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Metaphysics & Psychology

Iraq’s Secret War Files

From Channel 4:

Dispatches exposes the full and unreported horror of the Iraqi conflict and its aftermath. The programme reveals the true scale of civilian casualties, and allegations that after the scandal of Abu Ghraib, American soldiers continued to abuse prisoners; and that US forces did not systematically intervene in the torture and murder of detainees by the Iraqi security services.

The programme also features previously unreported material of insurgents being killed while trying to surrender.

Channel 4 is the only UK broadcaster to have been given access to nearly 400,000 secret military significant activities reports (SIGACTS) logged by the US military in Iraq between 2004 and 2009. These reports tell the story of the war and occupation which the US military did not want the world to know.

Read the full summary at Channel 4.


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Metaphysics & Psychology

Our Mysterious Existence; Is the Universe a Conscious Mind? 

Phlip Goff

In the past 40 or so years, a strange fact about our Universe gradually made itself known to scientists: the laws of physics, and the initial conditions of our Universe, are fine-tuned for the possibility of life. It turns out that, for life to be possible, the numbers in basic physics – for example, the strength of gravity, or the mass of the electron – must have values falling in a certain range. And that range is an incredibly narrow slice of all the possible values those numbers can have. It is therefore incredibly unlikely that a universe like ours would have the kind of numbers compatible with the existence of life. But, against all the odds, our Universe does.

Here are a few of examples of this fine-tuning for life:

  • The strong nuclear force (the force that binds together the elements in the nucleus of an atom) has a value of 0.007. If that value had been 0.006 or less, the Universe would have contained nothing but hydrogen. If it had been 0.008 or higher, the hydrogen would have fused to make heavier elements. In either case, any kind of chemical complexity would have been physically impossible. And without chemical complexity there can be no life.
  • The physical possibility of chemical complexity is also dependent on the masses of the basic components of matter: electrons and quarks. If the mass of a down quark had been greater by a factor of 3, the Universe would have contained only hydrogen. If the mass of an electron had been greater by a factor of 2.5, the Universe would have contained only neutrons: no atoms at all, and certainly no chemical reactions.
  • Gravity seems a momentous force but it is actually much weaker than the other forces that affect atoms, by about 1036. If gravity had been only slightly stronger, stars would have formed from smaller amounts of material, and consequently would have been smaller, with much shorter lives. A typical sun would have lasted around 10,000 years rather than 10 billion years, not allowing enough time for the evolutionary processes that produce complex life. Conversely, if gravity had been only slightly weaker, stars would have been much colder and hence would not have exploded into supernovae. This also would have rendered life impossible, as supernovae are the main source of many of the heavy elements that form the ingredients of life.

Some take the fine-tuning to be simply a basic fact about our Universe: fortunate perhaps, but not something requiring explanation. But like many scientists and philosophers, I find this implausible. In The Life of the Cosmos (1999), the physicist Lee Smolin has estimated that, taking into account all of the fine-tuning examples considered, the chance of life existing in the Universe is 1 in 10229, from which he concludes:

In my opinion, a probability this tiny is not something we can let go unexplained. Luck will certainly not do here; we need some rational explanation of how something this unlikely turned out to be the case.

The two standard explanations of the fine-tuning are theism and the multiverse hypothesis. Theists postulate an all-powerful and perfectly good supernatural creator of the Universe, and then explain the fine-tuning in terms of the good intentions of this creator. Life is something of great objective value; God in Her goodness wanted to bring about this great value, and hence created laws with constants compatible with its physical possibility. The multiverse hypothesis postulates an enormous, perhaps infinite, number of physical universes other than our own, in which many different values of the constants are realised. Given a sufficient number of universes realising a sufficient range of the constants, it is not so improbable that there will be at least one universe with fine-tuned laws.

