The Evolution of Lying

Scientists say that humans primarily evolved to be social, cooperative creatures, and that their survival depended on that cooperation.  This behavior required the setting aside of narrow self-interests in favor of the greater good.  Humans, however, also don’t like to be told what to do, and so found a way around this objectionable condition that didn’t require leaving the safety of the group.  That way is called lying by some, a way of life by others, and, scientists say, it even predates homo sapiens.  This is another way of saying that humans are born liars.  Few are proud of it, but many feel it would be impolite to not display a gift we were given.

            A big problem with this gift, however, is that if it is displayed too much by too many, dating websites would become unreliable and crash, leaving all those smart, attractive, romantic, passionate people to walk the beach at sunset without companionship, and society would collapse.  As in most things, there needed to be moderation.  Fortunately there is, as we also evolved to be bad liars, with the possible exception of psychopaths and those on a career training path to be criminals or politicians.  But perhaps I’m being redundant.  For the rest of us, lying causes the pitch of our voice to increase, along with our breathing rate and heartbeat.  Many stutter, sweat, or make odd facial expressions.  It is not an attractive look, which is likely why psychopaths have an advantage on the dating scene.

            On the other hand, studies show that even with all the clues, we are also bad at identifying a lie, getting it right only about 44 percent of the time.  So to prevent lying from becoming rampant and destroying society, various punishments evolved along with the lies.  Perhaps an illustration would help explain this.

            Picture an early cave man pointing excitedly behind a member of the clan while holding two fingers in front of his mouth like large teeth to give a warning that there was a saber-toothed tiger behind him.  When the dupe turned to look, the cave man not only stole the mammoth leg the dupe was eating, but denied doing so, whereupon the smarter cave women snuggled up to him, whispered sweet grunts in his ear, and ate the mammoth leg before he realized what was happening.  The cave man was thereby punished by going to bed hungry and alone. 

            The invention of language would have made it easy for everyone to say “Look!  Cave Bear!” until they understood that 56 percent of the time they got the reply “Don’t look!  Club!” before everything went dark.  The punishment only got worse with the invention of writing.  Our man’s distant kin would have been preoccupied writing a warning note, giving the dupe time to slip away with his leg of lamb, and for an actual lion to sneak up and eat the writer.  Even today it’s well known that one should never put lies on paper, or they’ll most certainly come back to bite you.

            In 500 BC Persia, Darius the Great considered lying to be a cardinal sin punishable by death.  Biblical leaders sometimes quote New Testament scripture which states that unrepentant liars will be punished in the lake of fire.  Hindu leaders can refer liars to ancient texts that promise regular round trips to Hell and back.  Not for casual tourists, they also promise an endless cycle of being turned into dust before being restored to life.  If history tells us anything, it’s that leaders take a dim view of competition. 

            These are unusual times however, and lying has been evolving faster than the penalties for lying.  More specifically, competitive lying is now welcome with open arms and forked tongues every November at the Bridge Inn in Holrook, England, home to the annual World’s Biggest Liar Competition, which celebrates the sheer joy of telling whoppers, or porkies.  Attendee’s groans will not be from any of the old forms of torture, but you may wish for them before the event is over.

            Quite simply, the WBLC is for those of you who are tired of listening to politicians, and who would like to hear some new, more imaginative lies.  It is also for those more accomplished fibbers who seek a bigger audience than their boss or spouse.  For those concerned about equality however, please stay at home.  White lies do not matter here, although every other color is welcome, including some pretty off-colored ones.  Lies here are spectacularly big, as befits a region that boasts England’s deepest lake (Wastwater), highest mountain (Scafell Pike), and fiercest dragon (Teddy). 

            The origins of the World’s Biggest Liar Competition takes us all the way back to the 19th century, to a time when England grew turnips so big that people quarried them, hollowed them out, and used them as sheds for their sheep.  Or so said a pub owner then named Will Ritson, who understood the natural, and profitable, relationship between pints and porkies.  Patrons came from miles around to learn at the stool of the master, and unless I’m wrong, lies soon became the defacto currency of the region, while the truth could only be purchased at exorbitant prices on the black market.  Lies were bought at every establishment and served with every meal.  Children found school interesting and demanded homework.  People finally understood church and packed the pews.  Everyone ran for public office.  Eventually, however, the region sunk under the weight of its own lies and Lake Wastwater was born. Teddy, realizing he was living a lie, could not let it dragon any longer, and sealed himself in a cave forever, where he vented and fumed and so created Scafell Pike.  A small, wooden-faced man with a nose for trouble rose to power with the promise of unlimited pleasure, until people realized there were too many strings attached and Pinocchio was exposed as merely a puppet ruler and ….

            I’m sorry, but I have to end this essay prematurely as my pants just caught on fire.

Published by boblorentson

I am a retired environmental scientist and an active daydreamer. I love one-legged air dancers (I think that's what you call them), and I still hate lima beans.

24 thoughts on “The Evolution of Lying

  1. “setting aside of narrow self-interests in favor of the greater good…” Really? I wonder what that would be like. I know, you time-traveled back to when it was popular and found evidence of the trend away from it being linked to the invention of board games. “The die fell on the floor, but it was a six” – “No, my man started on this space” – “I can too move there. Now crown my checker!”

    Great post, Bob. I hope you have a nice weekend.


  2. Awesome post, Bob. Many times, we lie to make someone feel better and to keep from hurting their feelings. But regardless of good intentions, a lie is a lie, and what if that person finds out? They won’t trust you again. Trust is only built on truth! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true, but as I discovered and noted we apparently evolved to be bad at detecting a lie, so we gamble on the odds. We are wired for survival reasons to be believers first. And there’s certainly no shortage of our extreme gullibility all around us.
      Thanks for commenting Cherie.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re very welcome, Bob. And I couldn’t agree more. Most humans these days have lost their ability to spy a lie and I believe it’s because we’ve gotten lazy- we’ve stopped listening to our gut feelings and paying close attention to the vibes that others put out.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. The ideas come from a brain that went off the rails somewhere along the line, and since I’m stuck with it, I just try to keep it occupied so it doesn’t turn on me. That could get ugly.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.
    And thanks for the comments.


  4. What an inspiring post. I wonder if lying is the reason behind the April first–one can lie as outrageous as one can and it is considered a prank. So if we don’t have the civilization and don’t have the social structure, we won’t have to lie at all. Or at least we lie considerably less. However that’s not an option and we have to live in the cocoon we build for ourselves. And we believe in our own lies and our brain lies to us too–when we don’t have an answer, our brain tries hard to fill the gap and provide something ridiculous, which we lap up and believe in.

    Liked by 1 person

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