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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 21 2012: Wikileaks seems a good example to me as it show the impact of full disclosure. I used former Wired journalist Kim Zetter as a source (in She was shortlisted for investigations prices and seems a correct source to me. To cite her :

      "So what we have are about between 2,000 and 3,000 names of people identified by U.S. diplomatic sources whose identity should have been -- should have been protected.
      We have about 150 whistle-blowers identified, about 1,000 activists named in the documents. So, previously, all of these would have been blacked out and protected."

      As giving explicit names can only point out people already at risk, not hearing more about them does not seem an argument to me...
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          Nov 22 2012: I read the full article, and while I I fully agree that this specific publishing was not deliberate, the fact still stands : some data disclosure occured, that may present a risk (I was assertive with the Wikileak example, I should have be more cautious) .

          Now, just to make my point clear : I used the Wikileaks disclosure as an example regarding the moral behavior that is required (or not, depending your opinion) about information communication, not as a trial against Wikileaks.

          So, maybe indeed nobody hurted, nobody was put at risk. I doubt we could ever have a clear view about it
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    Nov 17 2012: "Telling the truth: are there limits?"

    Truth has no limits except absolute.

    The correct question to ask is "How much deception and how many lies are allowable from politicians?"
  • Nov 14 2012: Honesty is the best policy.

    All policies must be applied on a case by case basis.
    There are values of more importance than honesty.
    Speak the truth or the lie, whichever will cause the less harm.
    Every lie causes some harm to the liar.
    When in doubt, be honest.
  • Nov 30 2012: If everyone is honest all the time, there would have been no reason to hide anything. There would be no danger if all is open and clear. To lie to someone not only harms them but harms yourself. You have to spend more resources on continuing the illusion. When you tell the truth, you do not have to remember what you said, and you do not have to be worried about what may be coming for you. If the truth causes that same trouble (example of pissing people off) you shouldn't have dealt with that violent and primitive person to begin with.
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    Nov 27 2012: The perception that lying can act as a solution is an underlying problem. More often it opens an inevitable can of worms which cannot be undone. Truth will out....
  • Nov 25 2012: First, it’s a matter of definition. I think ‘Truth’ certainly means more than ‘facts’.
    To journalists, "No, there's no limit. You should do your best to tell the truth to the readers."
    To the pathological truth-tellers(such as who can never lie..even white lie), "Telling the truth and being so uniquely obsessed with telling facts are different. So there are limits in this case."
    To anyone, let’s not being manipulative when it comes to telling the truth.
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    Nov 25 2012: Beyond the irrefutability of facts, I think we all lie, and should just come to terms with it. That is the complication of being human.

    As said below, we live in a highly politicized environment, and are constantly hedging what we really want to say, just to keep the peace. Yet, others have said that we weave a tangled web in society if we don't speak the truth. Both are "true"! Ha ha!

    I find that our "evolved" sense of fashion, appearance, esp. in the West, is the perfect analogy for all this. We don't smell this good, we can't travel this fast, we aren't this tall, this pretty, this enhanced, yet, we pretend we are in order to secure a mate, a job, a loan. We even train ourselves to "see through" all of that in others in order to be on top of the game.

    At this point, I don't think anyone can say with a straight face that there are absolutes in terms of: should we lie or shouldn't we, except about facts. We all know it's political. For the issue of Wikileaks, governments owe their taxpayers, funders and international supporters, a level of care. If there are facts showing flagrant abuse of that, then, as painful as it is, they need to be known and addressed.
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    Nov 25 2012: "If you always tell the truth, you don't need a good memory". .... I always liked that one until, I realized that truth is subjective and arguable. ..... I realize that this topic at this particular forum is not addressing this type of truth but, I can't help but to add that truth and reality could be twins. ..... I am often unsure about either one.
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      Nov 25 2012: The current topic is quite open, so your input is welcome.

      Truth is indeed not that objective : facts are subject to our perception flaws, and things are even worse when we enter the field of our thoughts, feelings, etc. And thereafter, the fact of hiding/distorting our perception of Truth is another point : it it is done with a positive intent, is it morally acceptable or not ?
  • Nov 24 2012: As many of us, I grew up with that constant reminder from my parents, particularly my Mom, to always tell the truth. Naturally I tested the boundaries on that and yet always feared being "found out." Now having experienced truth both from being trusted and trusting others I know this is the foundation of humanity. I get the data that the written word is more true than the spoken--more accountability in the written word. And that's a sad state isn't it? I wonder if the research looks at other dimensions of people who do their "inner work" and have a deeper radar for truth speaking than others. Plus there's a cultural pattern of letting people get away with "white lies" as a given vs. having direct accountability.

    To me it's not morality, it's at the essence of what makes me feel good about myself and sleep with ease vs. not. It's an internal radar.
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      Nov 25 2012: Why is it that "telling the Truth" is perceived as something "Good" for you ? For example "helping Others" is something as important from a social point of view. Is "telling the Truth" preferred because it costs nothing ?
      • Nov 25 2012: I believe "the truth shall set you free" is spot on Jean-Charles. In fact it costs the most--telling lies does. Look at Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Madoff and the list is endless. There is no upside to being anything but honest. The systemic problem in my humble opinion is people are unwilling to be honest with themself.
        • Nov 25 2012: ex.

          Do you tell your friend, who his wife just died, that his wife had been having an affair...Being asked if you know who the guy in the background of the funural was, even though you really know everything..
          What would be best for your friend, if lets say, he takes his wifes death extremely poorly. What is best for their children etc?

          Should guys tell there wifes they look fat in that dress, when they do?

          Should girls stop acting like all our faults are ok/not there most of the time?

          I'm not sure i would answer the same on all, but those questions are indicators that the wrong truth might ex. make someone depressed, a killer, or take their own life

          I was actually a huge fan of extreme truth telling at one time, but I found out most can't handle it and will react very irrationally (from my point of view) when presented with truths they even asked for in the first place. People dont want the truth alle the time. So now I lie all the time like everybody else.

          My mother is a Jehovas Witness, and even they lie, all the time! To protect and serve each other (avoid conflicts f.ex.). But they don't percieve it like that though (when asked about it, they respond they never lie, which ironically also is a lie :)
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          Nov 25 2012: Kaare,
          You ask..."Do you tell your friend, who his wife just died, that his wife had been having an affair..."

          If I am directly asked the question, I tell what I know. If the person is asking the question, s/he probably already knows. How does it serve anyone to lie?

          If I am asked a question such as this, I ask the person...."do you honestly want the answer"? If we do not honestly want a truthful answer, I suggest we do not ask the question.

          Guys no not have to tell their wives thay look fat. If a guy is creative and intelligent enough, he might say something like..."that dress does not look as good on you as that other dress that I really like". If the wife (or husband) is overweight, you can tell him/her that you care about them very much, and you are concerned about their health.....suggest that you walk together each day, or some other exercise together.

          Many people CAN handle truth Kaare, and truth has to start in ourselves. Perhaps it is how you present the truth? I am getting an idea of how you communicate based on your comments,.

          Everybody does not lie, and I'm glad you say your comments are from your "point of view", because it certainly is not truth.

          "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes...."
          (Marcel Proust)

          Sometimes, when we have a certain "point of view", it is helpful to consider information from a different perspective, to discover the real truth. As long as your point of view, is that everybody lies, you are, of course justifying it in yourself.
      • Nov 25 2012: Telling the Truth is perceived as something "Good" for you because people can choose how to respond (act) under the circumstances. If the used car salesman will just tell me the shiny blue car has a broken motor then I can choose to find another one. At the heart of social responsibility is violating the free will of others. Some even say human free will should be considered as sacred. Extreme crimes are obvious examples of such violations but hiding the truth from another person impedes their ability to choose a course of action, like a husband or wife who does not want to live with a cheater.

        I disagree that telling the truth costs nothing. Just ask the used car salesman. He failed to sell me the blue car because in a brief moment of altruism he informed me about the broken motor and I bought another car (from another salesman). People lie to protect their investments. Spouses hide infidelity because they want their home life and their extra-marital adventures as well. To tell their spouse would "cost" them their happy (if half-hearted) home.

        One has to care about other people in order to tell the truth just because it is the right thing to do. Compassion and empathy are qualities that accrue to the evolved in our society. Such people invariably find it wise to live a life that does not require hiding the truth from others. The Golden Rule--to do unto others as you would have them do unto you--is in my opinion more of a warning or a recommendation than just nice advice to be nice to other people. The Biblical phrase "the truth shall set you free" is matched with “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7-9).” Those who fear God's wrath for lying do so due to the notion that in the next life (a just place) one will not know the truth somehow and that will be an unfortunate situation. In the end, it is right to tell the Truth because the absolute truth about us is, in Itself, our Salvation.
        "Know thyself."
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      Nov 25 2012: Bobby and Jean-Charles,
      I agree Bobby, that telling the truth does not come up on my "radar" necessarily as a moral issue, although it certainly can be intertwined with morality. For me, the question is....what feels better? Telling the truth....or not? Wherever we go, there we are with our "self". How does it feel when we are carrying a lie around with us?

      "Oh what a tangled web we weave,
      When first we practise to deceive!"

