TED Conversations

Jean-Charles Longuet

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Telling the truth: are there limits?

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

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

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

Anyway, all points of views are welcome.


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    Nov 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.

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