Both of these theories are able to explain the fine-tuning. The problem is that, on the face of it, they also make false predictions. For the theist, the false prediction arises from the problem of evil. If one were told that a given universe was created by an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful being, one would not expect that universe to contain enormous amounts of gratuitous suffering. One might not be surprised to find it contained intelligent life, but one would be surprised to learn that life had come about through the gruesome process of natural selection. Why would a loving God who could do absolutely anything choose to create life that way? Prima facie theism predicts a universe that is much better than our own and, because of this, the flaws of our Universe count strongly against the existence of God.

Turning to the multiverse hypothesis, the false prediction arises from the so-called Boltzmann brain problem, named after the 19th-century Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann who first formulated the paradox of the observed universe. Assuming there is a multiverse, you would expect our Universe to be a fairly typical member of the universe ensemble, or at least a fairly typical member of the universes containing observers (since we couldn’t find ourselves in a universe in which observers are impossible). However, in The Road to Reality (2004), the physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose has calculated that in the kind of multiverse most favoured by contemporary physicists – based on inflationary cosmology and string theory – for every observer who observes a smooth, orderly universe as big as ours, there are 10 to the power of 10123 who observe a smooth, orderly universe that is just 10 times smaller. And by far the most common kind of observer would be a ‘Boltzmann’s brain’: a functioning brain that has by sheer fluke emerged from a disordered universe for a brief period of time. If Penrose is right, then the odds of an observer in the multiverse theory finding itself in a large, ordered universe are astronomically small. And hence the fact that we are ourselves such observers is powerful evidence against the multiverse theory.

Neither of these are knock-down arguments. Theists can try to come up with reasons why God would allow the suffering we find in the Universe, and multiverse theorists can try to fine-tune their theory such that our Universe is less unlikely. However, both of these moves feel ad hoc, fiddling to try to save the theory rather than accepting that, on its most natural interpretation, the theory is falsified. I think we can do better.

In the public mind, physics is on its way to giving us a complete account of the nature of space, time and matter. We are not there yet of course; for one thing, our best theory of the very big – general relativity – is inconsistent with our best theory of the very small – quantum mechanics. But it is standardly assumed that one day these challenges will be overcome and physicists will proudly present an eager public with the Grand Unified Theory of everything: a complete story of the fundamental nature of the Universe.

In fact, for all its virtues, physics tells us precisely nothing about the nature of the physical Universe. Consider Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation: F=G(m1m2/r2)

The variables m1 and m2 stand for the masses of two objects that we want to work out the gravitational attraction between; F is the gravitational attraction between those two masses, G is the gravitational constant (a number we know from observation); and r is the distance between m1 and m2. Notice that this equation doesn’t provide us with definitions of what ‘mass’, ‘force’ and ‘distance’ are. And this is not something peculiar to Newton’s law. The subject matter of physics are the basic properties of the physics world: mass, charge, spin, distance, force. But the equations of physics do not explain what these properties are. They simply name them in order to assert equations between them.

If physics is not telling us the nature of physical properties, what is it telling us? The truth is that physics is a tool for prediction. Even if we don’t know what ‘mass’ and ‘force’ really are, we are able to recognise them in the world. They show up as readings on our instruments, or otherwise impact on our senses. And by using the equations of physics, such as Newton’s law of gravity, we can predict what’s going to happen with great precision. It is this predictive capacity that has enabled us to manipulate the natural world in extraordinary ways, leading to the technological revolution that has transformed our planet. We are now living through a period of history in which people are so blown away by the success of physical science, so moved by the wonders of technology, that they feel strongly inclined to think that the mathematical models of physics capture the whole of reality. But this is simply not the job of physics. Physics is in the business of predicting the behaviour of matter, not revealing its intrinsic nature.

