Here I will present a small contribution to the glossary of lying.

I will explain it across four short sections.

A. True and False

First, let us apply the words “truth” and “untruth” to statements. They have common sense, useful meanings:

  • A truth – a statement that is true.
  • An untruth – a statement that is false.

By “true” we simply mean that the map matches the territory, that the variations “in here” (the thoughts inside your head, encorded in your neurons1) approximate the variations “out there”. By “untrue” we simply mean that they do not match what is out there.

B. A “Truth” and a “Lie”

Now we will add an interpersonal dimension – a “speaker” and a “listener”. (Or a “writer” and a “reader”, etc.)

We will start with some words grouped around a traditional dimension:

    truth                        untruth
inform/educate <------> lie/deceive/mislead/confuse

It includes nothing about the context or speaker’s motivation. It only cares about results – whether the listener learns something true or not.

So now let us introduce that concept.

C. “Honest Mistake” vs “Willful Deception”

Sometimes, someone tells you something false, but they believed that it was true. They wanted to help.

Other times, people want you to fail! They knew their information was false, and they tried to trick you into believing it2.

These situations differ crucially. In the first case, the speaker is unreliable, but friendly; in the second, the speaker is reliable, but unfriendly. And so I invoke a new dimension, of “intent”:

               earnest <------> deceptive
  truth |  inform/educate     trick/mislead
untruth |  honest mistake         lie

D. The “Bly”

However, the concept of “intent” does not appropriately arm us to handle all lies. Very often, a speaker exists in a kind of Twilight Zone where they do not fit in either column.

On one hand, the speaker is not trying to lie. So they are “earnest enough”, and our accusations of deception would seem rude and mean-spirited. On the other hand, the speaker is not quite innocent either. They are speaking falsehoods, and they should know better. Instead of being guilty of explicit fraud, these people are guilty of the crime of introspective neglect.

We see them often in the Bitcoin world: the scammers who don’t know they’re scamming. If they just put a little thought or research into what they were doing, they would know that they’d have to stop doing it. They are guilty of introspective neglect. But since they literally do not know that they are doing anything wrong, we can’t completely fault them either.

Following the groundbreaking synthesis of work produced by Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler, we might call these willfully-subconscious statements “Hansonian lies” or “Elephantine lies”.

I will use the verb “bly” (short for “blind lie”) in the center-bottom of the table below:

Speaker's representation [of their expertise]:     Honest        Self-Deceived       Deceptive
Speaker's malice toward listeners:                 [none]          [slight]         [tremendous]
Speaker's "crime", if any:                         [none]    [introspective neglect]  [fraud]
                                    truth      |  "inform"     "lead [to believe]"   "mislead"
                                  untruth      | "misinform"         "bly"             "lie"

The table contains six words: inform, misinform, lead-to-believe, bly, mislead, lie. As I have defined them above, I feel that only one, “inform”, meets the basic criteria of a “true statement”.


  1. Although, of course, there’s nothing special about a human skull. “Your” variations would also include the variations in your lab notes, books, computer files, etc

  2. See this joke from 30 Rock (s05e07)

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