TED Conversations

Jean-Charles Longuet

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Telling the truth: are there limits?

Two recent talks focused on "Truth" as something good/moral. Practically, however, some information may cause havoc: the Wikileaks diplomatic data disclosure, for example, coulad have put some people at risk.

How should we manage the decision to disclose (or not) such information? Or manage the moral dilemma when telling a lie may have a positive outcome?

[update 2012/11/25] The conversation initially mixed a few things : Truth is something that is not as obvious as it seems, and Lies are more related to a deceiving/manipulative intention that to the hiding of some Truth.

Anyway, all points of views are welcome.


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    Nov 13 2012: I wish it was so simple that your question has any meaning - which it hasn't.
    Let's get some true analytical framework so that you can ask a question that has meaning - try this:

    Humans have 2 levels of perception:
    1, Primary perception.
    Primary perception deals with personal survival - it is entirely composed of intrinsic spacial and causal maps - intrinsic means "observable" - these maps are amenable to update. All animals (perhaps all living organisms) have primary perception.
    2. secondary perception.
    Secondary perception deals with the communication of primary perception. It is a lot less amenable to observation or update. It also contains extrinsic perceptions that are conventional associations that must remain static in order to support communication (e.g. languages and symbol-sets). Communication delivers a potential of widenned perception - a great advantage in evolutionary terms .. when it works.

    In the domain of primary perception, there is a concept of absolute truth. But perceptive systems are selective and noisy - there is also a time lag between any particular moment and when it is rendered into perception. So absolute truth is not absolutely knowable - the change(delta/time) is assumed.
    In the domain of secondary perception, there is no notion of "truth" per se - there is only a notion of "honesty".
    Secondary perception is incredibly noisy.
    Secondary perception also has to contend with the non-adaptive conventions of symbol-sets.
    Over all this, you have to cast a framework of selective advantage - the advantage of secondary perception is species-specific, but personal advantage is not precluded.
    If weighed in the balance, the individual will choose personal advantage over species advantage if the species advantage is not damaged enough to precipitate personal disadvantage.
    The dynamics governing the personal/species decision is dictated by potential scarcity/abundance. The resulting noise of that perception will allow for a lot of lies.

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