Given that physics tell us nothing of the nature of physical reality, is there anything we do know? Are there any clues as to what is going on ‘under the bonnet’ of the engine of the Universe? The English astronomer Arthur Eddington was the first scientist to confirm general relativity, and also to formulate the Boltzmann brain problem discussed above (albeit in a different context). Reflecting on the limitations of physics in The Nature of the Physical World (1928), Eddington argued that the only thing we really know about the nature of matter is that some of it has consciousness; we know this because we are directly aware of the consciousness of our own brains:

We are acquainted with an external world because its fibres run into our own consciousness; it is only our own ends of the fibres that we actually know; from those ends, we more or less successfully reconstruct the rest, as a palaeontologist reconstructs an extinct monster from its footprint.

We have no direct access to the nature of matter outside of brains. But the most reasonable speculation, according to Eddington, is that the nature of matter outside of brains is continuous with the nature of matter inside of brains. Given that we have no direct insight into the nature of atoms, it is rather ‘silly’, argued Eddington, to declare that atoms have a nature entirely removed from mentality, and then to wonder where mentality comes from. In my book Consciousness and Fundamental Reality (2017), I developed these considerations into an extensive argument for panpsychism: the view that all matter has a consciousness-involving nature.

There are two ways of developing the basic panpsychist position. One is micropsychism, the view that the smallest parts of the physical world have consciousness. Micropsychism is not to be equated with the absurd view that quarks have emotions or that electrons feel existential angst. In human beings, consciousness is a sophisticated thing, involving subtle and complex emotions, thoughts and sensory experiences. But there seems nothing incoherent with the idea that consciousness might exist in some extremely basic forms. We have good reason to think that the conscious experience of a horse is much less complex than that of a human being, and the experiences of a chicken less complex than those of a horse. As organisms become simpler, perhaps at some point the light of consciousness suddenly switches off, with simpler organisms having no experience at all. But it is also possible that the light of consciousness never switches off entirely, but rather fades as organic complexity reduces, through flies, insects, plants, amoeba and bacteria. For the micropsychist, this fading-while-never-turning-off continuum further extends into inorganic matter, with fundamental physical entities – perhaps electrons and quarks – possessing extremely rudimentary forms of consciousness, to reflect their extremely simple nature.

However, a number of scientists and philosophers of science have recently argued that this kind of ‘bottom-up’ picture of the Universe is outdated, and that contemporary physics suggests that in fact we live in a ‘top-down’ – or ‘holist’ – Universe, in which complex wholes are more fundamental than their parts. According to holism, the table in front of you does not derive its existence from the sub-atomic particles that compose it; rather, those sub-atomic particles derive their existence from the table. Ultimately, everything that exists derives its existence from the ultimate complex system: the Universe as a whole.

Holism has a somewhat mystical association, in its commitment to a single unified whole being the ultimate reality. But there are strong scientific arguments in its favour. The American philosopher Jonathan Schaffer argues that the phenomenon of quantum entanglement is good evidence for holism. Entangled particles behave as a whole, even if they are separated by such large distances that it is impossible for any kind of signal to travel between them. According to Schaffer, we can make sense of this only if, in general, we are in a Universe in which complex systems are more fundamental than their parts.

If we combine holism with panpsychism, we get cosmopsychism: the view that the Universe is conscious, and that the consciousness of humans and animals is derived not from the consciousness of fundamental particles, but from the consciousness of the Universe itself. This is the view I ultimately defend in Consciousness and Fundamental Reality.

The cosmopsychist need not think of the conscious Universe as having human-like mental features, such as thought and rationality. Indeed, in my book I suggested that we think of the cosmic consciousness as a kind of ‘mess’ devoid of intellect or reason. However, it now seems to me that reflection on the fine-tuning might give us grounds for thinking that the mental life of the Universe is just a little closer than I had previously thought to the mental life of a human being.

