Mindworks’ Weblog

Thinking Matters

Brainies Innovation Awards – Latest Entry

Posted by Andrew Cooper on August 27, 2008

Time is running out for entries to the Mindworks Brainies Awards.  All you have to do is post a comment or email me with your favourite innovation and you’ll have the chance to win Mindworks products plus free consultancy/coaching time – see the Innovation Awards tab for more details.

The most recent entry arrived by email while we were away in deepest Dorset.  With great originality Gary Reynolds from Cheltenham has nominated…

‘Lying. The ability knowingly to tell or otherwise communicate untruth. Not because lying has any virtue, but because it represents a Big-Bang-like inflation of the range and abilities of the human mind-brain kit. I don’t mean it occurred with Big Bang rapidity, but that once in place the expansion of potential was of comparable relative magnitude.

In order to lie, it is necessary to have a mental model of the world, and ability to communicate. There’s evidence many species have these. However, the necessary equipment for lying also includes:

  1. Awareness at some level that the mental model is a model;
  2. Awareness that the model could be other than it is, therefore that the world/universe could be other than it is;
  3. Possession of a theory of mind, i.e. that others maintain mental models of the world;
  4. Understanding that mental models can be shaped by things other than input form the “real” world, including deliberate manipulation;
  5. Understanding that actions are influenced by these mental models as much as by the real world.
  6. Ability to project a model of circumstances achieved if others respond to their manipulated model rather than the “real” world, in other words, the ability to model a universe/world different to that which exists in the immediate present, and to act to bring it about.

The ability to mentally remodel the world brings with it the realisation that the actual world, objects and situations in it, can also be remodelled in actuality. Whether the remodelling e.g. shaping sticks and stones for envisaged tasks – preceded the mental remodelling ability or evolved together, I wouldn’t dream of speculating.

But I reckon the ability to lie is a useful signifier for the kit of mental innovation that enabled our species to take off. What the landing will be like is a different question.’

What an excellent nomination.  There’s no doubt that the first lie must have seemed like an astonishing innovation.  Presumably an early homo sapien (or possible neanderthal, given the emerging findings suggesting they might have been brighter than us) decided one day that he’d tell a deliberate untruth – “Look, there’s a saber-toothed tiger behind you!” or similar.  It must have been something of a revelation to his audience – perhaps the first joke was invented at the same time?

Lies have certainly played a part in making the world a better place, so the first lie – at least – certainly counted as an innovation. Ronald Reagan huge strategic lie about his Star Wars missile defence strategy probably led to the end of the (first) cold war and the Overlord operation included a number of bare faced lies about where D-Day landings were targetted.

As regular readers will know, I’ll be selecting the winning innovation randomly so all entrants stand an equal chance of winning so get those nominations in asap.

A liar

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