Sunday, June 16, 2013

Lies, deception and intention

My friends and I are still reading "Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life" by Sissela Bok.  We haven't gotten very far, partly because some of the copies have been slow to arrive.  But no matter what we find, we are probably still going to feel that it is ok, even more than ok, to lie when a Nazi officer asks "Where is Anne Frank?".

So far, I don't feel that I spend much time wrestling with the subject of lying.  I have watched several episodes of "Lie to Me", based on the work of Paul Ekman, a scientist who showed that, world-wide, many facial expressions are used just the same way.  In Borneo and Boston, surprise, disgust, confusion and other emotions tend to be expressed with the same facial expressions.  "Lie to Me" is fiction and depicts a small company of experts who get hired by police and espionage groups to try to detect who is lying.  Ekman has stated that the show depicts greater certainty about what this or that face means than he feels.  It is not that clear or that definite and easy.

The show makes much use of video tapes of a person speaking or listening and the equipment can freeze the exact expression or micro-expression that crossed the subject's face when a particular remark was uttered or heard.  I have also been listening to the audiobook "What Every BODY Is Saying" by Joe Navarro.  This Cuban-American came to the US as a child and had good reasons while learning English to pay close attention to what he calls "tells", signs from any part of the body that may help in evaluating what someone is saying or feeling. Navarro has worked for the FBI and the intelligence community and teaches classes in reading body language.

Sissela Bok defines a lie as a statement made with the intention of deceiving someone else.  I am confident that criminals make many statements to victims, other criminals and the police and law enforcement authorities with the intention of deceiving.  But when I ask myself how much of the time I tell the truth, I am in doubt about the answer.  I tell my wife, my grand children and a friend that I love them.  I am pretty sure that I don't love them all equally or all in the same way but I use the same word with them all.  Am I trying to deceive?  No, I am not.  I don't feel capable of knowing the exact degree of affection I feel.  I imagine that if I did know and tried to express the different degrees, I would be insufferably long-winded.

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