The Canadian philosopher John Leslie proposed an intriguing explanation of the fine-tuning, which in Universes (1989) he called ‘axiarchism’. What strikes us as so incredible about the fine-tuning is that, of all the values the constants in our laws had, they ended up having exactly those values required for something of great value: life, and ultimately intelligent life. If the laws had not, against huge odds, been fine-tuned, the Universe would have had infinitely less value; some say it would have had no value at all. Leslie proposes that this proper understanding of the problem points us in the direction of the best solution: the laws are fine-tuned because their being so leads to something of great value. Leslie is not imagining a deity mediating between the facts of value and the cosmological facts; the facts of value, as it were, reach out and fix the values directly.

It can hardly be denied that axiarchism is a parsimonious explanation of fine-tuning, as it posits no entities whatsoever other than the observable Universe. But it is not clear that it is intelligible. Values don’t seem to be the right kind of things to have a causal influence on the workings of the world, at least not independently of the motives of rational agents. It is rather like suggesting that the abstract number 9 caused a hurricane.

But the cosmopsychist has a way of rendering axiarchism intelligible, by proposing that the mental capacities of the Universe mediate between value facts and cosmological facts. On this view, which we can call ‘agentive cosmopsychism’, the Universe itself fine-tuned the laws in response to considerations of value. When was this done? In the first 10-43 seconds, known as the Planck epoch, our current physical theories, in which the fine-tuned laws are embedded, break down. The cosmopsychist can propose that during this early stage of cosmological history, the Universe itself ‘chose’ the fine-tuned values in order to make possible a universe of value.

Making sense of this requires two modifications to basic cosmopsychism. Firstly, we need to suppose that the Universe acts through a basic capacity to recognise and respond to considerations of value. This is very different from how we normally think about things, but it is consistent with everything we observe. The Scottish philosopher David Hume long ago noted that all we can really observe is how things behave – the underlying forces that give rise to those behaviours are invisible to us. We standardly assume that the Universe is powered by a number of non-rational causal capacities, but it is also possible that it is powered by the capacity of the Universe to respond to considerations of value.

How are we to think about the laws of physics on this view? I suggest that we think of them as constraints on the agency of the Universe. Unlike the God of theism, this is an agent of limited power, which explains the manifest imperfections of the Universe. The Universe acts to maximise value, but is able to do so only within the constraints of the laws of physics. The beneficence of the Universe does not much reveal itself these days; the agentive cosmopsychist might explain this by holding that the Universe is now more constrained than it was in the unique circumstances of the first split second after the Big Bang, when currently known laws of physics did not apply.

Ockham’s razor is the principle that, all things being equal, more parsimonious theories – that is to say, theories with relatively few postulations – are to be preferred. Is it not a great cost in terms of parsimony to ascribe fundamental consciousness to the Universe? Not at all. The physical world must have some nature, and physics leaves us completely in the dark as to what it is. It is no less parsimonious to suppose that the Universe has a consciousness-involving nature than that it has some non-consciousness-involving nature. If anything, the former proposal is more parsimonious insofar as it is continuous with the only thing we really know about the nature of matter: that brains have consciousness.

Having said that, the second and final modification we must make to cosmopsychism in order to explain the fine-tuning does come at some cost. If the Universe, way back in the Planck epoch, fine-tuned the laws to bring about life billions of years in its future, then the Universe must in some sense be aware of the consequences of its actions. This is the second modification: I suggest that the agentive cosmopsychist postulate a basic disposition of the Universe to represent the complete potential consequences of each of its possible actions. In a sense, this is a simple postulation, but it cannot be denied that the complexity involved in these mental representations detracts from the parsimony of the view. However, this commitment is arguably less profligate than the postulations of the theist or the multiverse theorist. The theist postulates a supernatural agent while the agentive cosmopsychist postulates a natural agent. The multiverse theorist postulates an enormous number of distinct, unobservable entities: the many universes. The agentive cosmopsychist merely adds to an entity that we already believe in: the physical Universe. And most importantly, agentive cosmopsychism avoids the false predictions of its two rivals.

