“You can’t handle the truth!” says Col. Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) in the movie A Few Good Men. Jessup You can't handle the truth!realizes that humans prefer their comfortable delusions to an abrasive fact. Jessup then goes on to explain his own delusions to the court, mistaking them for the truth as well.


A true statement is one which corresponds to facts which are known or can be known. If a statement can be shown to contradict the facts, then it is defined as a lie. This seems straightforward enough, but like most things in our universe it becomes much more complex as you look more closely.

“I am a man.” I state this with great confidence, having recently verified my gender through visual inspection. This statement is unquestionably true from my point of view.

“But you are not a real man,” declared an angry girlfriend - some years back - in response to the very same statement. She then went on to explain her point with great energy and in considerable detail. Her definition of “man” was different than mine. Her definition was based on behavior, not physiology.

Here we come to the crux of the issue. Truth, like beauty, is in the mind of the seeker. Truth is already installed in our minds, like Microsoft Windows is installed in our computers, not from birth but from our experiences in life. We search our world for facts that will support the truth that is already inside us. We dismiss contradictory facts as nonsense. We are then gratified when the world seems to provide us with ratification and verification for the truths we believed anyway.

A recently revealed memorandum from Fox News executives instructed reporters to seek out stories that supported Fox’s preferred truths. Of course, in a world of six billion people someone somewhere is saying or doing any and every imaginable thing, so Fox reporters were able to find someone doing or saying the thing that would support the preferred story. Fox, like you and I, prefer for our truths to be ratified rather than contradicted. CBS News was involved in a scandal regarding false documents about President Bush’s National Guard service. That the document was printed on a laser printer that did not exist at the time the document was dated suggests that CBS wanted very much to believe the document to be genuine. CBS and ex-employee Dan Rather were looking for facts that supported their preconceived idea of the truth. This is a reflection of the very human nature of the primates who run our news organizations. In my own history, I have only been involved in a couple of events that made the local news. In both cases, what was reported and what I knew to be true varied greatly from each other.


Below you will find a selection of provocative quotations about the truth. Some of them are true, and some of them are not. I will let you decide for yourself which are and which aren’t.Mark Twain

Is Mr. Twain telling us that it is always best tell tell the truth? I think not. His tongue is in his cheek, but he is saying: “Tell the truth when you are sure you should tell the truth. Tell the truth when you are not sure whether you should tell the truth. Tell a lie only when you are certain that you should tell a lie.” And we add, “Lie skillfully when you lie.”

There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil. -- Alfred North Whitehead, English philosopher, mathematician.

Whenever you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. - Placed in the mouth of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, physician, author, leading Spiritualist, and a man who believed in fairies.

What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires -- desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. - Bertrand Russell, English philosopher and mathematician

There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees, which are falsehoods on the other. - Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist, religious philosopher

Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true. - Demosthenes, ancient Athenian statesman, recognized as the greatest of ancient Greek orators

Galileo was ordered by the Pope to lie about his findings.The earth does not move. - Galileo, Italian scientist, genius, founder of modern physics and astronomy. He made this statement, knowing it to be a lie, on the order of the Pope.

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. - Galileo, sixteenth century Italian scientist and mathematician who was tried for heresy on the order of the Pope himself. Galileo’s heresy, of which he was found guilty, was his statement that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo was given light punishment when he recanted his claim that the earth moves. Galileo found it easy to understand that he would remain in jail unless he lied. I cannot condemn Galileo’s false oath to the Pope because I would very likely do the same.

New opinions often appear first as jokes and fancies, then as blasphemies and treason, then as questions open to discussion, and finally as established truths. - George Bernard Shaw, Irish author

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. - George Orwell, English author of 1984 and required reading for any serious Machiavellian

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off. - Gloria Steinem, American feminist, author, speaker, wife, and undercover Playboy Bunny

Whosoever wishes to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details. - Heraklietos of Ephesos, ancient Greek philosopher

[W]hen people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together. - Isaac Azimov, chemist, revered author of classic American science fiction

The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. - Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, slave owner, scientist, President, politician, farmer, inventor, Virginian




Some ancient ape-ancestor of ours told the first lie. Perhaps it was “I did not copulate with your mate.” Or, “It was not I who stole your food.” Having never heard a lie before, his companion put down the club and said, “Well, if you say so then I must believe you.” From that time on, the lie has been a key ingredient in human communication. At this point, you may be thinking, “But lying is bad. Humans should not lie.”

“Truth is mighty and will prevail.

There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain't so.” - Mark Twain

It is difficult to imagine a world in which humans do not lie. The lie serves so many noble purposes, as well as base ones, that it would be like imagining a world without an economy or without religions. The changes to our world are literally unimaginable. Santa Claus

 I recall that devastating moment when I learned that Santa Claus did not exist. I told my mother that I was confused because some people believed in Santa and some did not. I only wanted to know the truth, I said. She confessed to me that she and my father were the ones who placed all the toys under the Christmas tree, but that Santa Clause was the “spirit” of Christmas who really existed but not in corporeal form.

