Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Higher IQ Liar Children, Conspiracy Awareness & Theory of Mind

According to Dr. Kang Lee of the University of  Toronto, cited in Susan Pinker's WSJ piece ('Children's Lies Are A Sign Of Progress', Jan.16-17, p. C2) "the ability to bend the truth is a developmental mental milestone  much like walking and talking". His research shows that "lying begins early in precocious children" and clearly the more cognitively advanced the child, the earlier he starts with the whoppers.

Dr. Lee found that among verbal 2-year olds, 30% lie, among 3 year olds it's 50 %. and rises to 80 % among 4 year olds. In other words, despite all their moral declarations, parents ought to worry about a totally truthful child at age four as much as one who is still unable to utter coherent sentences. As Pinker puts it(ibid.):

"In other words, lying is nothing unusual in small children. What's more,  younger children who tell tales have a cognitive advantage over truth tellers"

Quoting Dr. Lee:

"Lying requires two ingredients: Children need to understand what's in someone else's mind - to know what they know and what they don't know. We call this ability theory of mind. The children who are better at theory of mind are better at lying."

The 2nd requirement is higher executive function - the power to plan ahead and curb unwanted immediate actions that promised relatively lower gratification. Thus, according to Dr. Lee:

"The 30 percent of the under 3's who can lie have higher executive functions , specifically the ability to inhibit the urge to tell the truth and to switch to lying."

This is very interesting given that forty -four years ago Dr. Pat Bannister of the University of the West Indies postulated an "inverse" theory of mind, based on the genesis of conspiracy sensitivity or awareness. She published papers, mainly appearing in university symposiums, showing that conspiracy investigation arose as an evolutionary adaptation to the (earlier evolved) ability to lie. In her conception, if conspiracy is among the most sophisticated forms of lying (entailing misdirecting actions as well as words)  then an evolutionary  "equalizer" was needed in order to expose it so this advanced lying would not be to the total future detriment of a tribe, community or nation.

Think of it: effective conspiracy (a surreptitious plan to alter outside events to a group's advantage)  is not merely a simple matter of bending the truth, but bending it - usually in an extended manner over time - to achieve a specific end or manifestation in the real world. It requires not only the awareness of what's in the minds of those one conspires against and those who might try to detect the plan, but also predicting in advance how they might act or respond to prevent the conspiracy from being executed in the first place. And also predicting how future inquirers might be impeded from exposing it decades later.

Thus, as Bannister pointed out in a 1972 UWI  symposium, the Kennedy assassination conspirators would have to know not only how the normal law enforcement structure would respond, but also the official  paraphernalia needed to misdirect it in the case of an accidental encounter while the plot was unfolding. (Thus, years later, with the publication of Abraham Bolden's 'The Echo From Dealey Plaza', we learned about the role of the stolen Secret Service Commission books, and the crucial role they played in misdirecting authorities from the actual plan, locations of the real assassins.)

The conspirators would also have to be able to predict where the biggest potential threats might lurk, odd citizens with movie cameras (like Abraham Zapruder and Orville Nix) or with still cameras (like Mary Moorman). Thus, they had to have special teams ready to confiscate films and even alter them if need be - as was attempted at TIME magazine with the Z film to reverse the backward head motion) and with the Mary Moorman images and Nix film.

The greatest level of forward planning and cognition was reserved for the autopsy - which had to be carried out in a secure venue under full government control (not Dallas' Parkland Hospital) so that the actual entry and egress points for the bullets could be manipulated as well as x-rays, regular photographs).

In other words, in concert it amounted to one of the most sophisticated lies in history, fooling a generation almost totally (other than a few original skeptics like Mark Lane) until at least the JFK Records Act.

Given Prof. Bannister's theory of mind, conspiracy awareness leading to rational investigation and coherent research, would be a natural response to this mammoth lie, and it has been. This has led to the implication of the CIA in the Kennedy killing, under the direction of Allen Dulles as well as William Harvey, via the Staff D operation discussed at length by researcher Peter Dale Scott. (See also David Talbot's recent book, 'The Devil's Chessboard'.)

Pinker's WSJ piece notes that Prof. Kang Lee's theory of mind predicts that "if you teach people to imagine what's going on in other people's minds then they might become better fabricators".  Prof. Bannister's theory of mind posited that if one could imagine oneself in the minds of  actual conspirators he might successfully conceive how those conspirators might accomplish the conspiracy.  (Or at least figure out what was in the conspirators' minds to accomplish a specific conspiratorial objective, e..g. framing Lee Harvey Oswald in the JFK assassination case).

Bannister didn't accept any of this was hopeless, and whatever the conspiracy,  there would always be 'x' other minds capable of detecting its mechanisms ex post facto from clues that the conspirators left behind. (They would not able to erase everything, after all, though this did not - as she emphasized - mean any future prosecutions for the most adept conspiracies, i.e. for which a chief executive might be involved and able to oversee the investigation that ensued- like LBJ in the Kennedy case.)

In Bannister's mode of thought then, the conspiracy alert sounder had to possess a theory of mind at least equal to the conspiracy planner's, certainly in finally exposing it.  Yes, there could be missteps - especially given the conspiracy planning side would inevitably add further layers of lies ex post facto to throw off conspiracy investigators. These would be in the form of misinformation and disinformation (e.g. inventing whacky conspiracy theories to circulate and get many to bite then ridicule them as 'buff-based') or simply ridiculing any person that even conceives of conspiracy - no matter how well -versed or grounded the formulation is.

It was basically a race between successful gaming of the public via actual conspiratorial  actions and exposing it at a deeper cognitive level by those with conspiracy awareness. (She emphasized, of course, the latter always had to be fact -based.)

Alas, working against the exposure is an entrenched Neoliberal media framework that a priori treats all conspiracies as fantasies hatched in the febrile brains of unstable people.  In pushing this meme all conspiracies are conflated, the most supported (e.g. Iran Contra, JFK assassination) as well as the most absurd (UN Black helicopters and FEMA prison camps, or the feds buying up all ammo nationwide from preventing all gun owners from using their weapons). Thereby, the investigative landscape becomes so muddied that only the hardiest intellectual pursuers are prepared to move on undaunted.

Author Michael Parenti ('Dirty Truths ') has referred to this syndrome driven by the media as "conspiracy phobia". He has mocked it in speeches and in his books with the rhetorical take (op. cit., p.174):

" Those who suffer from conspiracy phobia are fond of saying: 'Do you actually think there's a group of people sitting around in a room, plotting things?' For some reason that image is assumed to be so patently absurd as to invite only disclaimers.  But where else would people of power get together - on park benches or carousels?"

Parenti averred that conspiracy "is clearly a way to get things done", mainly at the political level for which the media was often an accomplice in impeding disclosure of full information, or invoking the usual "tin foil hat" mockery. Parenti's further salient point was that even if conspiracies failed, as in the case of the Watergate conspiracy, BCCI, and Iran-Contra, that doesn't mean a conspiracy never existed. Even Operation Northwoods which never even came to partial manifestation (thank goodness!) was still a conspiracy. This is a point Parenti rams home again and again, while alerting us that at some point in the future the same media might attempt to obliterate conspiracy memes altogether by changing the language. This is already happening as the word "scandal" more and more is cynically substituted in the press for the word 'conspiracy', i.e. in discussing past cases like Watergate and Iran-Contra.

If Bannister's theory is valid, precocious conspiracy awareness and its derivative cognition is as important a facet of theory of mind-  especially in terms of directing higher executive function to out conspiracy planners - as the early development of the capacity for lying. Perhaps even more.

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