The idea that the Universe is a conscious mind that responds to value strikes us a ludicrously extravagant cartoon. But we must judge the view not on its cultural associations but on its explanatory power. Agentive cosmopsychism explains the fine-tuning without making false predictions; and it does so with a simplicity and elegance unmatched by its rivals. It is a view we should take seriously.

This essay was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust to Aeon and a separate grant from the Templeton funded ‘Pantheism and Panentheism‘ project to the author. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton Religion Trust.

Philip Goff is associate professor in philosophy at the Central European University in Budapest. His research interest is in consciousness and he blogs at Conscience and Consciousness.

Phlip Goff

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Metaphysics & Psychology

The 6 Grand Illusions That Keep Us Enslaved To The Matrix

“In prison, illusions can offer comfort.” – Nelson Mandela

For a magician to fool his audience his deceit must go unseen, and to this end he crafts an illusion to avert attention from reality. While the audience is entranced, the deceptive act is committed, and for the fool, reality then becomes inexplicably built upon on a lie. That is, until the fool wakes up and recognizes the truth in the fact that he has been duped.

Maintaining the suspension of disbelief in the illusion, however, is often more comforting than acknowledging the magician’s secrets.

We live in a world of illusion. So many of the concerns that occupy the mind and the tasks that fill the calendar arise from planted impulses to become someone or something that we are not. This is no accident. As we are indoctrinated into this authoritarian-corporate-consumer culture that now dominates the human race, we are trained that certain aspects of our society are untouchable truths, and that particular ways of being and behaving are preferred. 

Psychopaths disempower people in this way. They blind us with never ceasing barrages of suggestions and absolutes that are aimed at shattering self-confidence and confidence in the future. 

Bansky, the revered and elusive revolutionary street artist, once commented:

“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.” – Banksy

Advertising is just the tip of the iceberg. When we look further we see that the overall organization of life is centered around the pursuit of illusions and automatic obedience to institutions and ideas which are not at all what they seem. We are in a very real sense enslaved. Many call this somewhat intangible feeling of oppression ‘the matrix,’ a system of total control that invades the mind, programming individuals to pattern themselves in accordance with a mainstream conformist version of reality, no matter how wicked it gets.

The grandest of the illusions which keep us enslaved to the matrix, the ones that have so many of us still entranced, are outlined below for your consideration.

1. The Illusion of Law, Order and Authority

For so many of us, following the law is considered a moral obligation, and many of us gladly do so even though corruption, scandal, and wickedness repeatedly demonstrate that the law is plenty flexible for those who have the muscle to bend it. Police brutality and police criminality is rampant in the US, the courts favor the wealthy, and we can longer even lead our lives privately thanks to the intrusion of state surveillance. And all the while the illegal and immoral Orwellian permanent war rages on in the background of life, murdering and destroying whole nations and cultures.

The social order is not what it seems, for it is entirely predicated on conformity, obedience and acquiescence which are enforced by fear of violence. History teaches us again and again that the law is just as often as not used as an instrument of oppression, social control and plunder, and any so-called authority in this regard is false, hypocritical, and unjust.

When the law itself does not follow the law, there is no law, there is no order, and there is no justice. The pomp and trappings of authority are merely a concealment of the truth that the current world order is predicated on control, not consent.

2. The Illusion of Prosperity and Happiness

Adorning oneself in expensive clothes and trinkets, and amassing collections of material possessions that would be the envy of any 19th century monarch has become a substitute for genuine prosperity. Maintaining the illusion of prosperity, though, is critical to our economy as it is, because its foundation is built on consumption, fraud, credit and debt. The banking system itself has been engineered from the top down to create unlimited wealth for some while taxing the eternity out of the rest of us.

True prosperity is a vibrant environment and an abundance of health, happiness, love, and relationships. As more people come to perceive material goods as the form of self-identification in this culture, we slip farther and farther away from the experience of true prosperity.