      Lies do indeed become tangled, because once a lie is spoken, one generally needs to continue with the lie to keep covering it up. No point in living like that, in my humble opinion.

      Along the same line, I also agree with what Vincenzo Sergi writes on this thread... "If you always tell the truth, you don't need a good memory". It must be very confusing when someone is weaving his/her web of lies, and forgets what s/he said to whom!!!

      You write in your introduction...."some information may cause havoc". This is true, and in making the decision to tell a lie, we are making a judgement based on our own perceptions. We are actually trying to control the beliefs of the person to whom we lie....are we not? And what kind of "havoc" is sometimes the result of the lie? Once a lie is told, we undermine our "self", so that people are less willing to trust any more. It is important for each of us as individuals to know what our own limits are, do you think? How do we want to "BE" in this world in each and every moment?
      • Nov 25 2012: Kaare--I see the distinction as "staying on my side of the street" vs. stepping into another's integrity (or not). This rule only applies as the internal radar. Do I judge, as in thinking my wife needs to loose weight etc., absolutely I judge? Do I need to speak everyone of those? No.

        I'm talking about those lies I tell myself and so skillfully I start to believe they ARE the truth. That internal talk. If I take the time to get quiet and allow my inner guidance to truly speak, then perhaps I allow for the deepest truth to be revealed.
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        Nov 25 2012: Colleen, you are right when stating that lying or, more generally, misinforming is a way to control the reaction of people. However, people have great consideration about not being lied to, but are perfectly ok when being convinced by apparent logic. And I want to point out "apparent" because when you look more carefully, people are not convinced only by logic, but also by their own biases, by storytelling, by rhetoric, etc. So a manipulative intent is not always a lie, and trying to control or change someone's beliefs can be done while speaking the truth.

        I won't tell a dying woman that her son was just killed in an accident, if asked, I would blatantly lie to her saying he's ok, because I want her to be in peace for her last minutes. I may stay silent about some facts when the one who committed them shows repentance.That is my point of view, and I can understand that people can disagree. I just consider that following basic rules is not adapted to all situations, and that choices are required in such cases. At times, governments themselves had dark times and speaking the truth made dramas occur. So I care more about outcomes than on rules to feel ok with my conscience.
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          Nov 25 2012: Jean-Charles,
          I agree that if they let themselves, people can be controled by the reaction of people, by misinformation, by apparent logic, which can also be lying or deception, by biases, storytelling, etc. etc.

          Yes...absolutely...some folks can indeed try to control or change someone'e beliefs with speaking their own truths.

          Your theory about not giving a dying person information because you want her to be in peace for her last minutes, doesn't feel good to me, because some of us are able to sense when someone is not telling the truth. So, lying to me because I am on my death bed may actually cause more distress for me...I could probably sense a lie, and may not actually know what the lie is. I may simply know there is an untruth.

          Perhaps it boils down to what we would prefer ourselves? Do unto others, as you would want them to do unto you? I personally, would prefer truth...whatever the circumstances, and that is what I give to others, to the best of my ability. With lies, we are usually trying to create our own comfort and/or protection, not that of the one we are lying to.

          I agree with the idea Tim Spahn brings to light...
          When we tell the truth, we give people accurate information and they can choose how to respond (act) under the circumstances. If we do not give them accurate information, we deny them that opportunity. Hiding the truth from another person impedes their ability to choose a course of action.

          I agree with you Jean-Charles, that at the end of the day, I care more about outcomes, and that is the important piece of the puzzle. I always feel much more content with truth and honesty:>)
  • Anne N

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    Nov 19 2012: My stand on this is as follows:

    We should tell the truth as far as possible. However, I think there are two types of times when the truth will hurt someone. 1) When the truth will hurt someone irreversibly or 2) When it will hurt someone and then gradually help that person/ make the person glad that at least they knew the truth early on.

    When the truth we tell would lead to option 2, we should tell the truth.

    However, what do we do when we think a truth will irreversibly affect someone? Well, we can do two things.

    1) Lie or 2) Tell the truth in a more well-packaged manner i.e deliver the truth while keeping the facts there.

    In this case, I feel that people should go with the second approach.

    Lies do snowball.
    Telling lies often do lead to positive outcomes but I believe they lead to short term positive outcomes, not long term ones. The truth on the other hand, can lead to both positive/ negative outcomes in the short and long term but at the end of the day, people are MOSTLY glad to know the truth.
    • Nov 21 2012: "When the truth will hurt someone irreversibly"
      Do you have an example of this? I can't think of any possiblility of that.
      I happen to think that the truth applies in the second way almost exclusively.
      • Anne N

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        Nov 23 2012: Hmm. My take is that the truth would hurt someone irreversibly if the person does not have the personality to let go of the truth and move on from the truth especially if the truth was packaged in such a harsh way that it affects the person's self esteem.

        For example, I shall give a scenario of a student that tries extremely hard but fails every subject and does terribly in his or her school activities, and a teacher telling the student "You're a failure in everything you do". To a person who has the ability to let go of this harsh comment, he or she may decide to prove the teacher wrong and try even harder or find another passion which he or she can excel in etc.

        However, to a person who does not have the personality to forget and move on, he or she may drop out of school and continue to believe that they are not capable of doing anything. Thus, his or her life may be ruined from this remark.

        Having said that, I believe that the teacher should not lie to the student. Rather, the teacher should have delivered the truth in a "better package" whilst keeping the facts. For example "I see that you have been failing your subjects and doing badly in your school activities. I know that you are trying really hard. However, from my experience, every student has their strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you have yet to find your passion."
        • Nov 23 2012: I think this is a good way to approach the matter. It is akin to the question of how your life changes in relating to this person.
          "It's not 'what' you say, it's 'how' you say it."

          "if the person does not have the personality to let go..."
          Is it ok to fore-go a "yes or no," and give an answer which can be remembered and learned-from as that person ages & changes? (And what-then if they demand a yes or no?)
      • Anne N

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        Nov 26 2012: Thanks, Steve! Hmm. I would say that if the person does not have the personality to let go, a yes or no should still be given but following that/ before that, words which can be remembered and learned from can be given.
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    Nov 17 2012: Let there be no doubt about it: There are times when you should lie. When all of us would lie.

    I'll start with a 'Reductio ad absurdum' argument (latin for a philosophical argument called reduction to absurdity). A killer breaks into your house and asks where you hide the cash. You have a large bag of cash under your mattress. Perfectly OK to lie here and say you have no cash, right? I mean, I don't think there's any moral dilemma here about lying.

    Then there is the classic: "Honey, do I look fat in this outfit?" Let's say that person's right about to go on stage and make a major political speech. You don't want to mess them up, ruin their mojo, so one could argue it's OK to say "No", no matter what. Some would agree that's ok, some would not.

    And so it goes on from here. We can keep expanding the scope, question by question, asking, "Would it be OK to lie in this hypothetical situation?" What if a homeless man broke into your home and asks you for some food. OK to lie and say you have no food then? We'd get general agreement on many scenarios, maybe some debate on others. I suppose I'm describing a hypothetical crowd-sourced polling system where we could poll large enough groups of people to determine under which situations most people agree it's ok to lie. Crowd sourced morality, if you will.

    I am guessing there are probably studies about such things, from which you could derive more general rules that would begin to describe the limits to telling the truth.

    You could also adopt a strict religious or moral framework without question, rather than try to build up a sort of moral filter based consensus thinking or on the society in which you live.

    There is an inverse question, almost sinister in its inception: Telling lies: Are there any limits?
    • Nov 17 2012: The unmentioned assumption throughout these posts is that there an objective and knowable reality "out there" against which we measure a truth. I would argue that language, the matter of lies and of science also, is never value-free and context-free, that context is ever a part of our construct of reality, of what really happened.

      Perhaps a story will suffice. A farmer hauling a cow in his truck gets blindsided by another vehicle. The farmer sues the other guy. In court now, the lawyer for the other guy says, "The police report indicates that when asked, you said you were fine."

      "Look, I'm hurt and your client did it"

      "But at the scene of the accident, did you or did you not tell the officer that you were fine?"

      "After your client hit me, I was stuck in the cab, but I could hear my cow moaning. That's when the policeman drove up, approached my cow, and shot her between the eyes. He then opened the cab, gun drawn, and asked, 'How are you doing?' Oh, I'm fine, I said."
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        Nov 18 2012: I understand what you're saying about the assumption that there's a knowable reality out there. However I don't think that's relevant to lying, as lying requires an intent to deceive, regardless of what the reality is or whether there is an objective or knowable reality.

