Humans: The Only Species That Fools Itself!

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Have you ever wonder why is it that people lie?

Well, believe it or not, it has to do with the Free-Energy Principle. According to the free energy principle, the fundamental drive of human thought isn’t to seek some arbitrary external reward, but to minimise prediction error. Free energy is the difference between the states we expect to be in and the states our sensors tell us that we are in. In other words, when we minimise free energy, we minimise surprise.

We can minimise free energy in one of two ways: We can revise our prediction — absorb the surprise, concede the error, update our model of the world — or we can act to make the prediction true. However, it is much easier to update our model of the world and lie to ourselves.

Most humans infer their own actions and words by way of passive inferences or reward-maximisation, as opposed to brilliant minds that do it by way of active inferences (i.e. Tropophilia).

When people lie, their reward-maximisation process increases, although only until they are caught lying. If they are not caught lying, or if they think they got away, their incentive to keep lying continues.

Even though one may be tempted to believe that lying is based on a simple benefit/cost analysis, it is not. Most of the time, the driving factor in the decision-making process of wether to lie or not is the Hedonic Tone involved. The Hedonic Tone in any given situation is usually either positive (i.e., Joy: “I have plenty to gain from lying”) or negative (i.e., Fear: “I have plenty to lose from lying”).

However, when it comes to lying to ourselves, what is the potential reward or potential punishment? Again, it has to do with the Hedonic Tone involved. If the Hedonic Tone is negative e.g., I see myself fat and I don’t like it, but in order to change that I infer that I would have to exercise more and/or eat less. Neither option is a pleasant one. It is obviously much easier to lie to myself in a myriad of ways available (e.g., “I’ll start exercising next week”, “I’m really not that fat”, etc., etc.). If the Hedonic Tone is positive e.g., I have a great job opportunity but I’ll have to fool myself a bit about my knowledge in order to get it, it is certainly easier to fool myself than to face the fact of my lack of knowledge.

In any case, why is it that no other species lies to itself?

Probably because their ability to infer is limited to the point that it does not afford them any reward maximisation.

The acronym of artificial Intelligence AI can also apply for Active Inference or free-energy minimisation and this is at the core of critical thinking.

Humans are the only species on earth that deliberately, or inadvertently, lie to themselves. Therefore, humans are the only species that enslaves itself by its lies.

As a great sage once said: “Only the truth shall set you free.”

JC Wandemberg Ph.D.

President & Founder

Sustainable Systems International

About the author: Dr. Wandemberg is an international consultant, professor, and analyst of economic, environmental, social, managerial, marketing, and political issues. For the past 30 years Dr. Wandemberg has collaborated with corporations, communities, and organizations to integrate sustainability through self-transformation processes and Open Systems Design Principles, thus, catalyzing a Culture of Trust, Transparency, and Integrity.

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