3. The Illusion of Choice and Freedom

Read between the lines and look at the fine print, we are not free, not by any intelligent standard. Freedom is about having choice, yet in today’s world, choice has come to mean a selection between available options, always from within the confines of a corrupt legal and taxation system and within the boundaries of culturally accepted and enforced norms.

Just look no further than the phony institution of modern democracy to find a shining example of false choices appearing real. Two entrenched, corrupt, archaic political parties are paraded as the pride and hope of the nation, yet third party and independent voices are intentionally blocked, ridiculed and plowed under.

The illusion of choice and freedom is a powerful oppressor because it fools us into accepting chains and short leashes as though they were the hallmarks of liberty.

Multiple choice is different than freedom, it is easy servitude.

4. The Illusion of Truth

Truth has become a touchy subject in our culture, and we’ve been programmed to believe that ‘the‘ truth comes from the demigods of media, celebrity, and government. If the TV declares something to be true, then we are heretics to believe otherwise.

In order to maintain order, the powers that be depend our acquiescence to their version of the truth. While independent thinkers and journalists continually blow holes in the official versions of reality, the illusion of truth is so very powerful that it takes a serious personal upheaval to shun the cognitive dissonance needed to function in a society that openly chases false realities.

5. The Illusion of Time

They say that time is money, but this is a lie. Time is your life. Your life is an ever-evolving manifestation of the now. Looking beyond the five sense world, where we have been trained to move in accordance with the clock and the calendar, we find that the spirit is eternal, and that the each individual soul is part of this eternity.

The big deception here is the reinforcement of the idea that the present moment is of little to no value, that the past is something we cannot undo or ever forget, and that the future is intrinsically more important than both the past and the present. This carries our attention away from what is actually happening right now and directs it toward the future. Once completely focused on what is to come rather than what is, we are easy prey to advertisers and fear-pimps who muddy our vision of the future with every possible worry and concern imaginable.

We are happiest when life doesn’t box us in, when spontaneity and randomness gives us the chance to find out more about ourselves. Forfeiting the present moment in order to fantasize about the future is a trap. The immense, timeless moments of spiritual joy that are found in quiet meditation are proof that time is a construct of the mind of humankind, and not necessarily mandatory for the human experience.

If time is money, then life can be measured in dollars. When dollars are worth less, so is life. This is total deception, because life is, in truth, absolutely priceless.

6. The Illusion of Separateness

On a strategic level, the tactic of divide and conquer is standard operating procedure for authoritarians and invading armies, but the illusion of separateness runs even deeper than this.

We are programmed to believe that as individuals we are in competition with everyone and everything around us, including our neighbors and even mother nature. Us vs. them to the extreme. This flatly denies the truth that life on this planet is infinitely inter-connected. Without clean air, clean water, healthy soil, and a vibrant global sense of community we cannot survive here.

While the illusion of separateness comforts us by gratifying the ego and and offering a sense of control, in reality it only serves to enslave and isolate us.


The grand illusions mentioned here have been staged before us as a campaign to encourage blind acquiescence to the machinations of the matrix. In an attempt to dis-empower us, they demand our conformity and obedience, but we must not forget that all of this is merely an elaborate sales pitch. They can’t sell what we don’t care to buy.





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Metaphysics & Psychology

A Former CIA Officer Teaches You How to Spot a Lie

Dr. Mercola, Guest
Waking Times

A person lies an average of 10 times a day, according to Susan Carnicero — and she’s one to know. As a former CIA officer who spent more than 20 years interrogating, interviewing and polygraphing suspects, she’s learned a thing or two about how to spot a liar.

In fact, Carnicero has also developed behavioral screening programs used by the U.S. government and co-written the book “Spy the Lie,” which teaches you how to detect deception. She’s also a co-founder of QVerity, which is a provider of behavioral analysis and screening services for both the private and public sectors.

It may seem shocking that people lie on such a regular basis, but remember that not all lies are malicious. Little white lies are told more often than big important lies, according to research published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology,1 and this includes innocent mentions like saying you’re fine when someone asks you how you’re doing — even if you’re actually not.