        I think the ontology of truth, while related to the subject of lying, is a different philosophical inquiry.
    • Steve C

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      Nov 18 2012: "A killer breaks into your house"... hmmm, you tell a lie; he leaves & goes to your neighbors & kills them instead. Or tell him the truth & hope he appreciates the truth enough to let you live. (Or is this "immaterial," since we can't know his motives or reactions? Does the question then revert to "Is it wrong to lie," - (regardless of the situation)?
      "do I look fat in this" I would say that if they knew you well enough to trust you, then I would hope they trusted that you valued them much more as a person than the amount of value they placed on their appearance! The "truth," then becomes secondary; trust, value, integrity are in effect.
      "Crowd sourced morality" is that like "two wolves and a sheep voting on dinner"?
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        Nov 18 2012: Are you saying that if you believed you had the opportunity to prevent a violent crime like rape or murder to yourself or a loved one by lying, you would not lie in that situation?
        • Nov 21 2012: (Sorry for the delay, life intervened.)
          To reply to your question... I believe I addressed that in my first reply. Again, *what evidence* could lead me to that beliefe? (I've seen contradictory outcomes on tv shows: "Why'd you kill her, I told you where the gold is!")
          And how could a lie cause a good response? If rape is the intent, a lie would only enrage the attacker to commit murder as well.
          Further; as to your question of rape &/or murder: one syllogism is "shit happens" amungst our society. To lie is to admit you do not believe in the grander system of the value of letting other people know the truth and building rapport; that you only believe in saving your own thin skin.
          Is your question merely: "do I have enough faith in a value system to see my own sacrificed, rather than let some other unknown person take a harder sacrifce in my place?"

          "an inverse question...: Are there any limits?" interesting
          But has the issue been muddied in the ways we view truth & action? We value truth, and we value constructive action, but do the two approach each other from the same direction, or in the same way? One is philospy and one is physics. How ARE the two supposed to meld?
          We treat our enemies differently than we treat our friends; we give our friends , (those who help us), truth & food - our enemies, (those who hurt us), we give lies and bullets.
          If the truth is strength, should we strengthen our enemies? They're usually our enemies because of differing beliefs; "with, and about" truth. Do we believe that our truth is connected to meanings deep enough to connect to them positively; or are we too entranced by our own lies and toys to ever consider other perspectives?
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    Nov 13 2012: Motive should drive your decision and I speak of compassion as your motive. Even the Bishop lied in "Les Miserable".
  • Nov 30 2012: The only truth that truly exists is that of self, an expression of ones feelings.
  • Nov 28 2012: There is no utter truth. There are only things that exist to our senses as being more probable or less probable. If we concentrate on those things that exemplify a certain "reality" to our senses then our most probable situation (i.e. our truth) will be different than that of someone with dissimilar sense stimulation.

    This is why it is wise for people to gain insight into as many experiences and perspectives as possible, albeit with open minds, in order to derive what is the most probable for one's self. This relates directly to telling the truth or telling a lie in that what may seem absolute for one person may be far-fetched or seem lacking in any validity at all. This is not to say that all is relative, for if that is the case then there is no cause for order- if murder is relatively acceptable for someone and that perspective must be respected by society, then expect a chaotic society. The rule of law inhibits those perspectives with good cause, as doe’s society with certain norms. It is with the evolution of these laws and norms that a sensible society can sort through what rules should exist as being more probably acceptable and therefore more "true."

    Lying is all about perspective, and carries an undue negative connotation. If deception is used for a cause that is deemed by the enlightened mind to be of worth (more probably good than bad) then, perhaps it is simply a tool in the tool belt of the good willed. Regardless of your personal perspective of Jesus Christ, it can be said that he was quite benevolent- having said that we must remember that, even he deceived the Romans. Perhaps, we would be better to call it being savvy or witty or able to paint a good narrative. Just like anything else, lying is not a bad thing unless used by bad people toward mal ends.
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      Nov 28 2012: if there is no utter truth, then tell me, the statement "there is no utter truth" itself is an utter truth or not?
      • Nov 28 2012: The operating word in play is "utter" meaning absolute, beyond the fathom of doubt. It is improbable that such a truth exists- thus, it is a statement made based off of its probability being more likely than less.

        Of course there are things that knowledge tells us are, indeed, fact. However, when we examine the trend of human consciousness time itself tends to displace old "facts" because of new discoveries. That is the evolution of probability. The more a person has contemplated and explored a contention the more probable that person is to be right concerning it. This is why wisdom must be sought with each new day and our beliefs must be reinforced daily.
  • Nov 28 2012: Colleen, I guess we are authentic morning people. HAPPY TODAY. I am very glad we express our true thoughts and feelings. We are having a powerfully positive impact on our contemporaries and futurity. I know we shall continue doing all the positive things we do- and more- and the happiness of humanity will spiral up along with us and our spirits.
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      Nov 28 2012: HAPPY TODAY RHONA!
      Yes....I LOVE the morning....well....I LOVE the afternoon, evening and night equally as well...that is the truth:>)

      I know you know about the ripple effect...or the butterfly effect:>)

      "Life begets life,
      Energy creates energy
      It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich"
      (Sarah Bernhardt)

      To "spend" our energy in sharing positive ideas feeds us as individuals, as well as all of humankind...I know you know that:>)
      • Nov 28 2012: Colleen, We sure do agree about a lot of stuff. I'm glad about that. I trust you will continue being as COLLEEN as you can possibly be. Thank you for all the positive everything you generate. I am confident that we are succeeding in accomplishing all of our positive goals. Afternoons and evenings are okay, but I am definitely most vibrant and productive in the mornings.
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          Nov 28 2012: Dear Rhona,
          Who else could I be without telling a lie???
          Thank you too my friend, for being you and sharing the gift here on TED:>)
      • Nov 28 2012: Good point. You are welcome.
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    Nov 27 2012: i would propose that lie can be paralleled to laziness. many questions lead to the same answers. example: is laziness good? certainly no. same for lie. can laziness occasionally lead to more beneficial outcome? yes. for example if i want to do something stupid, but i procrastinate, meanwhile i might learn why it is silly, and do not do that. similarly, in some situations a lie might accidentally make things better. on the other hand one can argue that laziness did not in fact lead to benefit, rather, it was just luck. the same is true for lie, the problem could have been solved in a better way, but by pure luck, the wrong solution worked. is laziness forgivable? yes, in situations. so is lying. can laziness be harmless? yes, in situations. so is lying. is laziness immoral in itself? i would say no. neither lying. on the other hand, if laziness leads to harm, should we blame the lazy? of course! same for lies.

    i assert that lying and being lazy are very similar in their moral and consequential nature. but for some reason, laziness is easier to assess.
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      Nov 27 2012: Interesting parallel, and more suitable for discussion as laziness is less taboo that lies.

      However, there seem to be slight differences between both :
      - lying is a deliberate act, while being lazy is more inaction than action
      - lies outcomes are not accidental, but usually chosen (and explaining the lying action).
      This passiveness and unplanned consequences may explain that laziness is perceived as less "evil" than a lie.

      Now, lies (usually asserted as evil) may be done while positive consequences as a target : hiding someone from being hurt, for example. I was trying to point out the moral dilemma between the wrongness of lying compared to the goodness of the outcome. I do not see cases where that apply to laziness to extend your parallel in this rare case, however... Any idea ?
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        Nov 28 2012: the parallel certainly has limitations. however, i would claim that the first two is not that simple as you say.

        action vs inaction. it is just an apparent difference, not a real one. inaction is action. we choose between two possible paths.

        deliberate vs unintentional: that is partially true, but many lies are also unintentional, in the sense that they come automatically, not after conscious consideration.

        but i agree that lie can be aimed to improve things (although the actual gain is questionable), while laziness can not.
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    Nov 27 2012: I don't believe that there is one unifying reality or truth. I believe in motives that make us create beliefs.

    So I always keep things to myself unless someone is wondering or asking me to share my point of view, a.k.a. reality. They would have the motivation to modify their realities since it is not fitting their experience. Everyone is right. Everything is true. There is ALWAYS a way to justify things and to see things from others perspectives.
  • Nov 27 2012: TRUTH is of the highest importance. If one does not have the courage or wisdom to express truth, silence is an acceptable alternative, even though it may slow up the progress of the sender and receiver in accomplishing their positive goals. Truth is powerful. When everyone expresses truth as they know it at the moment of expression, we will all be living happily ever after. Soon, maybe. Anything positive is possible. We all have choice about what to focus on. Some people associate "truth" with negativity, which, in itself demonstrates the negativity of those who believe that. Truth is neutral. We choose what we focus on, what we express. We have the power and freedom to focus on and express positive. May as well. A stream of positive consequences flows.......
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      Nov 27 2012: 'Some people associate "truth" with negativity, which, in itself demonstrates the negativity of those who believe that.'

      That argument seems quite flawed to me : you claim that "Truth is neutral", so associating "truth" to positivity is as flawed as associating it with negativity. Why should one opinion be better than the other ? You could apply the same positive/negative people distinction based on any belief then.

      And "Honesty" is not "Truth". Truth is not only expressed by facts : our perception is involved, our communication too, or way to represent the world... The sentence "Green is a beautiful color" is true for some people and false for other.
      • Nov 28 2012: Good morning, Colleen. Jean-Charles, Each person knows when they express something, if they are expressing the truth as they perceive it and it takes extra energy to lie, so they know when they are intentionally expressing lies. I repeat: truth is neutral. Which truth you choose to express is your choice. If you choose positive truths or choose to focus on negative, that is your choice. It has nothing to do with truth. The point is, people know within themselves when they are expressing truth or lies. We grew up in a society (e.g., religions) that attempt to control human behavior with negativity, e.g., do what I tell you to do or God will getcha and hurt you. This is the brainwashing we must reverse. WE CHOOSE WHAT WE FOCUS ON. Let's focus on positive. This is a separate point from expressing truth, except that I am always amazed at how many people associate the concept of truth with negative expressions, e.g., your dress is ugly, thinking they are being honest. Silence is always an option. TRUTH expression makes society more efficient and ultrimately more positive, if our fellow Earthlings make a conscious choice to focus on posiitive. Sorry I confused you. By the way, for that person, "green is a beautiful color" so that person is expressing a truth as they behold it at the moment of expression.
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          Nov 28 2012: RHONA! YOU CAUGHT ME PEEKING IN!!! I just noticed that you added my name...LOL!

