The Lying Brain: Lie Detection in Science and Science Fiction

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Littlefield, Melissa M. The Lying Brain: Lie Detection in Science and Science Fiction. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2011.

Reviewed by Kevin Pinkham, SFRA Review #299 (Winter 2012): pp. 14-16.[1]

[...] The Lying Brain offers an informative overview of how lie detection has been promoted in American culture, both through scholarly research and through genre fiction such as scientific detective stories and science fiction. While not exhaustive, the book does condense an impressive amount of information into a readily accessible 148 pages of main text and provides extensive resources for further study in the remaining pages of notes and works cited.

Running the gamut from the early stages of fingerprinting through the development of the polygraph to contemporary functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and Brain Fingerprinting technologies, the book provides a cultural history of lie detecting. The author [...] triangulates literature and science studies with Science, Technology, and Society (STS) scholarship [...]. (Pinkham, p. 14)

Pinkham calls attention to the discussion in chapter 3 of "how a group of short stories —“The Thought Translator” by Merab Ebertle, “The Thought Stealer” by Frank Bourne, “From the Wells of the Brain” by Paul Ernst, and “The Ideal” by Stanley Weinbaum — and a novel, Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, contributed to the idea that thought was an energy form that could be represented physically by various technologies or interpreted by those with sufficient training, reinforcing the pedigree of the polygraph." And "In chapter five, the author explores James Halperin’s The Truth Machine, which envisions the future of lie detecting using technologies rather similar to electroencephalography and fMRI" (Pinkham, p. 15).

The image of a person wired up for a polygraph exam — or in a higher-tech apparatus — necessarily involves the superimposition of the technological upon the human, with the goal of getting insight into the mind (e.g., in the interrogation scene in Vonnegut's Player Piano).

RDE, 5/8Jun21