Lies and the Lying Toddlers Who Tell Them

I was having a talk with someone the other day about the way that people lie. It's true. People lie. Blatantly at times, and seemingly without shame. How is that possible?

Well, there's an interesting little piece in today's NY Times called, "YOUR BRAIN LIES TO YOU, "by Sam Wang, a professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton, and Sandra Aamodt, a former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience. Wang and Aamodt are the authors of “Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life.”

Without going too much into into the technical details in the article of how the brain accepts lies, and then even reinforces the non-truths, I'll just summarize by saying that the authors claim that the brain stores lies in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain, but in the recalling process, the source of the lie is forgotten.

Here's Wang and Aamodt:

"Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it. This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true."

This is a very convenient truth for psychopaths and politicians, of course, who both want their lies believed and hope you'll also forget the context in which they've said things. But what makes some receivers of lies so much more susceptible than others, and what makes one person a more effective liar than another?

The authors of the Times piece say that "Adding to this innate tendency to mold information we recall is the way our brains fit facts into established mental frameworks. We tend to remember news that accords with our worldview, and discount statements that contradict it."

Okay, now we're talking my language. Molecular biology aside, what I know is that the more we hold onto beliefs and are ruled by established thought patterns, the more we get slammed by reality in our lives. I have often said that opinions are what we hold onto when we don't know the truth, and the stronger the held opinions and beliefs are the more ignorant the person usually is. We all know this. People of very rigid opinions and dogmatic belief systems aren't interested in new information that contradicts what they believe. As Jack Nicholson's character might have said: "They can't handle the truth."

We don't need beliefs, people. They stagnate our thought processes, and they freeze in place our ability to grow and assimilate new information. Eventually, we become so afraid to challenge or let go of our beliefs that we will defend them with all of our resources, at great expense to ourselves and those around us. Sad, because the more we surrender our beliefs and opinions, the more we can see the truth in every situation because we are in a flexible state of mind, able to follow the facts wherever they lead.

Back to politicians and psychopaths, or as Al Franken would call them "the lying liars." Here's the thing - a liar who knowingly lies is not going to be very effective because he or she is feeling out of alignment with themselves and so, their lying will show in their body language - shifting eyes or various other tells that make for a bad poker player, for instance. Indeed, a lying liar who doesn't have a psychopathic character structure will often not be believed by most people, and will easily get caught.

A psychopath has a distinct advantage here. Why? Because true psychopaths believe their own lies. In their brains, they are continually rewriting history and reality to suit their manipulative intentions in the moment. This is not unlike the mind of a two or three year old, as parents can tell you. If said child is not in the mood for apple juice today, for example, he or she will say, "I never liked apple juice," even though they loved it just yesterday. Are they lying? Yes. But that child in that moment doesn't know it's lying because it's still developing mind and ego hasn't attained fully the ability to look into the past for context, and he or she still cannot tolerate frustration or contradiction very well.

Sounds like some successful politicians you know? Yes, but ultimately, who wins if you've got a psychopathic politician on one side, and a belief-free, open-minded person on the other side? Hands down. Who wins if you've got a manipulating 2-year old child versus a mature, clear-thinking and self confident adult? Same thing.

Some of my friends don't believe me when I say that I'm not "political," that I don't subscribe to any dogma or philosophy. They don't believe me because I've supported the nomination and election of Barack Obama. But you see, for me, it's not Obama's policy statements that are moving me to vote for a presidential candidate for the first time in 28 years. It's his body language, his alignment with himself, the clarity in his eyes that make him a potential leader like we haven't seen in the better part of our adulthoods (if you're my age). I know and trust what I'm seeing through my own clear eyes. Obama is not a lying liar.

Remember folks, it's always the adult side of us, and the truth, that ultimately wins in life. Shed your beliefs, open your mind, seek the truth, and the lying liars will become mere toddlers in your life.

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