2011: In the search for a more accurate lie-detector test, one that would have a better chance of being permissible in court, researchers have moved from studying the external factors which polygraphs rely on to studying internal factors, namely the brain. Lone Frank, writing for Salon, provides the history of neuroscience’s relationship with the lie:
With new scanning methods, there has come a hope of getting to the source of the lie itself, namely, the brain The first feeble experiments were done around the turn of the millennium by psychiatrist Daniel Langleben
His theory was that, in order to tell a lie, we have to undertake several independent mental operations. On one hand, the brain has to prevent the truth from slipping out and, on the other, it has to construct the lie itself and serve it to the world in place of the truth. Langleben believed that you had to be able to observe this dual book-keeping in a brain scanning as activity in various circuits. The lie, in other words, had to leave a physiological trace behind.
To test the idea, he didn’t call in hyperactive children but ordinary university students, whom he instructed to lie about a particular playing card. They were given the five of clubs in an envelope and then went into an MRI scanner, where they were supposed to push a button "yes" or "no" to indicate a match, in response to a series of playing cards displayed, one by one, on a screen. The inducement was that they would win twenty dollars, if they lied so convincingly that the machine couldn’t catch them. But as demonstrated in the article that was later published, the students weren’t very good at it. Even their innocent lie about a playing card left a clear imprint.
What immediately stood out for the researchers was that the lie showed increased activity in the whole prefrontal cortex; an indication that there was more thinking activity and cognitive work to lying than telling the truth. There were also special regions that stood out. The researchers put particular emphasis on the anterior cingulate cortex, whose function is still being debated but presumably plays a role when we deal with conflicting information.
c. 420 BC: Plato, whose suggestion of the “noble lie” still scandalizes and stumps, devoted a whole dialogue to the issue of lying. In the Hippias Minor, the author has two of his favorite players, Hippias and Socrates, during a debate that was originally concerned with the relative merits of Achilles versus Odysseus, discuss how wise a good liar truly has to be:
Socrates: Do you say that the false are, like the sick, without power to do anything, or that they have power to do something?
Hippias: I say that they have great power to do many things, and especially to deceive people.
Socrates: They are, then, powerful, according to you, and wily, are they not?
Socrates: But are they wily and deceivers by reason of simplicity and folly, or by reason of shrewdness and a sort of intelligence?
Hippias: By shrewdness, most assuredly, and intelligence.
Socrates: They are intelligent, then, as it seems.
Hippias: Yes, by Zeus, too much so.
Socrates: And being intelligent, do they know what they are doing, or do they not know?
Hippias: Yes, they know very well; that is why they do harm.
Socrates: And knowing these things which they know, are they ignorant, or wise?
Hippias: Wise, surely, in just this, deception.
Socrates: Stop. Let us recall what you say. You say that the false are powerful and intelligent, and knowing and wise in those things in which they are false?
Hippias: Yes, I do.
Socrates: And that the true and the false are different and complete opposites of one another?
Hippias: I do.
Socrates: Well, then, the false are among the powerful and the wise, according to your statement.
Socrates: And when you say that the false are powerful and wise for falsehood, do you mean that they have power to utter falsehoods if they like, or that they are powerless in respect to the falsehoods which they utter?
Hippias: That they have power.
Socrates: In short, then, the false are those who are wise and powerful in uttering falsehoods.
Socrates: A man, then, who has not the power to utter falsehoods and is ignorant would not be false.
Hippias: That is true.
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