          I agree....agree....agree...people KNOW when they are expressing a takes extra energy and stress to lie...truth is we interpret the information may take it out of the "neutral" state....which truth we express is a choice...we choose what we focus on...silence is always an option...all very well said my friend!
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    Nov 27 2012: Isn't it more about HOW you tell the truth, rather than actually telling it? Also, in terms of things like Wikileaks, I look at telling the truth over such matters to be the same thing as a person who becomes ill through the initial stages of detoxing: if the world were to start tactfully telling the truth, wouldn't the world go into chaos for a period but then calm down as the initial results of turth-telling start to settle? Imagine how the world would be in 50 years time if we all started being truthful now. I would imagine the first X years would be very hard, but eventually start to calm and harmonize.

    I have always felt that all lying does is defer the pain caused by the truth, and simply prolongs the illness. Telling the truth is initially hard but with much better long-term results.
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    Nov 26 2012: "Actions depend upon their intentions" -Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
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    Nov 25 2012: And here is a TED talk by Dan Ariely sharing experimental data that we all find it acceptable to distort the truth under certain circumstances. What's more interesting is that our attitude to cheating depends on the "color of T-shirt we are wearing" or, rather, whether we perceive the cheater as belonging to our social group or as an "outsider".
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      Nov 26 2012: Dan Ariely is very good at pointing such irrationnal behaviour. I guess we are all lying to ourself, especially when pretending to not lying... I adde this talk to the ones relatedd to this conversation.
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    Nov 25 2012: Steven Pinker had this talk at Psi Chi society titled "Sometimes, indirect speech is the most direct course of action"

    And here is an animated version of it which is more fun to watch:

    It's not exactly about lying. He speaks of why we "dress" our speech in euphemisms, explaining it by the type of social relationship which we try to maintain, namely, communality, reciprocity, or dominance, according to a theory by anthropologist Alan Fiske.
  • Nov 25 2012: Honesty is above all the best choice; however I seem to be confused when telling the truth can we not deny the question with an honest response. If someone asks a question are we compelled to answer or are we not allowed to decline. The goal is to be straight forward with someone to why information cannot be revealed. There is no plausible reason to lie and the fact remains that there never has been a good time to lie. Reveal the truth when appropriate and decline to answer questions when inappropriate.
  • Nov 25 2012: Yes great points Colleen. That tangled web is such a complex one and becomes societal doesn't it? That's where moral issues do come up and get "tangled" with this simple truth (sorry, couldn't resist it)! Every religion is adament on being the only truth. Sad state that is Yoda says.

    Everything does circle back to choice as well doesn't it? The question is how many recognize the cost of their choices when they start to weave that web, consciously or not.
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      Nov 25 2012: Thanks Bobby....good points from you as well:>)

      We (humans) can indeed create a very tangled web, which in my perception, simply complicates our lives, and also, as you say, becomes societal. We observe right here on this thread, that people would very much like to justify lying. What if we need to protect someone? What if we need to spare someone's feelings? etc. etc.? Then people declare that there are "little white lies", and BIG lies.....who decides? Who chooses what lies are ok, and which are not ok? So, people build this very complex "web". How about simply NOT lying? I agree with Yoda..."sad state"!

      I agree Bobby, that it all comes back to "choice"...what choice do we make as individuals? If an individual is already contemplating a little lie, big lie, lie to protect someone, or spare feelings, they have already accepted the idea that lying of some sort is ok. It is not a very big leap from there to justify ALL lies when/if one is not conscious of the behavior and justification. If one already believes that lying is ok in certain circumstances, we can simply mold the situation in our mind to justify the lie.....yes?

      That is how we complicate our own lives because we begin lying to ourselves to justify the outword manifestation of the you circles back.

      I do not lie, and I've gotten feedback my whole life that I walk my talk, which feels absolutely wonderful, and knowing that contributes to the contentment in my life. I really don't understand why anyone would want to create the chaos and discontent which lies create in one's life experience.
  • Nov 24 2012: It is like a shovel; you can dig a hole or you can smash someone's head. So truth in the hands of liars becomes dangerous, but in the hands of the honest it becomes some kind of enlightment, so I think the motivation behind it is very important. People should be aware of the fact that the truth hurts, but that lies are even more painfull when they come out. If the quest for truth is your absolute motivation, then you are part of a very small group, as most people consider the absolute truth as something impossible - yes, almost as being utopic. But we should question ourselves and all the others, looking deep into the eyes - and then we should be honest - Am I a liar? Is this other a liar? And why is someone lying? Is it to protect? To prevent? Or is it lying for selfish purposes?

    To me there are actually two kinds of people; the ones who want to rule theirselves and the ones who want to rule others... But if you want to rule yourself then you normally prefer the truth, as dominating others is mostly based on lies.
    So it is like the clash between morality and politics, but hey, who wants to hear the truth from a politician anyway?

    A good example of an honest being is the Greek philosopher Diogenes (from Sinope), he was a cynic but he just said his words. I think we all should be more like him. In a truly transparant world based on truth and justice, lies wouldn't even be necessary; so the fact that we all seem to need lies, it just proves how corrupted this society actually is.

    So, even as someone who's way too honest for his own good I should say 'No, there are no limits!' And even if the truth is dangerous, I still prefer this above all the lies - as lies are just short termed certainties for people who live in fear.
    • Nov 24 2012: As a child I was punished for telling the truth, when the honest answer to my father's questions was not what he wanted to hear (e.g. "yes, I spilled the paint on the carpet."). So I learned to lie to protect myself from punishment. As an adult I would lie to others to avoid conflict. Many years later, I overcame this fearful compulsion and now I live life like an open book, like you, sometimes too honest for my own good.

      To the original question of 'How should we manage the decision to disclose (or not) such information?' the point has to be made that often we manage the decision whether or not to tell the truth based on the degree of receptivity we expect to receive from society. American culture is ever ready to persecute people who divulge difficult truth, which turns important information into a scarce commodity sometimes. Bill Clinton got himself impeached by lying about an affair he had with Monica Lewinsky, a choice that was surely induced by fear of social punishment had he told the truth. That someone in his position (US President) would fear the judgment of the American People that much is, to me, a reflection of our intolerance of harsh realities.

      I agree this society has become corrupted. People hide the truth and go to extreme lengths in the wake of great emotion to keep from talking about what is actually going on between us sometimes. Massive acts of corruption, betrayal and even treason have and will continue to take place. America needs to develop a means of rewarding the unsolicited declaration of difficult truth by reducing the social persecution we have come to expect. This would seem to have to begin with the media. Thereafter, the movement would naturally evolve into electing to powerful office those individuals who can dispassionately blurt out the truth. Such people tend to have an inner drive to live an honest life, which may or may not desribe the typical politician America recognizes as a qualified candidate today.
      • Nov 24 2012: I completely agree on your point of view, but as I am not an American (-> I live in Belgium) I think that it is not to me to speak about matters like this. But about Bill Clinton; the same once happened to Francois Mitterand (former French president) and he just replied with 'et alors?' ('so what?').

        And this, to me, also proves the greatness of this man - even while I don't know that much about him. So I think this intolerance for harsh realities can be mellowed, just by showing yourself and truth as it really is, that most people will think like; 'ah, what the hell? At least the man is real' as it is sometimes refreshing to meet people who have this honest 'et alors'- attitude. But I also know that this might depend on the openness that various societies strive for - because there are certain differences between countries and cultures that make 'truths' acceptable, or less acceptable.

        But anyway, it was a pleasure to read your reply! Truth is all that really matters!
  • Nov 24 2012: I think these choices must be/are made subcounceously, based on the knowledge that not all things are best said (Now that is something completely different to lying though, and some people -want- others hurt or dead). I guess the alpha factor in this task must be knowledge.

    That should indicate we should improve knowledge on how information can, at worst, hurt or kill people (though the information never had the ability to kill.. hmmmmm..Perhaps the people doing the killing are the real problem, not the information about political choices from the past../the one cheating on his wife is guilty, not the one telling his wife what he did..)

    Maybe we should have a bit more focus on moral and ethics from primary school and all the way to the workplace.. (and maybe, just maybe lots of parents are personally responsible for morally questionable attitudes from their children.

    We should learn to controll our moral aspect in our brain, and how to manipulate it according to the situations we are in in a better way than our newbee methods of today. Thats the only way I can see people taking more responsibility on this subject.
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    Nov 18 2012: The commandment says "thou shalt not bear false witness". It was based on telling the truth for the moral good of all.

    People lie in order to hide the truth. And mostly it isn’t for the moral good. It is to protect the guilty from having to deal with consequences.

