Truth Is Good, But Knowing Too Much Truth Is Harmful

The truth is a bitter pill to swallow, they say. Yet much of today's information economy is built on the premise that knowing more is better. 

The truth is a bitter pill to swallow, they say. Yet much of today's information economy is built on the premise that knowing more is better. Take the company 23andMe, for example. Created in California in 2006, it's the world's first personalized genetic-testing company.

For $100 and a saliva sample, the company will analyze your genetic code and deliver intimate information about your ancestry and genetic predisposition toward certain diseases. What could go wrong by knowing more about yourself? Plenty, according to Jess Whittlestone, a student of behavioural science at the Warwick Business School.

There are costs and benefits to knowing the truth. One son who gave his parents the gift of a genetic test learned he had a half-brother — i.e., one of his parents had been unfaithful. Likewise anyone who knows of or suspects infidelity must tread lightly. Blurting out the truth for truth's sake is potentially very damaging. 

Yet generally, we say we strongly prefer the truth to being deceived, even if deception is pleasant. Whittlestone discusses the so-called Experience Machine, a thought experiment created by a Harvard philosophy professor before The Matrix had everyone pondering the same question.

Candor is something you can't do without. Candor is authentic truth.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Saying no is hard. These communication tips make it easy.

You can say 'no' to things, and you should. Do it like this.

  • Give yourself permission to say "no" to things. Saying yes to everything is a fast way to burn out.
  • Learn to say no in a way that keeps the door of opportunity open: No should never be a one-word answer. Say "No, but I could do this instead," or, "No, but let me connect you to someone who can help."
  • If you really want to say yes but can't manage another commitment, try qualifiers like "yes, if," or "yes, after."
Keep reading Show less

Apparently even NASA is wrong about which planet is closest to Earth

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less