincing lies. A person may wish to answer a given question honestly, but in a manner that does not offend the asker.

“Do these pants make me look fat?”

“Of course not!” with the unspoken, you are fat and the pants don’t change that.

Is that a lie? Is it a truth?

What if the answer given tried another approach?

“Honey, I love you very much.
“In fact, I love you so much, I cannot lie to you.”

By that point, your woman would be feeling twinges of fear or anger at the expected response. Maybe confusion for you answering the question in such a bizarre manner. But you continue.

“I think you look beautiful no matter what you wear.
“But, if you really want the truth, we could both stand to get some exercise now and again.”

Is that the truth? You didn’t even really answer the question so it doesn’t matter.

The first answer was quite factual. The second answer was more compassionate but also factual; the facts have undergone an examination.

So, does this make the Truth simply a personal interpretation of the known facts?
This is the premise our (American) trial by jury system seems to believe in: get twelve people to agree on a perception of presented facts and it becomes Truth.
A man goes to jail.
When new facts are found later and new evidence explored by new forensics, the truth may change.
But for now, the guy is guilty. True.

moo March 3, 2008 2:44 PM

I find it odd that some people believe that telling the truth is somehow inherently better than lying. Its a cost vs. benefit tradeoff. The cost of lying is that you have to remember what you lied about and try not to get caught in it; if you get caught anyway, it may negatively impact trust relationships you have with that person and possibly with others. The benefit of lying, or of telling the truth, varies from situation to situation.

In some cases, the other party (such as a store I am purchasing a small consumer item from) tries to force me into a trust relationship I don’t want to be in (such as by asking for my name, address, zip code, even if I am paying cash and don’t care about any warranty). I happily provide them false information in a situation like that.

My own moral compass works like this: I don’t tell lies to family or friends or other people I care about (because I have trust relationships with those people which are important to preserve, and because I don’t want to do anything that might hurt them). I also don’t tell lies at work because I feel a professional obligation to be truthful and honest, even if my boss appears to want for some sort of less-honest answer. In other situations its pure cost/benefit to me. I would not normally lie, but sometimes it is expedient to do so. When a telemarketer phones me in the middle of dinner, I don’t even waste time pretending to be polite as I hang up on them.

I don’t have kids, but if I did, setting a good example for them would drive a lot of my decision-making about these things. But I would never tell them something absurd like “lying is always wrong”.

ballast March 4, 2008 1:00 AM

“… the most advanced skill is called character …”

This comment by Savik is intriguing.

Children at 2 or 3 years of age are just at the starting point of the evolution of their character, in this life. And it is an interesting argument to make that some never evolve beyond this so-called ‘advanced skill’ of lying, with or without the help of their parents.

The topic is reminiscent of something Paul Graham wrote in a speech to high shool students: “Look for smart people and hard problems. But it’s not straightforward to find these, because there is a lot of faking going on.”

Perhaps then, it could be added that character should also come under investigation. Because, somehow, the moral compass seems to be a remarkably accurate device, and character seems to align well with trully smart people, working on hard problems.

Steve March 5, 2008 11:10 AM

@Nicholas Jordan

That was rather oblique, and makes you sound erudite but schizophrenic. If I caught the general thrust, you’re saying bank fraud and judicial misconduct are circuses to distract the general public from “chemtrails” and other nefarious schemes by shadowy agencies. Even if this were true, consider where the capital for such schemes must come from: if sites like wikileaks can shine a light into murky corners, less malfeasance can happen. Lying may take higher levels of cognition than telling the truth, but the truth can be self-evident under the correct conditions.

I think JohnJ was politely talking around teaching kids morality by means of deity. The kids whom “Jesus is watching you” suddenly fails to convince can go through damaging periods of amorality before regaining their footing on a more logically based ethical system.

Nicholas Jordan March 5, 2008 1:21 PM


I try to cram to much into too few words, I have watched myself in the mirror doing it and it does not appear anything like what I intend. The last sentence is bait for half-wits, the intended context of the sentence being that looking at a cathod ray tube forms an information rich interaction on a short leash. Judges cannot escape the burdens we face so asking how much a judge makes is something of a setup for people who are not thinking. Judges make a range of money. I don’t know what they make, but I did assist the political campaign of one attorney running for judgeship – in confidence it was revealed to me what working for criminals actually feels like. It takes several inversions before we start doing any useful analysis, my wording is weak and we can sleep knowledgeable that law school is not going to suddenly quit defending criminals.

We can also sleep knowledgable that they do not know how to clip off at fifty feet off the ground, but they do know how to put a business out of business that makes reliable safety harnesses for clipping off at fifty feet. Klien Tools – Mr. Klien’s personal analysis to quit making the most reliable and well built fall arrest harness on the basis of someone clipping off to a tree limb / falling to injury because of tying off to the part of the limb that would fall / suing and winning.

So really, if you want me to straighten it out I will but those disentanglements often run 10-k.

Other than judges bankrupting decent people, there is also the point attempted ( it should have been cca not ccc ) of tonnage of copper/chromate/arsenic being distributed at a rate measured in tonnage per minute contrasted for clarity against a satellite tankful of hydrazine.

By reason, the tank would likely fail in the mesosphere and barring that there is a contrast in the number of people exposed and what harm they are exposed to that cannot be quantified without exponential scaling as the basis for measurement.

This is a common failure mode for me, catch me if you can.

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