    There are some lies that are harmless. There are some lies that protect the innocent. There are some lies that lead to unspeakable horrors. There is no simple answer when it comes to lies – it depends on the motive and the consequences.

    I was at a retirement party. The person retiring points to me and says to his friends; “if you ever want to know the truth, just ask that guy”. That’s a reputation that you can’t buy. And once you’ve lost it, you may never get it back.

    Anyone who tolerates lies has no right to complain about evil because they are willing to defend it.

    I have known people to overlook a lie because it was for the common good that it was told. I can accept that. But I can't accept a lie that is a deliberate deception to avoid having to face the truth. Such lies only get bigger with time.
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      Nov 18 2012: Re: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor"

      I always wondered if this is really a commandment against lying in general. It does not say so. It specifically speaks about lying to harm another person.

      And it raises another question: is it moral to lie "for thy neighbor"?

      Anton Chekhov said: "A good upbringing means not that you won’t spill sauce on the tablecloth, but that you won’t notice it when someone else does." Is it always prudent to "speak the truth"?
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        Nov 18 2012: The answer to your question is who does it hurt? If it causes no harm, then there are many things that can be overlooked. In fact, if a lie prevents an injustice from being done, then it was for a good cause. A prudent man knows the difference.

        Those who bear false witness against their neighbor are trying to pass the blame and have them take the fall as well. People have died because the truth was kept silent. It has to do with righteousness, not whether or not you broke the commandment. It was never black and white to the spiritual leader.
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    Nov 16 2012: Truth and lying are part of the same boat. Yin and yang if you will. You can't know one without the other. I believe that everything has limits, and nothing is absolute. Morals aside, sometimes we have to life, and sometimes we have to tell the truth. That's why you've never find a completely honest man.
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      Nov 16 2012: Interesting point. Truth can indeed be very relative, as it is linked to our perception. Mitch (see below) pointed out that the space of existing facts is subject to distortion as soon as you try to communicate about it.

      So if we have an absolute "Objective Truth" and an individual-dependent "Perceived Truth", the lie can only be regarded as opposed to the "Perceived Truth". Lies occur only when someone do not tell his perception of truth. If his perception is so wrong that everybody else consider his lie as their own Truth, I guess the moral intend is still there and that its still a lie...
  • Nov 13 2012: it comes down to never ask a question you dont want the answer to. and ya Nazi's at the door searching for the hidden jews should not be lied to YOU SHOULD JUST BLOW THEM OFF YOUR DOOR STEP. but dont lie.
  • Nov 13 2012: um yes if your phatazz wife asks you " do i look fat in this " ? lie
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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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    Nov 12 2012: I'm with Immanuel Kant's school of thought which views truth as a categorical imperative.
    But truth is not always for public consumption, or not all truth are for public consumption.
    Secrets are important parts of life and living, for individuals, and for nations, and for businesses.
    Now, 'secrets' is not always a dirty word. For example, the secret/details of the sex-life of a married couple is a truth, but it is not, and should not be for public consumption.
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    Nov 12 2012: Jean,
    Yes, we need to tell the truth as our conscience dictates.
    How and to whom we disseminate the information is of essence...for example to people who can actually do something about it/act on it.
  • Dec 3 2012: First of all, you encouraged me to ponder this question, so I appreciate this chance.
    I have believed that the truth is always the best, because of the outcome of affecting experience during childhood.
    With weird reason, of course I do not remember it right now, I lied to my mom but was sharply scolded when the truth got out. What's even worse, it was not just the problem between me and my mom but also exerting a strong influence on somebody who is related to this happening. I caused trouble with no definite idea, but it was serious to somebody.
    I have marked her for life as a result. I still feel too guilty about hurting her to say what happened. However, it might give good results in that I decided I would lie on no condition.
    Of course, my case isn't definitely fit to your question, but I truly want you to be honest:)
    Even though telling a lie may have a positive outcome, it often brings about more havoc and risks than we tell the truth.

    Sometimes TRUe information cause troubles, but I believe the saying "Honesty is the best policy."
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      Dec 4 2012: Thank you for sharing your story.

      Do not misread me : I am convinced that honesty is an important value, and as you say, that it is the best policy on a daily basis. But there are some cases when doubt is legitimate. I found out that the question was already analyzed ages ago, but that the answer is not absolute : ie, there are some (extreme) cases where lying is legitimate. Your message is a good reminder that such situation is very rare and should be handle on a case to case basis.
  • Dec 3 2012: When the stakes are high always be honest with yourself. Though I’m not Christian Jesus paid the ultimate price for his honesty. However the reward supposedly was worth the sacrifice. Most of us cant afford to pay that kind of a price.
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    Nov 27 2012: We lie and tell our perception of the truth simply because WE CAN. We also have the choice of not speaking at all, therefore becoming an observer.... the exercise of truth versus fiction is a rudimental program that runs in aide to the evolution of Human intelligence. It is biology at an infant state searching to survive in an infinite Universe. .....
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    Nov 27 2012: If the neighbours wife turned up bruised one night, and then the husband came asking if she was here after I let her in, I would lie and say no.
    • Nov 27 2012: Assuming that the husband abused his wife, I understand what you are saying, but why not avoid answering the door thus you avoid lying and call the police for an official report to be filed. If you answered the door not realizing that it was the husband decline to answer the question. Lying may seem to be a way to end conflict, but even in the most hazardous situations truth or silence is far above lying.
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        Nov 27 2012: I guess that during WWII, hiding people to avoid them being shot required a good amount of lying, and truth or silence would have triggered immediate suspicion. So the "truth or silence is far above lying" seems an overrated statement to me.
        • Nov 28 2012: The murderer at the door dilemma is difficult to answer. If truth is formed off of facts and there were different facts during WWII two people could be addressing different ideals completely. The Nazi party was convinced that the groups they were hunting were sub human or inferior. The members who bravely protected individuals and groups knew the fact that there is no difference between people. So when the question was asked “are you harboring Jews” or “do you have any extra members in the house” one had multiple facts to choose from when answering. Due to the multiple facts to pick and choose from one could accommodate the Nazi search party by answering “no” due to personal belief that what they were searching for ( an inferior human) does not exist. This is similar to answering no to “Do you have any unicorns in your stable?” Since we know unicorns do not exist, but clearly the party in search does not, answering no is the truth no matter what the party in search has come to believe.
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          Nov 28 2012: I suggest in most cases truthfulness is the ideal.

          My point is there are exceptions, depending on the situation and likely outcomes of different courses of action. As per the WW2 example, deceiving the murderers at the door seems reasonable overall from an outcome perspective.

          Doing things that require lying or silence to maintain the status quo might generally be a negative if harm is being done. Lying to prevent harm to others may be reasonable in other cases.

          Suggest most ethical dilemmas are situational. The best course of action will depend on the situation. Blanket statements such as don't kill or lie, refined to generally don't kill or don't lie is a good starting starting point for ethical examination. Then see if it makes sense.

          But again, I would kill to defend my family or in self defence. I would help a relative or friend end their life if in extreme pain.

          The most difficult ethical dilemmas involve a clash or values - religious freedom versus protection of the child or freedom of speech etc.
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      Nov 28 2012: Obey, Christopher, and Jean-Charles,
      I actually had a real life similar situation to your scenario Obey..."the neighbours wife turned up bruised one night..."

      Years ago, my home was a "safe house" for women fleeing abusive relationships, and the location of where the women were was NOT supposed to be known. One time, the abusive boyfriend found out where his "woman" was, and showed up with a gun. I sent the woman in the other room just before the boyfriend barged in and said he wanted to take "his woman".

      He knew she was there, and I told him that I was the only one here (meaning the kitchen) now, so we are going to talk. I also told him that I "think the police are on their way". Unfortunately, I did not have time to call the police before he barged in, so if they were in fact, on their way, it would have been an ESP communication....I was 'thinking" that it would be really nice if they were on their way!!! It was truth that I was the only one in the kitchen with him, and it was truth that I was thinking that the police may be on their way.

      We are seeing lots of justifications on this thread about when it is ok to lie, and when we may need to lie...bla.....bla....bla. If people already have in their mindset that lying is needed in some situations, then they will create a lie to accomodate themselves. If we are threatened, as thinking, feeling, intelligent humans, we can tell the absolute truth NO MATTER WHAT! To do that, however, we need to have embraced the idea of always telling the truth, RATHER then justifying lying in some circumstances....make any sense?
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        Nov 28 2012: Hi Colleen. Your experience demonstrates the cold hard reality, where suggest answering a question truthfully in the way intended by the questioner is problematic.

        I see in some comments a desire not to lie, but rather deceive by avoid by "no comment"or deliberately misinterpreting the question or answering it in a way so as to providing the facts requested that if given would create problems.

        So which is worse - lying deliberately fabricating facts - she is not here
        Or answering or self interpreting in a way that you can consider factual but not disclosing - she is not here (in the doorway)

        I suggest in both cases the listener would consider the speaker as being deliberately misleading and deceptive.

        It's a personal choice, but I would not go through the mental manipulations in order to feel I stated facts yet still deceive, and am prepared to lie to prevent harm in some situations.