There’s a wide range of lies, Carnicero notes in the video above. At one end of the spectrum are lies meant to spare somebody’s feelings or keep a conversation from going in a direction you don’t want it to go. At the other end are big bold-faced “I didn’t do it” lies. It’s in the latter case where being able to spot a liar can definitely work in your favor, in more scenarios than you might initially imagine. For instance, if you’re hiring a new employee or thinking about investing in a financial venture, knowing the truth is certainly important.

Likewise, in your personal life, whether you’re confronting your partner about potential infidelity, your child about drug use or wondering whether your new flame is trustworthy. Even when you’re in the market for a new car or seeking a contractor for your home, cuing in on telltale signs of deceit can help you avoid an expensive mistake.

How to Spot a Lie: Analyze Versus Speculate

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell if a person is lying just by looking at them. This would be speculation. Instead, Carnicero stresses the importance of analyzing the situation. “What I want to look at is how a person is reacting to things,” she says, using the example of someone sitting with their arms folded — a “global behavior.” While this might at first appear to be a closed-off or deceptive posture, there are many reasons why someone might sit in this way, from being cold to just being a habit.

“We give way too much weight to global behaviors,” Carnicero says. “We want to do away with that. That’s speculation.” To pick out what’s relevant and what’s not, first identify the stimulus — the questions you’re asking — and then focus on the behaviors that are directly associated with the person’s response. Timing is key here; a major red flag is a deceptive behavior that occurs within the first five seconds after the question is asked.

“If they don’t show me a deceptive behavior within five seconds, they’re not lying to me,” she says, adding that paying attention to clusters is another key. “I want to see at least two or more behaviors [during their response] for that to be a deceptive answer.” In some cases, the first deceptive behavior may occur before you’ve even finished asking the question — and this is a red flag too — but just remember that the first one should occur within the first five seconds — and there should be two or more in total to signal a lie.

Managing Your Bias and Recognizing Evasiveness

Many people are taught that lying is wrong and to try to look for the good in people. But when trying to spot a liar, it’s important to ignore truthful behavior, which will only add to your bias and contribute to what Carnicero describes as the “halo effect.” “Deceptive people can give us truthful answers,” she says, and will try to manipulate you to believe them. In many cases, they may give you more information than you asked for in an attempt to make you think they’re a good person. According to Carnicero:

“The people that we know are already out to manage our perceptions … go way beyond what we’re asking for … the purpose of that again is to convince us that they’re good people, and what happens if I’m a novice is that I start to think that’s a good person. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy … and I’m going to start to think that that person’s good, and I’m going to miss the bad.”

So make a point to ignore truthful behavior, instead focusing on deceptive ones. Meanwhile, recognize tactics of evasiveness, which are major clues that a person is not being candid, such as:

  • Failure to provide information asked for — does the person go on at length but not answer the question you asked?
  • Failure to deny. “The most important thing to the honest person is giving you that answer, denying if they didn’t do something. The truth is their biggest ally,” Carnicero says.
  • Use of exclusionary qualifiers, such as saying “for the most part,” “fundamentally” or “not really.” These beg for a follow-up question to reveal what the person is leaving out.

Aggression Is Often a Sign of Lying, as Are ‘Convincing’ Statements

When evaluating a person’s trustworthiness, “some behaviors weigh more than others,” according to Carnicero. “Aggression is one of those.” If you question your child whether he’s taking drugs and his immediate response is one of anger, it’s a major red flag. Likewise, if you’ve had a theft at your company, and the employee you’re questioning attacks you for asking about the theft.

“If you have somebody who jumps down your throat because you ask them a question — I don’t even care if it’s your kid … you got a problem,” she says. They may also attack a third party, such as the company itself for not providing enough security to prevent thefts in the first place. Along these lines, demonstrating an inappropriate level of concern is another telltale sign that someone is not telling the truth.