I was stunned. The floor fell out from under me. My head was spinning. There was no up and no down. After a long moment of contemplation I said something like, “I suppose that the same is true of the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.” She reluctantly admitted that both Fairy and Bunny were likewise fictions, scams, frauds, and cons. (I may not be remembering the exact words we both used back then, when I was eight or nine, but this is the essence of it.) Another thought occurred to me. “So I suppose that Jesus and God are the same; they don’t exist either.”

Obviously amazed and stunned that I would leap to that conclusion, Mother told me that Jesus and God were really and absolutely real and that they had nothing at all to do with Claus, Bunny, and Fairy. Despite her assurances, I couldn’t help but wonder if the preacher would someday admit to me that everything he had been telling me was also a lie.

I felt like a fool. I had been hoodwinked all my life by the people who loved me the most and who wanted only the best for me. I was briefly depressed, but I recovered sufficiently to enjoy the toys left under the tree by my parents, not Santa Claus, a few days later. On Christmas Eve, I complied with their request that I join with them in their conspiracy to delude my younger brother as they had hoodwinked me. I helped them lay out his toys that Christmas, but they sent me to bed before they brought mine out from the forbidden closet.

If your children believe (or believed) in Santa Claus, then you are a liar I suppose. Does that make you a bad person? Some would say yes, others no.

There are many kinds of lies. Any action or inaction that (1) prevents the truth from being known or (2) that is intended to cause someone to believe a falsehood can be classified as a lie. Such as,

  • The simple statement of that which is known by the speaker to be false. “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” The writer knew that there was no Santa Claus.
  • A statement that is true, as far as it goes, but which omits key facts. “I voted for more stringent inspection standards for our town’s restaurants because I want to protect our children from contaminated food.” What your city councilwoman didn’t tell you was that she knew at the time that there was no money budgeted to hire inspectors and that the law would not be enforced. She does not want to anger restaurant owners.
  • Silence about the facts that would cause others to do things you don’t want them to do. A contact lens company sold an extended wear contact lens for $60 and a disposable contact lens for $5. The two lenses were exactly the same; only the packaging was different. The company concealed from its customers that the $60 lens was also available in different packaging for a mere five bucks. A marketing specialist would call this practice “good marketing.” It prevented customers from buying cheap disposable lenses and using them as extended wear lenses.
  • Changing the terms of the conversation. “What we need are tighter borders,” says the Conservative. “So you finally admit to being a racist and an imperialist!” replies the Liberal. “I am opposed to the war in Iraq,” says the Liberal. “Ah, so you finally admit that you support terrorism and pray to your Atheist gods for the defeat of American forces!” replies the Conservative.
  • Telling the Truth Only in Fine Print. We shrug our shoulders at the fine print at the bottom of every contract we sign, every piece of software we install, every employment application we submit, every application for college admission we mail, and every day care center agreement we accept in behalf of our children. We do not read the text because it was designed so that you wouldn’t read it. We also do not listen when - at the end of some TV or radio commercial - a speeded up voice softly mumbles spoken fine print - designed to be incomprehensible. Meantime, the video shows a deliriously happy actor speeding through winding mountain roads. A leggy brunette in the passenger seat gazes appreciatively at the actor who is driving.
  • Usage of Legalese: Legal phraseology can be composed that conceals the meaning of the paragraph from the average reader. “Ah, but let the buyer beware! One can consult a lawyer to interpret the terms for one if one doesn’t understand the paragraphs in fine print.” However, those who author such paragraphs compose them so as not to be understood by the average yahoo - meaning you and me - and they are counting on you to want the product so much that you’ll sign without even glancing at it. They have studied you and know how you will behave. My car insurance company sent me a paragraph “amending” my policy. Even though I could define every word in the paragraph, I had no idea what it meant. When I called the company, the representative told me that “It means what it says; nothing more, nothing less.”
  • Classified Government Information is a way of preventing the truth from being known. The classifiers and keepers of this knowledge assure us that they wish only to keep the knowledge from America’s enemies, but I am willing to bet the rent money that 50% of classified knowledge is being kept from America’s citizens rather than America’s enemies. Does this mean that I am unpatriotic? No, it means that I trust in humans to be true to their nature.
  • Trade Secrets: I also believe that corporations classify as “business secrets” information about their products and services that would make us less likely to purchase them, if we could only know the truth. Recent headlines told us that a pharmaceutical corporation kept secret for years a study revealing that one of its popular prescription medicines caused heart problems.
  • Privacy: Lying to preserve your privacy is the most inoffensive form of falsehood. Some things are no one else’s business.

The Machiavellian proverb on deception, whether in the market, in government, or in social relationships is this:


Where Deception Is Possible and Profitable,

There Deception Will Be Found.


Of course nothing is always true, but this particular proverb is an especially reliable one. It has always reminded me to look closely at everything. Tell yourself, “Things are never as they seem.” Look closely at everything. Remember, deception is designed to be invisible to you. Our culture is filled with deception.



When in doubt,


tell the truth. - Mark Twain


On This Page:

Chapter Eighteen was fun to write and I am proud of it. I hope you found it thought provoking.

Truth - Precious metals are not easily found in the earth, and the precious truth is rare also. Read the truth about truth.

Lies - The discovery of the lie transformed human culture and made it into what it is today. Read the truth about lies.


Chapter 18



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