        You could say, this could too easy be extended to prevent harm to your self to hide theft etc. But so could the avoidance or answering factually in a way to deceive.

        I believe there are usually rare circumstances where to deceive is preferred to reduce harm, for positive reasons, however you do it.

        I see little difference in intent or outcome in the various approaches above. With my approach, its simpler and honest to yourself - I'm not going to let him know his abused wife is here.
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          Nov 28 2012: Hi Obey,
          There is indeed a "cold hard reality". We don't ever really know what the listener would consider, and to me, it feels better to tell the truth. For me personally, there is no "mental manipulations" because it is natural for me to tell the truth. Yes....we could say this....we could say that.....I prefer truth. I believe any deception whatsoever, is for the comfort of the one who deceives.
  • Nov 27 2012: I think you should always tell the truth, unless it hurts the other persons feelings. Unless they ask you for an honest opinion and they are willing to accept the emotional pain. Hurting peoples feelings for no good reason is cruel.
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    Nov 26 2012: If you're curious about implicit/explicit language, the link provided by Arkady (thanks to him) is definitely worth a look :

    Feel free to comment it.
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      Nov 26 2012: Yes, the modes of communication outlined by Alan Fiske are important to know:
      However, to Dominance, Reciprocity and Communality, I would add leadership.
      Perhaps the unballancing of the dominance mode came to us by way of the Roman Latin which gave a place for the imperative, but no place for natural respect.
      Either way, the talk by Pinker has to do with "honesty" not truth.
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    Nov 26 2012: Define "truth."

    "Various theories and views of truth continue to be debated among scholars and philosophers. Language and words are a means by which humans convey information to one another and the method used to recognize a "truth" is termed a criterion of truth. There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth: what things are truthbearers capable of being true or false; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective or objective, relative or absolute."

    What is true exists in the abstract, but the question remains whether we are capable of knowing it.
    I would argue that we can only hold a mere perceptive of what is true.
  • dph dh

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    Nov 26 2012: in my opinion,people do not tell the trurth unless tthey have a conversation with their close friends,families.i do not know why.i guess it is maybe telling the truth is not good for them ?!
  • Nov 26 2012: USUALY truth is considered good/lying is bad because based on information - people make decisions. bad information = bad decisions. & usualy people lie/give bad info so another person makes a bad decision in the lying person's favor
    BUT IF you know a person's "decision making abilities" are flawed & by giving him bad info you lead him to a decision that's better for him... it's good or bad to lie?

    IF one lies to save a jew Hunted by nazis in Germany during Holocaust - is he good or bad?
    But if one lies to save a fugitive hunted by police in modern day USA is good or Bad?
    If one lies to save an afghan rebel hunted by the USA army for an attack on an USA camp in Afghanistan - is the liar good or bad?
    What if one lies to save an USA soldier hunted by rebels in the same Afghanistan? Is the lier good or bad?
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    Nov 26 2012: Months ago I watched a movie called 'The Invention of Lying'. It pushed me to think how would it be the world without lying about anything.
    I believe that lying is like yin and yang. Every bed thing carries something good inside and every good thing carries something bad inside. Depends on what is you aim to say it.
    If your purpose is help someone or make the situation better. I think lying would be very moral as well.
  • Nov 26 2012: My answer:
    like all actions/decisions - telling the truth or a lie can both be good or bad - depending on the purpose.

    Clarification (short):
    1) the same action can be considered "good" or "bad" depending on purpose = "god" action or "bad" action are dependant on pourpose = good/bad are relative terms to a pourpose (nothing is pure good/pure bad)

    simple example: eating french fries (action) is good if purpouse is to stop your hunger/quench a craving. is bad if purpose is to lose weight & you're on a diet

    2) considering good/bad = relative terms (to a purpose) - we can postulate that depending the influence it can have on the (most important) purpose - both truth/lies can be good or bad.

    simple example of "good lie/bad truth":

    you're a soldier comming from batle. your mate Dan died in battle 1 hour ago. You meet Dan's mother - she's sick & will die in a few minutes. She asks you if Dan is OK. If u tell the truth (Dan is dead) she'll be very sad & hurt & will spend her last minutes alve very unhappy.
    If you lie to her (Dan is OK) you can make her happy for the last few minutes of her life.

    So: if your purpouse is for you to feel "good & honest" = you tell the truth = she dies unhappy. You hurt another person - but you were honest while doing it. Selfish? fair? Honest?
    if your purpouse is the happiness of others = you lie to her. She dies happy, you amde her happy - by lying. Dishonest? bad?

    This is just a simple example - usualy most situations are more complicated.

    Conclusion: if telling the truth / lying is good or bad one must analyse the whole situation & the cosnequences for all involved.
    • Nov 26 2012: Most of us might tell the mother a lie at this difficult time in her life. However, who are we really protecting from the truth? To own this I might consider the truth to be emotionally difficult, uncomfortable and in lying I protect myself while at the same time making out I am protecting someone else. Besides, the mother might reach out to the idea that she will be soon reunited with her son in death and be quite euphoric, content. ( a long shot) but you get what I mean?
  • Nov 25 2012: If the truth is bound by limits... who will decide what's acceptable?
    and if you say lies are ok sometimes... who will know when it's not?
    Because all people are different.. and so are their perceptions...

    So.. isn't it a little bit paradoxical to measure truth with 2 weights?
    • Nov 25 2012: I could tell you that I brewed a little more coffee than would fit in my cup this morning and now I am mulling over whether or not to heat up what's left for a second half a cup but that information is not relevant for you. I think it's worth stating that material facts should be included when we ponder telling the truth. For me, when I realized I had an issue with hiding the truth from others I started disclosing more rather than less just for practice. I also believe one's conscience will guide a person what another person probably would want to know. I have also observed a phenomenon in certain social situations (that can be competitive) where people will tell certain people the truth (their "in-group") and withhold the truth from others they consider political threats. In America, at least in my corner of it, this has become "just the way it is."
  • Nov 25 2012: I believe there are limited, but it depends on what u are dealing with. if it's something with is going to course harm to human and the environment ; I think are limits in that sense.
    but with widening our knowledge, wisdom, technology and it's likes, there are not stop are what sign along that path.
  • Nov 23 2012: There are limitations to the truth we can reveal to other people to not harm them immediately, but how can we measure it? - This is tough question(
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    Nov 21 2012: Thank you, that was a most interesting reply! I realize I should have created more of a scenario rather than merely asserting that you believed you had the opportunity to prevent a violet crime. So let me create a scenario for you in which you have the opportunity to lie to prevent a violent crime from happening to your loved ones, and ask what you would say in this specific situation (in addition to your thinking on the topic in general).

    A very short story: You are at home sleeping at night with your wife and daughter, when you hear someone break into your house. You have a tiny root cellar off the kitchen - a place no one could possibly even know about. Unfortunately, it's only big enough to hold your wife and daughter and not all three of you, so you tell them to go hide in the root cellar, while you call 911 and figure out what to do. As you're calling 911 from a closet in your bedroom, you see a crazy looking person burst into your bedroom with a gun. They come towards the closet you're hiding in, open the door, point the gun at you and ask if anyone else is home. What do you say?

    I think right action starts with right thinking, so the melding starts there. But then we bump into someone else who has a different way of right thinking. That may not be a problem unless you're trying to share resources and space together, and trying to live together in a peaceful society.
    • Nov 24 2012: (I just found this) (is "meld" a clue that this is a reply to me?)
      "right action starts with right thinking" led me to remember: "Integrity is not something that you should have to think about...nor consider doing...but something in the heart that is already done."~Doug Firebaugh. That goes to the thought that could we value and trust ourselves to act without 'thought,' and to be able to backtrack if we harm another; I may prefer an honest apology from someone - I think people are humble enough for that these days.
      I also pondered talking to a Muslim and asking them if they believe that, as a Christian does, "truth is good." I imagine them saying "of course." Then I draw a simple drawing of two men, a Christian & a Muslim; they are both saying the same thing, "truth is good" for him to carry around and ponder for awhile - and as most ppl, they don't want to be quiet and think; he wants to say "yes - but..." and value his differences.
      As Brene Brown says, "I am enough." Does that delete "I have to be right all the time," or "I do not accept being lied to," or as Ivan Drago would say, "I win for me! FOR ME!"
      "...a different way of right thinking" Yes! It is very hard to allow or appreciate that anyone can have a different view at the same time we have ours - "There can be only ONE truth," no?

      "What do you say?" Might one dare be brave and answer the most pressing and intimate truth first; "Why resort to a gun if you are so strong?"
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      Nov 18 2012: Most of the time, being honest is the good solution, as it maintain trust. However, I am more on the Utilitarian side about this issue. So I would consider the outcome and lie if I considered that the consequences are positive : save someone, escape danger, etc. And I would not feel guilty as it would have be done for a good purpose.

      However, a "good purpose" can be hard to define and may vary depending people. Hence a lot of answers...
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    Nov 18 2012: Regarding manipulation, I suggest the watching of this fascinating talk about how your body and mind influence yourself...

    You can even "lie" to yourself, reframing your perception of reality (kind of NLP).
  • Nov 18 2012: Interesting: "lie" : "a noun"?! I can weigh & touch one?
    Anyway, I can think of no limits. Truth is what our sciences & religions seek.
    However, I guess we also seek safety, thus we may need wikileaks to tell us about the dangerous things some evil people in powerful positions do.

