Liar Liar, Brain's Been Fired

From a U.S. Senate Hearing, April 27, 2010:

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan: The question is, did you bet big time in 2007 against the housing mortgage business? And you did.

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs: No, we did not.

Levin: OK. You win big in shorts.

Blankfein: No, we did not.

William Cohan, in his book "Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World," says of that exchange: "For his part, Senator Levin said he remains mystified by Blankfein's denials where the documentary evidence -- including emails and board presentations -- points overwhelmingly to Goldman having profited handsomely from the bet."

DRAWING THE LINE: Goldman Sachs to traders: No more swearing

What we seemed to have witnessed was a major lack of "truthiness."

But what if, when people walked into a government office or hearing, there was a way that your "truthiness" could be enhanced?

Now, imagine it is a few years into the future. Let's say you are walking into an IRS office and, let's see ... you're going to be audited. Argghhhhh!

But here we are, in the future and the bureaucratic zealousness of our government knows no bounds. The Homeland Security we know and love has morphed from the current overzealous grope of today's TSA airport frisk (the TSA's motto should be, "If we did our job any better, we'd have to buy you dinner first") to something along the lines of, "Cough and we shoot."

TSA SURVEILLANCE: Peep Show, Police State, Privacy Invasion or All Three?

Thus, after you pass, butt naked, through the metal detector and retrieve your clothes, you next get to go through the Truthiness Assurance Gate.

The idea here is that, as you pass through the TAG, you'll press your forehead against a plate and a combination of cameras and computers will determine the exact location of your head (to within a fraction of a millimeter) to locate certain brain regions, such as the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Then, using powerful magnetic fields, pulses will be sent into your head to zap these targeted areas which, in turn, will have a curious effect: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex appears to disable (to some extent) your ability to lie.

After passing through the TAG you'll go into your meeting with your friendly IRS agents and when they ask, "Did you really expect us to believe you spent $20,000 on staff welfare last year?" you'll say something like, "Nope, I was lying ... I actually bought a really nice boat with the proceeds and I'd love to take you out fishing this weekend," after which you'll be, as some folks might contend, "in deep doo-doo."

Lest you think I'm making this up with wild abandon, check out the paper "Effect of prefrontal transcranial magnetic stimulation on spontaneous truth-telling," which you can find in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

What is intriguing about this study is the subjects were asked to lie about something that was completely without consequence to them: the color of an object.

Despite the practical irrelevance, the subjects were statistically worse liars after they had been zapped in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and better liars if they were zapped in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

ANOTHER STUDY: Lying, meeting and traveling

The implication of this is that if someone had a compelling reason to lie, stimulating their left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex could give them an edge in dissembling while zapping the other side could well be their undoing.

Now, we know most organizations would never, at least at present, use something like the "truthiness" TMS technique, but let's face it, the same might not be the case in the future for other more "important" cases, particularly where governmental issues are concerned.

You can, can you not, imagine a time when using techniques such as TMS to compel people to be honest might become the way of the world.

Of course, when it comes to the likes of CEOs testifying to Congress, well ... if they're that committed to a completely different version of the truth than the evidence shows, who knows if enhanced truthiness would have any effect?

Gibbs knows the truth is out there in Ventura, Calif. Tell him your version at backspin@gibbs.com.

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