For example, if they brush off an important question as inconsequential, smile at an inappropriate time or get angry for seemingly no reason, they’re likely lying. Carnicero also stresses the importance of differentiating between convincing statements and those intended to convey information — the former being a sign of lying. Let’s say you ask someone if they stole something.

If the person launches into a long response about their good employment history and trustworthiness, those are convincing statements that, while they sound true, signal a lie. Simply saying “no” is conveying information that is likely a truthful response. Carnicero says, “A convincing statement is the strongest arrow that any person is going to have in their quiver. Saying ‘I’m a good person,’ ‘I’m a good worker’ … when somebody’s trying to convince you of something” rather than convey information, it’s a strong sign of a lie.

Paying attention to small details can also reveal a lie — like saying “I wouldn’t do that” versus “I didn’t do that.” The former — “wouldn’t” — is often a lie. “We have to listen for didn’t,” Carnicero says. Invoking religion is another tactic liars often use to draw you in and manage your perceptions of them, saying things like “I swear on a stack of bibles.” Other subtle signs include “perception qualifiers” such as “honestly,” “to tell you the truth” and “quite frankly,” which are used to verbally “dress up a lie.” When combined with clusters of other deceptive behaviors, these can help you to spot a lie.

Nonverbal Signs of Deceit

A person’s nonverbal cues are also important to hone in on when evaluating whether or not they’re lying. Carnicero recommends paying attention to the following nonverbal cues:2

Behavioral pause: If you ask a person a vague question, such as what were you doing on this date years ago, it’s reasonable to expect a pause before they respond. But if you ask, did you rob a bank 10 years ago to this day, they should respond immediately. In the latter case, a delay is a sign of lying.

Verbal/nonverbal disconnect: If a person nods their head while saying no, or shakes their head “no” while saying yes, this disconnect is considered a deceptive behavior (except in certain cultures in which nodding doesn’t mean yes).

Anchor point movements: Another sign of a lie is movement in an “anchor point,” such as feet on the floor, arms on a desk or even a dangling foot if a person’s legs are crossed.

Grooming gestures: Straightening a tie or other piece of clothing, fixing hair, adjusting glasses or fiddling with shirt cuffs can be subconscious ways that people try to quell their anxiety and are often a sign of a lie. Clearing of the throat or swallowing prior to answering are also considered indicators of deceptiveness.

Hand-to-face movements: If a person put their hand to their mouth, licks their lips, pulls on their ear or otherwise touches their face or head, it’s another deceptive behavior. Parade noted:3

“The reason goes back to simple high school science. You’ve asked a question, and the question creates a spike in anxiety because a truthful response would be incriminating.

That, in turn, triggers the autonomic nervous system to go to work to dissipate the anxiety, draining blood from the surfaces of the face, the ears, and the extremities — which can create a sensation of cold or itchiness. Without the person even realizing it, his hands are drawn to those areas, or there’s a wringing or rubbing of the hands.”

Spotting a Liar Isn’t an Exact Science

While it isn’t always easy to determine when you’re being lied to, following Carnicero’s guidelines can certainly help. You can find more details, including many anecdotes that show the guidelines in action, in Carnicero’s book “Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception.” Being able to decipher the truth can be life changing when it comes to your professional and personal life, and you can even use it to save yourself money and avoid getting ripped off.

As for lying, if you’re on the giving rather than the receiving end, it’s worth noting that adopting an “honesty is the best policy” approach isn’t only good for those around you but also for yourself. People who told only the truth for five weeks had an average of seven fewer symptoms, such as sore throatsheadaches, nausea and mental tension, than the control group,4 with researchers suggesting that lying may cause stress that dampens the immune system.

In the case of lying, however, many people do it without even thinking about it, which means, in order to protect your health — and your reputation — you’ve got to recognize that you’re doing it — and change it — before those around you recognize it first.

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