The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

Lying Helps Communication

We cheat on children. Every time we tell children a fairy tale, we are lying to them.  Those characters do not exist. Santa Claus does not exist. The cartoons on tv do not exist. We tell them lies all the time. And, still, children "learn".  What they learn is not the literal meaning of those stories. In fact, they themselves frequently doubt those stories. But children understand that what they are supposed to learn is not the literal meaning. Children somehow understand that their parents are trying to teach them something else. Children somehow understand that parents use fairy tales because it is a more efficient and painless way to teach them what really matters. What matters is not that Little Red Riding Hood met a wolf, but that there are good and bad people. Children's brains are programmed to somehow discard the fairy tale and grasp the "meaning" of the story.

Long after they forget what Little Red Riding Hood was doing in the woods they will still remember that there are good and bad people.

As we grow up, we assume that we stop lying to each other. As adults, we try to tell it as it is. That might be true for scientists, but it is hardly visible in ordinary lives. Every argument between two people usually  involves some kind of exaggeration. Most political discussions start with unreasonable statements (a popular one like "depleted uranium killed one million Iraqi children" is obviously false if one checks the population of Iraq but it was widespread all over the world in the 1990s). And most people routinely exaggerate the details that most matter within a story. The listener, on the other hand, routinely "decodes" those exaggerations. Language lends itself to a level of ambiguity that we use to deliver more than the literal meaning. Thus adults tell each other "fairy tales". It never truly ends.  Even scientists, to some extent, exaggerate the implications of their theories when they try to explain them to ordinary people. A distortion of reality seems to be useful, if not essential, to human communication.


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