    "A lie would have no sense unless the truth were felt dangerous." ~Alfred Adler
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    Nov 18 2012: This conversation has a lot of subtopics, just to name a few :
    - moral, as it covers both the wrongness of lying (for Deontologists) and the analysis of the consequences of a lie (for Utiliarians).
    - truth & perception, as several people pointed out that there is a gap between both.
    - language, that Mich defined as being a somewhat incorrect information about our representation of our perception (that is itself a somewhat incorrect representation of reality)

    Big topics here under such a basic question... Feel free to provide you own point of view about it.
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      Nov 18 2012: With respect to the morality of lying, does it matter whether or not there is an objective, knowable reality that is consistent with our perception and model of it? I would argue that it does not, that it is the intention of the liar to deceive, and that it does not matter how the liar's model of reality matches up with the "real" world.

      I would also like to point out that "truth" and "lies" are not opposites. Lying involves an intention to deceive. The opposite of truth is falsehood, which has no intentions associated with it.

      I would argue that when judging the morality of lying, this comes down to judging the morality of the intent behind the lie. It is a generally accepted moral principle, that it is OK to do something generally considered immoral, in order to prevent an even bigger crime or injury from happening. This even has some legal basis: You can for example drive right through a red traffic light to prevent an accident, or allow an ambulance to pass, or shoot a murderer in self defense.

      For all those who argue that it is NEVER OK to lie: Is it *ever* OK to shoot an attempted murderer in self defense? Would it not be far better if you could protect yourself with a lie rather than killing someone? Or would you say lying is so evil, it's better to kill the murderer rather than lie to save yourself and prevent a death?
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        Nov 18 2012: I share your view about the definition of the lie : it is all in the intent (deceive) and is indeed not opposite to "truth" or its perception. However, as I started this conversation as "Telling the truth", it may have biased the whole topic.

        But despite all people here claiming that you should never lie, I am pretty sure none of them told the children that Santa Klaus do not exist... Liars ! :)
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          Nov 18 2012: I do agree a title that was something like: "Is it ever morally acceptable to lie?" might be more clear. However, the first and last sentence of your description specifically used the word "moral", so I stayed to that topic. The ontological nature of truth seems to me a mostly unrelated though fascinating issue in its own right.
  • Nov 17 2012: The problem with lies, is that lies have no foundation to support them when their ground shakes.
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    Nov 17 2012: "Truth", "lie", "reality", "space", "time", "existence", "nothing", "infinity", "matter", "energy", "self", "value", "harm"....

    Is there a concept that does not loose all meaning when we desperately try to grasp it with our mind? These concepts are like the wind. We can feel them, we can use them, but we cannot grasp them.

    Oh, I forgot "meaning". "Meaning" should start this list. What does it mean "to make sense"? It's a Zen question :-).
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    Nov 17 2012: The concept of "truth" is elusive. There is reality and there is our perception of reality. We have no way to tell the difference. Dictionary defines truth as "That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality". We never know what reality is. We only know what we perceive. "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." To tell the truth, I don't know what "telling the truth" means. :-)

    That was theory. In practice, what matters is not whether what we say is true, but why we say it, our purpose and intention behind what we say. If we say things that hurt other people, damage relationships, cause violence - it is wrong to say them, even if we perceive things we say as true (which is only our perception - we need to remember that). There are times, however, when it is necessary to say painful truth...

    And now I'll go back to writing my report to the customers about reliability failures of the product that we sell...
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      Nov 17 2012: Isn't perception is eliminated threw science, science is the unification of perspectives tested by experimentation or and or mathematics (logic) to reach a fact or truth. And of course perception is how a singular person views the world but this is not reality, for example a man sees a something that is not there to others. So as a result of scientific observation we can deduce reality from relative perception and achieve truths.
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        Nov 17 2012: Scientific theories are perceptions of reality also. What is gravity? A force or distortion of space? What is a photon? A wave or a particle? Are you currently in motion as perceived by the webcam on your computer? As perceived by a passenger of an airplane flying above your house?

        Mathematical statements are different from statements concerning material facts. Read David Hume on the difference between "demonstrative" and "probable" reasoning. Mathematical statements can be demonstrated by logic, whereas you, generally, can not find out whether I have a dime in my pocket unless you perceive it. Pure logic, without experience or perception, does not help much in matters of fact.

        I'm not saying that science is not useful. It is useful to find out how things work and achieve desired repeatable results. As long as it can do it, it serves its purpose. That has little to do with truth, however. Most engineering problems are solved by trial and error, without understanding of the root cause.

        I honestly don't see a way to distinguish perception from reality. We can take a closer look and get a better perception, but there is only so much we can perceive. Reality will always be bigger than our perception. That's the fun of it.
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        Nov 17 2012: Things may be more complex than they look, even through the science eye. For example, there is a theory indicating that the whole universe may be an hologram with all informations within it on its surface. See
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          Nov 17 2012: Complexity does not prove a scientifically attained truth cannot be derived from reality. We are simply at a level of truth that is not yet able to confront that level of reality.
  • Nov 16 2012: Moral dilemma? I question the actions that lead to lying.. If we are speaking about morality then the answer is deeper than whether lying is okay or not. why do we lie? Let's say that we lie to protect our own interest. That means that any actions that we commit that are harmful to others are evil and wrong. Instead of focusing on lying focus on not doing the wrong thing, then again you have to question what is right and what is wrong. If something wrong is a law and I break that law, should I tell the truth or lie to avoid punishment? Which brings up the question how about selflessness. If we only lie in order to protect our own interest then being selfish is wrong....This doesn't help much though. Selflessness only prevents the negative reactions. It's only best to withhold information from the people if their intellectual capacity at that time is not high enough to deal with it. There will be consequences regardless but the COSTS will not be as severe. Giving sensitive information to those who aren't ready to deal with it will only bring forth high violence and great destruction.
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      Nov 18 2012: "Let's say that we lie to protect our own interest. That means that any actions that we commit that are harmful to others are evil and wrong."

      Would you lie if a murderer were chasing you and you believed that by lying, the murderer would be caught and jailed? That would be to protect your own self interests. Is that evil?
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    Nov 16 2012: An interesting example :
    "You met someone who his a liar, and he will listen to what you say, turn it to a lie, and repeat it to 10 people".

    So if you tell the truth, you will induce 10 lies. If you say a lie, it will be double-reverted and turn to truth again. What do you do ? Do the 10 lies balance yours ? what if 100 or more ? is there a balance point ?
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      Nov 17 2012: This is true even if the people repeating what we say are not liars. Any information copied enough times is distorted. Try making 20 copies of copies on a copying machine. It's a fundamental principle.
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        Nov 17 2012: I believe when information is copied from one digital form to another, such as an MP3 file being downloaded, there would be no distortion. I'm just saying that it's not an inherent property of information that it is distorted when copied - more a limitation of the method of copy.
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          Nov 17 2012: What I mean is that random changes and fluctuations are the fundamental property of our universe. It leads to corruption of signals, distortion of images. Digital copying may fail altogether beyond recovery due to errors.

          Errors and lies both misrepresent reality and can be equally harmful. The difference between the two is that errors are unintentional, while lies are intentional. Errors are, usually, morally neutral (except those caused by negligence), whereas lies are considered morally wrong. Clearly, what makes lies (and other behavior) immoral is intent, not content.
  • Nov 14 2012: Tell the truth and lose a friend,
    Tell the truth and be ready to be hanged,
    Tell the truth and lose the sale,
    Tell the truth and be ready to be labelled as unbeiliver,
    Those who chant about truth day in and day out , night in and night out even they too resist truth.

    People are not comfortable with truth, because its ugly and has bad odour. People love lies, because it brings them into the comfort zone , as it leads them into the fantasy land.

    The religions of the world too preach and teach about lies , like Sin,Hell and heaven and what not. The religions of the world though talk about truth, but people love lies.
  • Nov 13 2012: i think every parent should learn there kids tells
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    Nov 13 2012: To sum up some ethic informations about "lies" :

    First, a lie could be defined as "the delivery of an information that is knowingly incorrect/misleading". There may be variants here, some considering that a lie can only be explicit, other considering that there are other ways to provide information : by your attitude, by being silent, by not reacting. Note that the "misleading" can induce that you can lie despite providing accurate information. I have no example in mind, you're welcome if you have one.

    Lying is usually considered as wrong for a lots of reasons :
    - it lowers social cohesion by reducing the trust between individuals
    - it creates a bias of power between individuals by allowing manipulation and giving power to the liar
    - it cannot be a universal principle. Always speaking the Truth is conceivable while always lying is not.
    - the responsibility of having a language induces the responsibility to use it "well"
    - ...

    Considering all these consequences, some people consider "not telling lies" as a moral law. This is how Deontologists consider things, disregarding the consequences and only considering the act by itself : right or wrong. Building the laws system is not straightforward and is subject to interpretation, but once a law is acted and included in the moral system, is it universal and suffers no second-thoughts.

