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Deceivers all 

Deceivers all
Deceivers all
The Actor's Brain: Exploring the cognitive neuroscience of free will

Sean A Spence


So it is that in this chapter we address what is currently known about the cognitive neurobiological basis of an inherently interpersonal behaviour—that is, deception, deceit, or lying—by which we mean the deliberate attempt to mislead another person by creating a false belief in their mind. Indeed, although the literature concerning the neurobiology of lying is altogether ‘younger’ than those assayed in earlier chapters of this book, it is one that has already witnessed tremendous advances within the space of less than 10 years. Furthermore (and as has been exemplified by the content of the preceding chapter, concerning ‘hysteria’), there are many situations in human life where we must either take the intentions of another agent on trust (i.e. ‘at face value’) or else accept that we cannot ‘know’ what another person is thinking, and hence persist in attempting to manage our consequent uncertainty.

There is a very real limit, a phenomenological boundary, to the extent to which we may ‘read’ others’ minds and we would do well to remember this, especially when the consequences of failure are severe (for ‘us’ or ‘them’). However, notwithstanding this problem, there is the prospect that we might eventually understand ourselves rather better if we could study deceit under controlled conditions and learn what it is about our brains (and, ultimately, our genetic endowment) that enables ‘us’ (as a species) to behave in this way. Furthermore, should we discover that ‘higher’ brain centres are necessarily implicated in deceit, then might that not tell us something interesting about the ‘responsibilities’ of a deceiver? A deceiver is, by definition, necessarily aware of what they are doing. I shall say more about these issues in due course.

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