Friday, March 12, 2010

Miller’s Law

Miller’s Law states: “In order to understand what a person is telling you, you must first accept that what the person has said is the complete truth, and then ask yourself: What is it true of?” This concept is counterintuitive. Most people assume that others will lie when accused. This is not always the case. People want to tell the truth and will take extraordinary measures to do so. Miller’s Law allows liars to tell the truth, but the truth about what?

The following vignette illustrates Miller’s Law. As punishment for some misdeed, a young boy was sent to his room after dinner without desert. Later that evening, his father heard noises coming from the kitchen. He went to investigate and discovered his son sitting on the floor with cookie crumbs on his hands and face, but did not actually see him eat a cookie.

FATHER: Did you take a cookie?

SON: No, I didn’t take a cookie.

FATHER: Don’t lie, son, cookie crumbs are on your hands and face.

SON: I didn’t take a cookie Dad.

(After several minutes of questioning, the young boy admitted his guilt. The father then questioned his son as to why he lied.)

FATHER: Why did you lie to me, Son?

SON: I didn’t lie to you, Dad. You asked me if I took a cookie. I didn’t take a cookie, I took two cookies.

According to Miller’s Law, the young boy did not lie to his father. The young boy told the truth, but the truth about what? The young boy instinctively used Miller’s Law to restrict the definition of two cookies to exclude the existence of the lesser included first cookie.

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