Honest False Testimony

I’m kind of busy, and negligent in posting here, but I simply couldn’t resist starting this discussion. We touched on it a while back, and it pushes a lot of my buttons. I think it lies behind most disagreements. (All disagreements on this site, because we assume honesty.)

Based on her work, and that of others, Tavris shows three ways that different people can present conflicting narratives of the same event—not because any of them are lying, but because they are presenting what she calls “honest false testimony.” That is, their views of what really happened aren’t made up, but are tinged by several factors that makes them believe they are telling the truth.


14 thoughts on “Honest False Testimony

  1. It reminds me of a UD post:

    I [used] to think that if ID could only get its evidence to the right people in the right places then they would change their mind about Darwinian evolution and we would have a fundamental ‘paradigm shift’ from the ‘top down’. But after a few years of banging my head on that wall to no avail, I realized that it is not a head problem with these people so much as it is a heart problem. i.e. many influential people in academia simply don’t want Design to be true no matter what evidence you present to them. Indeed, in many educational institutions, there is a systematic effort in academia to Expel anyone who does not toe the Darwinian party line . . . . Scientists are subject to the same pride and prejudices as everyone else.,,, perhaps more so when the issues relate to their preferred worldview.

    I mean, wow, we tell them why ID is true, they’re intelligent enough to understand it, and yet they don’t accept it. Who cares about dealing with their objections? Clearly they’re just wrong, and since they’re not too dumb to understand (the fallacious reasoning of) ID, they must simply be unwilling to accept it despite all of the evidence (none that actually differs from evolutionary expectations, within our powers of resolution–that is, none at all).

    Not, what did we miss, what don’t we know, what keeps us from recognizing how ID is a fraud (so to speak)? Instead, there’s a reason they don’t accept our special ideas as the Truth that they are, and it has to be a moral failing.

    But maybe it’s me? No, I don’t fit their profile, and it really makes no sense that I just want death to be final in order to pretend that there is no “judgment” (it’s an excuse I was taught as a child. However, after being amazed at such stupid pigheadedness, it seemed a suspect “explanation,” because, really, why deny hope, or the threat of hideously cruel, endless punishment?), or that knowing about design mucking about in life riddles our understanding of evolution–to be fixed either by understanding said design, or, if truly ineffable, to at least to come to grips with the known unknowns. Because, why not?

    You are wrong and I am right is indeed a worldview, one common to many–not just religious–people. It is honest in its way, but oh, so false.

    Glen Davidson

  2. It doesn’t help that the evolutionary arms race between deception and deception-detection has honed our lying abilities to the point where if we tell a half-truth or non-truth for long enough, we will eventually begin to honestly believe it ourselves. In the words of Robert Trivers:

    I believe that self-deception evolves in the service of deceit.  That is, that the major function of self-deception is to better deceive others.  Both make it harder for others to detect your deception, and also allow you to deceive with less immediate cognitive cost.  So if I’m lying to you now about something you actually care about, you might pay attention to my shifty eyes if I’m consciously lying, or the quality of my voice, or some other behavioral cue that’s associated with conscious knowledge of deception and nervousness about being detected.  But if I’m unaware of the fact that I’m lying to you, those avenues of detection will be unavailable to you.

  3. I don’t think there is honest false testimony. Its just error. People are being honest and simply get facts wrong that lead them to say things not true.
    Creationists/evolutionists in these matters fOREVER accuse each other of lying but I find little to no deception. Everyone believes what they are saying and their accusations against others. People are just not competent in careful thinking.
    In fact Scientific methodology exists to eliminate this in subjects of nature to sure up conclusions.
    My big preach is that there is NO biological scientific evidence for evolution.
    Even ID and YEC would say I’m wrong. They would say its bad evidence or little etc etc but not agree the failure of evolutionism is a failure of thier methodology. They ain’t doing science at all in these matters. Yet they sincerely think they are.
    Honest but false conclusion.
    Its just careless thinking. Everyone is careless about important things to them.

  4. That talk by Tavris was genuinely awful from the very first seconds. Of course, she does have her fans at TAM (harassers R Us) who are no doubt thrilled to hear academic justification for their so-called skepticism of any woman’s claim of sexual harassment — justification they somehow don’t feel they need when they would accept a man’s claim of being a crime victim based on exactly the same amount of evidence.

    It’s a shame Tavris is providing cover to creationists, climate-change deniers, anti-vaxxers, harassers, and stand-your-grounders of all degrees of lethality. You’re not lying, no, you’re as honest as the day is long, it’s just that you see reality differently. And who are we to find fault with your personal version of “truth”?

  5. I enjoyed her presentation but I didn’t find anything very new or revelatory in it. I have always believed that disagreement is mostly a matter of confirmation bias and culture – not outright lying. I think she overstates our inability to overcome this. But you have to get the emotions right first – that makes it very hard to do over the internet or in large groups – but it is not so hard for a couple of people face-to-face.

  6. I agree with Mark and Robert that these disagreements are not a matter of lying. I also think that there are bases to (or premises of) each person’s worldview that can’t be proven or disproven–they are basic to the scheme in question, and can be questioned only on grounds of usefulness, etc.

    But I don’t think that the arguments talked about in these forums often reach down that low. The disagreements usually involve errors of ignorance, confusion, fallacious argumentation, misinformation, bias, stuff like that. That means that agreement isn’t absolutely out of the question, but it also makes the failure to find it even more distressing. Because it’s not like it COULDN’T happen. I mean, people even sometimes change their basic views of the world–maybe move from phenomenalism to realism or something. It needn’t take THAT SORT of “religious conversion” to see that, e.g. some syllogistic argument is fallacious. An intro class would do it.

  7. The area I see being most relevant is not empirical science, which has rather good methods for capturing errors, but in personal relations, where people can have radically different views of intentions.

    I think this is the area addressed by hotshoe, and I think I disagree.

    I’ve been married to the same person for 44 years, and it’s astonishing to me how we can misinterpret the other person’s intentions.

  8. petrushka,

    petrushka: I’ve been married to the same person for 44 years, and it’s astonishing to me how we can misinterpret the other person’s intentions.

    Wow, I thought I was doing well to get to our 40th last week. My wife hinted something about rubies and I said a woman like you is worth far more than rubies.

    Nope, she wasn’t impressed.

  9. Allan Miller:
    Alan Fox,

    She wants you to take her for a curry!

    Allan, you amaze me. Next time I need advice with women, I’ll know who to ask. The snag is there are no (NO) curry houses in this part of the world. But, no problem; I proposed (with some more hinting) to cook my signature dish of sweet potato and aubergine* curry (extra brownie points for veggie!). It went down a treat!

    As my last one went down like a lead balloon, I’ll spare you the recipe.

    *Eggplant in US-speak

    Oops sorry for derail.

  10. petrushka,

    That’s close to my recipe. No peppers, but a couple of unseeded medium hot green chillies, Big piece of fresh ginger, chopped. No stock, instead coconut milk (small carton) to give more calories. 🙂 Cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek in spices, No tabasco (extra dried chilli flakes to taste if not enough chilli burn) and definitely no sugar. Don’t faff about with separate frying, just allow enough time for the onions to soften before adding garlic, ginger and sweet potato. You hardly miss the meat!

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