    Other people, like Utilitarians (also called Consequentialists), consider lying as an option as they only the outcome of their actions. However, determining the consequences is something complex, error-prone, or even impractical if you must figure all possible lies and their outcome at every spoken word. Usually, Utilitarians consider that the negative consequences outweigh the good ones : lying is not acceptable.
    Act-utilitarian may consider lying on some case-to-case basis, while rule-utilitarians focus on the outcome of the rule (lying) for society, and join Deontologist and stick to stricter observance.

    Do you know where you stand ?
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      Nov 14 2012: Nice analysis Jean-Charles!

      Try this one:
      This definition falls outside utilitarian or deontological approaches. I could call it "observable physics".

      There is a tension between primary and secondary perception.
      The tension has to do with timeframes and space-frames.

      Primary perception has to do with very short timeframes - and space frames - defined by the field of senses.
      There are 2 sets of physical senses in most animals - external and internal. The external senses are our traditional 5-senses, the internal senses are not well named, but they monitor the internal milieu. The internal milieu must remain within a narrow range or we die - things like heartrate, blood pressure, body temperature etc. We generally call these "feelings". And they are generally defined by comfort/discomfort: if the internal senses detect the body to be approaching the death-boundary, we are uncomfortable, if they detect convergence to the optimum, we are comfortable.
      On top of these sense systems are the perception systems that "make sense" of the sensual data - perception is the process of grouping sense data into "information". Information is a reduction of data into terms defined by comfort or potential comfort. Thus, information is totally concerned with action potentials that affect comfort/discomfort.
      In the primary field of perception, there is no issue - the timeframes are set by the rate of actions in the body and in the local environment (defined by what the external senses can detect). So they are very short and what is done is done - there is no component of "judgement" or "morality" - one either lives or dies, is injured or not - there is no degree of latitude for any notion of "acceptance" - for instance, if your arm gets ripped off by a tiger, it's not something that you can deny - you have little recourse to saying "I believe my arm is still there" because every time you go to use the ripped-off arm .. presto - it is observed to not be there.
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      Nov 14 2012: The primary field of perception can extend a little outside the range of senses.
      For instance, the trajectory of a rabbit can be anticipated by the fox - the fox does not strike at where the rabbit is - it strikes along the advance trajectory (or would miss every time). The fox can do this because he has observed the trajectory of rabbits, and other things, and has developed a causal map that extends into a future that does not exist. Such causal maps contain error that is reduced with repeated trial-and-error - reduced but never totally eliminated. Causal maps are statistical expansion on the field of senses - they contain error, but are statistically more right than wrong - they are "good enough" to be considered functional.
      Then we get to the secondary field of perception.
      This works the same way as the primary field, except that it is concerned with language and long-term timeframes.
      Language is the vector by which an animal gains access to another animal's field of perception. Language does this by code/decode of information (not data), from the sender's primary/secondary field to the receiver's secondary field. It is essentially a perception of behaviour in others - and has its own set of causal maps. These causal maps can also contain extrinsic mappings (vocabulary/symbology) that sharpen the signal onto the focus of context - defined by potential comfort/discomfort.
      The big problem with extrinsic mappings(symbols) is that they are non-causal associations - they have no causal reality and are therefore an artifact of error. In other words - this word: cup : If I try to pour water into this word, it will just wreck my computer monitor - and i will not be able to drink from this word. It is an artifact of error.
      In a sense, all symbols are lies - or you could say that they are error with a margin of accuracy - they are the inversion of perception. Error in error is truth.
      Next we look at topology in causal maps.
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      Nov 14 2012: I havwe shown that the secondary field of perception has a mandatory margin of error in which to enlarge the field of error-of-error.
      Thus - to tell the truth, one has to tell a lie about a lie.
      The alternative is to say " I don't know" - which is the only truth that resides outside of lies in the communication component of secondary field of perception.
      Topology, in this framework, is the statistical projection of the least path of resistance of behaviours as defined by the secondary maps of causality. In other words - we make forecasts about ourselves and others.
      The longer the time-span or physical range of the forcast, the more statistical erro it contains. Such causal maps behave the same as in primary perception - they update to better accuracy with trial-and-error. This trial and error process adjusts the path of least resistance (topology) in the causal map. However, the longer the precast timespan, the longer it takes to gain observation - and the slower process of noise-reduction. It can be argued that these maps will rarely achieve reliable functionality in a human lifetime.
      However, we have the benefit of written history to assist error reduction.
      In this definition, all history is incomplete causal mapping - without refining it through trial and error, written history has enough margin of error to be classified as lies.
      Next is the local minimum.
      A local minimum os a topological artifact wherby error reduction is abandoned - leaving any intrinsic error unmodified. For example - historical "facts", scientific "princioples", laws, customs religions - these are all lies.
      Furthermore, The practice of "ethics" commands that "reputation" is preserved above all things. Reputation is artificially biased for the maintenance of the advantage of teh subject and parasitic sychophants who share the advantage of the subject. All stories about heroes and villains are lies.
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      Nov 14 2012: Conclusion:

      Whenever I see or hear the language of advantage - i know it is proceeding from a skilled liar.
      These words:
      "God","law", "Morals", "ethics", "honour", "good", "evil", "love", "hate", "race", ""king", "president" "priest" "criminal", "Terrorist" and many more of their ilk
      These words all operate in the margin of error of secondary perception. When they are uttered without very rigid definition that can be personally observed within the field of ones own senses - without this qualification they fall into a classification that I label "dangerous bullshit". These words are expressed for the intent of personal advantage and identify a psychologically damaged person. It is best you limit your contact with such people.
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    Nov 13 2012: telling the truth is really relative.. isn't it.? there are lies that hurt.. and lies that protect. either way. I feel that lies however they are meant.. will damage.
  • Nov 13 2012: and the TV show " Lie to me " tells us that even a lie is telling a truth. you cant fake triggers and tells. if youreyes go up and to the left then you smerk then answer its a lie
    • Nov 13 2012: Main character is the professional of micro reactions observing, so not every one can do it.
      So what if i lie for your sake?
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    Nov 12 2012: Sure there are. You would never tell a mother that her child was ugly. Although we admire those who are honest .. to be around someone who was super honest would drive most people away .. fast. Then there is always the problem of who's truth is it .. theirs, yours, etc ... My truth is that the perfect temp is 78 degrees while my wife will tell you honestly that the perfect temp is 72 degrees .. who lied

    I do not like lying but there are good intentions which should be considered. Bare boned truth could hurt.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Nov 12 2012: A nun shared the story about her brother who committed adultery. Because her brother felt very guilty about it, he sought her advice. The nun's advice is to break away from that relationships and keep that from there.

    I think, yes. Not a limit actually. There are certain times that you need to say a lie to keep a very important thing. Say, in that situation above, there are too many different emotions to be expected that makes the outcome really unpromising.

    Thruth by the way is stranger than fiction.
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    Nov 12 2012: When opening the conversation, I was thinking about the positive outcomes of some lies [or the negative outcomes of telling the truth]. Consider for example that you're a teacher. You tell one student that "he will make his exam" that will occur within minutes, despite not believing a single word of it : you lie.
    Now, consider you're doing it to boost his self-confidence, because good performance is related to self-confidence. You're lying (and also manipulative), so that is completely against "Truth as an imperative". The outcome is positive as it raises the probably of success of your student.

    Is it morale or not to lie here ? Would you do it ? Are there cases where the positive outcome completely outweighs the moral issue of telling a lie ?
    • Nov 12 2012: I understand what you are saying, however I believe if the teacher is truly lying, ie: does not believe the student will pass the exam, then she is giving the student a false impression. This might very well lead the student to have false confidence which may then lead to them not fully studying or applying themself. They might in truth believe the teacher will pass them regardless of what they do. (not unheard of in this day and age)

      Self confidence does not come from false flattery, it comes from successful accomplishment.

      The student would be better served to be told, if you studied the material and apply what you learned you should do well.
  • Nov 12 2012: "Telling a lie may have a positive outcome"? For whom? In whose opinion?
    Lying is never acceptable.
    Lying distorts reality and prevents those decieved from making accurate decisions based on sound facts.
    In the interest of national security, one must always make a decision based on the assumption that at some point, the facts might/will become public. In which case, will the end justify the means?
    If one functions from a position of honesty, one tends to function with a moral compass that ultimately benefits everyone.
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      Nov 12 2012: " Lying is never acceptable. "

      Imagine you're hiding someone in your house because they are searched by people wanting to kill them. They knock your door and ask if that person is in your house. Won't you lie ? I suppose you will because your moral compass will balance the consequences of your lie with the positive outcome.

      Of course, the example is extreme, but realistic. I am unsure whether or not we can find a "safe path" to find the correct limit about an acceptable lie and an unacceptable one.
      • Nov 12 2012: That's a difficult question. It seems to me those that are most effective liars are those that are well practiced. So in other words, I am a terrible liar and would not want someone to entrust their life to my incompetence.
        I probably wouldn't answer the door. :o
      • Nov 13 2012: Imagine you sleeping in the Dog house for telling your wife she looks fat in the new red dress ...
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    Nov 12 2012: I don't lie. Not because I am some super moral person but mostly because it simplifies my life. But my editor is really good and I disclose little.