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Lying and the brain

This is probably as good a time as any to clarify that this author has not mastered how to be honest all the time. The amount of lying we doing daily - either by concealment or more directly - varies from person to person, but estimates are many times per day. These lies may not be catastrophic or pathological in nature - "I am from an alien race that is more important than humanity". A lie might be told simply to avoid hurt feelings "I'm too tired to go out with you tonight" instead of "I find our interactions over a period of hours uncomfortable". We have reasons for lying. Lying can be useful in the short term and often detrimental in the long term. We don't generally desire relationships with those we know that lie habitually. The brains of pathological liars are structurally different than that of the average population (University of Southern California study 2005). The prefrontal cortex of the brains of these liars showed a 22% increase in prefrontal cortex white matter (white matter is responsible for communicationwithinareasofthebrain). Sounds good so far, but the study also showed a 14% decrease in prefrontal cortex grey matter (grey matter is responsible for the processing of information, decision-making, and self-control). Pathological liars may have an increased ability to manage their lies, but this is coupled with a decreased ability to process moral issues.

Consequences of dishonesty

We are creatures of habit, and if our habits include deception, changing that habit will require first noticing it when it happens. If we weight dishonesty as a moral failure,we may be slow to admit to ourselves that we lie. If we feel we will be punished for our mora failings,all the more reason to compartmentalize them and hide them away.

When practicing a musical instrument, one first learns to sit at, or hold, the instrument in the mostergonomicway. The technique is presented-in the case of stringed instruments-the hand and then finger position. There is no expectation of mastery or even competence at the beginning. You start where you are, and begin to build a repertoire of techniques, scales, and exercises. One learns a musical scale one note at a time, eventually adding timing, feeling, and musicality. Your capacity for accuracy, speed and sensitivity does grow with practice but also has a limit. Not everyone will be a virtuoso. The same is true of learning to be more honest. In a sense, we are all playing an instrument but hitting false notes. Great musicians cannot tolerate the false notes - it's not that they practice accuracy as a moral virtue, they just want to play great music. It is we as listeners who receive the benefit of mindful and accurate musicality. Anytime we communicate, we can practice accuracy and therefore become a pleasure to listen to, or we can continue to ignore the false notes and fill the space around us with misleading sonic debris.

As great musicians aim towards true notes, aiming towards honesty also contains some of the same incentives as music. The incentive for hitting notes on-key is that it sounds good and feels good to do it. The incentive for not playing or singing off-key is that it sounds bad and feels bad. A musician could avoid ever hitting a wrong not by not playing music again. This isn't of course, an answer. Here, the principle of honesty is the same. It feels good to be straightforward and bad to be dishonest, for the non-sociopath. These are the real-time motivations not bound to future outcomes. Avoiding dishonesty by never communicating again isn't an answer here, either. We desire to share our experiences, thoughts, and perspectives with others. We do this because others are different than we are and we gain new perspectives by speaking to them, watching and listening to their reactions. If we veil the truth as we speak it, others can only respond to the disguised reality we've communicated to them. Their reactions to our obscured communication are therefore less

valuable to us, less informative and helpful. It's like pretending we are at a different set of coordinates on a map than we actually are and talking about the scenery - others can't give us accurate directions towards where we might like to go from an imaginary starting point.

My full book "Honesty: how self-deception robs us of meaning is available here:

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