Hi, my name is Brocke and I lie occasionally.
Like this: Did you know elephants have 5 kidneys?
That was a lie. However, if repeated enough (or read) it won’t make a difference. Why? Because your brain doesn’t always care about complex aspects like, validity, truth, logic or degree. Often it just wants a new fun fact for the fact book (Maynard et al 1992). So by saying – Seriously, elephants have 5 kidneys – several times. You very likely will not recall that I am telling you it is a complete lie. This is often why we highlight things in papers and books in an attempt to memorize single phrases or ideas for our fact book. Rote memorization and recall involves considerably less hardware than say, describing why you think the tall brunette next to you is attractive or what the concept of time is. So,
Elephants have 5 kidneys by the way,
It is often important to understand what the hell you are saying, especially in short fragments. Media outlets such as magazines, news companies (Fox news), commercials and general advertising extort this idea constantly.
“We asked over 3,000 doctors to review___________, and what they said is amazing. Over 73% who reviewed ____________ said they would recommend a low-calorie energy supplement to their healthy patients who use energy supplements.”
This is legit. It is a commercial by a large distributor of energy drinks. Reading this, initially your brain notices this: Doctors review, 73%, energy supplement, recommended.
See companies make millions off this approach, by hijacking your brains tendencies to want the bottom line at the cost of analysis; you are duped into buying an energy drink that a doctor would likely never recommend. They would however, recommend using a low calorie (as compared to high calorie) if you are using them anyways. These added rephrases or conditional nuisances are known as weasel words. Let’s try another, less evil but still noticeable example:
May contain up to 10% Ethanol.
You may recall seeing this on pumps at gas stations recently. We have so many crops of corn, we are attempting to do something with them rather than just destroying them. Optimists are hoping we may one day provide a usable fuel with it through ethanol. All this is great, but note: ‘May contain’. This makes this claim absolutely meaningless. It could literally say ‘may contain up to 10% unicorn blood’ or ‘may contain up to 96% human hair’. It probably doesn’t contain any, but who the hell knows, right? So why put it on the pump? Well, because who cares. Your lazy brain likes to grab small chunks of info, so if it gives you piece of mind thinking you might be using some ethanol in your car, great. (Watch out for the unicorn blood though, those rainbow fumes are terrible for the ozone)
So why is this important? Well for two reasons, one, which is obvious, and one that may be less so. First, so you do not fall victim to scams and lies. Pay attention to phrases and claims more. Often your brain doesn’t fully analyze statements, but will throw out a red flag, such as ‘hmm, that seems like a gimmick.’ That should tip you off that perhaps you might want to take a second to reread the statement.
The second reason is because elephants have 5 kidneys.
Those around you will often note the statements you make. One thanksgiving, I was sitting around a giant table with my huge extended family. I am a southern US boy, so thanksgiving is an ordeal. As we sat, eating and chatting, my cousin suddenly exclaimed that she’d read somewhere that more people in America, due to drugs, have AIDs than people living in Africa. Now my usual strategy around my giant family is to sit quietly, ignoring much of the irritating speech that punishes my rational faculties, but this had to be addressed. To my cousin, she was simply making a stupid comment based on some stupid idea she has misconceived (The overwhelming majority of AID’s cases are in Africa). However, to a room full of people, people who might potentially donate to AID’s funding, she had just dropped a small fact that was not simply false but potentially damaging. We do this type of thing every day. Did you know Angelina adopted an endangered condor? Can you believe that dog’s have the ability to smell cancer? Or one of my personal favorites, culminating in several terrible stories and failed movie plots: Did you know that if we could harness the other 90% of our brain we don’t use, we could read peoples minds and have ESP? (I won’t rant, but this is not simply false, but ridiculous – we utilize 100% of our brains.)
The bottom line is: small facts rule the world. A great professor once told me any effective theory that is sufficiently brilliant should be capable of explanation within a sentence. The scientist in me wants to hate that idea but the realist in me knows it is undoubtedly true. Change occurs by the thoughts and actions of Everyone at all times. Even the smallest claim can have a huge impact.
Oh, and did you know elephants have 5 kidneys?