Vulcans Do Lie

I’ve always been interested in Vulcans from the original Star Trek. Mr Spock was my hero, because he was always the one who managed to stay focused on what he was trying to do. McCoy was prone to emotional outbursts, but was usually short on useful suggestions. Kirk could be rational, but was often he was presented as a ball of emotion, and that was supposed to be his strength.

Spock was also smart and knew a lot of stuff. Most people would say I felt a sort of “kinship” with Spock, not to mean that I was related, but I recognized he was like me. Being like Spock was also part of my being unpopular in school, but I would rather be me than one of those other losers any day.

The original Star Trek series establishes a story that Vulcans never lie, but examining the actual events shows that they do. I think that story itself is a lie, perpetuated (at least in part) by the Vulcans. If everybody thinks that Vulcans never lie, it gives them a tremendous advantage when lying suits them.

Let me be clear of my definition of “lie”: A lie is a communication that is intended to cause the recipient to believe something that the sender knows to be false.

Here are some examples of Vulcans lying:

In “Amok Time”, Spock is at the koonut-kalifee (marriage or challenge) when T’Pring chooses the Challenge. Spock will have to fight for her, and she picks Kirk as her champion. T’Pau tells Kirk that Vulcan law is not binding on him, so he is free to decline the challenge. McCoy does not think that Spock is in good physical condition to fight Stonn, so Kirk accepts the challenge.

In this case, T’Pau lies by omission. She knows that Kirk does not know the terms of the challenge (Spock even told her!), but she did not communicate those terms to Kirk. She just tells him he can accept or decline the challenge. Only after Kirk asks “What do you mean ‘if both survive’?”, she tells him that it is a fight to the death.

This is rather important information that 1) she had, 2) she knew Kirk did not have, and 3) that she chose not to tell him.

In “Changeling”, the Enterprise is attacked by Nomad, an artificially intelligent space probe with incredibly powerful weaponry. It breaks off the attack when Kirk calls it on the radio, and it mistakes Kirk for its creator, Jackson Roykirk.

Nomad comes aboard the Enterprise, and Kirk is asking it questions. Spock realizes before Kirk that Nomad has mistaken Kirk for it’s creator. Spock interrupts to say “The Creator was just testing your memory banks”. Spock knows that the Kirk was not Nomad’s Creator and that Kirk was not “testing memory banks”; it just suited his purposes for Nomad to continue in the incorrect belief that Kirk was its Creator.

In “A Taste of Armageddon”, the planets of Eminiar and Vendikar have arranged to carry out their war by computer simulation. The casualties report to distintegration booths to be killed; the two societies consider this preferable to the total destruction that a real war would bring.

Unfortunately, the Enterprise is in orbit around Eminiar and is declared destroyed. Anan 7 takes the landing party hostage and tries to trick the the crew into to beaming down so that they can be killed and their deaths recorded in the computer. The landing party escapes, and conducts a sneak attack on a disintegration facility.

The attack begins when Spock approaches the guard at the disintegration booth and says “Sir, there is a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder”. There is nothing on the guard’s shoulder; it is just a trick to get close enough to apply a neck pinch.

In “The Enterprise Incident”, the Enterprise crosses the Romulan Neutral Zone, on Kirk’s order, but apparently without authorization. They are surrounded by Romulan ships, and beam over to the Romulan flag ship to meet with the Romulan Commander.

During this meeting, Spock tells several lies: He says that Captain Kirk ordered the Enterprise to cross the neutral zone on his own authority, not acting with Federation authorization; in fact, it was a secret mission authorized by the Federation, with Kirk offering to take the fall in order to give the Federation plausible deniability.

Spock says that Kirk is “not sane”. Apologists try to cover this up by claiming that Vulcans consider *all* humans “not sane”. I find this an illogical position for the Vulcans to take, since sanity would necessarily be defined in the context of the species that you are examining.

In the holding cell, Kirk attacks Spock and Spock grabs his face. Kirk falls to the floor and Spock says “I was uprepared for his attack; I instinctively used the ‘Vulcan Death Grip'”. But as we find out from Nurse Chapel in the next scene, “There is no such thing as the Vulcan Death Grip”. Kirk says, “Ah, but the Romulans don’t know that”.

In “Errand of Mercy”, Kirk and Spock are on the planet Organia when the Klingons come to occupy the planet. Spock tells the Klingons that he is a dealer in kivas and trillium, and allows their mind probe machine to discover that his main concern is how he will continue to conduct his business under the Klingon occupation.

In case you think it is only Spock, consider “Star Trek VI”, where Federation and Klingon agents conspire to prevent peace talks between the two governments.

Valeris (Spock’s vulcan protege) is one of the conspirators, but throughout the movie, she speaks as if she does not know who the conspirators are. She even participates in the search for the conspirators. She has to deny knowing what is happening, and she has to withold the truth, knowing it will mislead the people listening to her.

Except for T’Pau (who I think was just being a dick), these lies all advance the greater good, as judged by the Vulcan who is lying. In that respect, the Vulcan view of lies is fairly similar to the Human view: Some lies are ok.

Spock has no problem lying to the Romulan Commander in order to aid in stealing equipment from a Romulan ship. I suspect he is using the Nazi analogy here: If the Gestapo comes do your door and asks “Are there any Jews here?” is it a lie to say no, even if you are hiding them in your attic? Obviously, it is a lie. Also, obviously you are justified in lying.

The one thing the Vulcans have achieved that Humans have not is a better discipline. They do not routinely lie. They keep this disciplne so well that the rest of the universe actually believes that Vulcans do not lie. This gives them fantastically better credibility when they do.

Aren’t they clever?

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2 Responses to Vulcans Do Lie

  1. Carolyn Sienkiewicz says:

    Oh, wait. If your definition of a “lie” is:

    “Let me be clear of my definition of “lie”: A lie is a communication that is intended to cause the recipient to believe something that the sender knows to be false.”

    and you conclude that “T’Pau lies by omission” — then we may have to wander into super-parsing land. You say a lie is a communication. An omission is not necessarily a communication is it? And shouldn’t a smart Vulcan always be strategizing (new word) about when to lie, or not?

    As you probably know, I believe the writers meant that Vulcans don’t lie under direct inquiry (or at least the writers want the Vulcans to propagate that lore). But then I also don’t believe that characters are alive or consistent or following context, but are only constructs created by a writer (or in the case of Star Trek, a series of writers) with not enough time to keep consistency and (damn, what is that other c* word???? — oh well, can’t think of it) something together.

    Besides, if we don’t let our characters change (oh, “evolve” sounds like we meant it, rather than it being our ineptitude) then how will we get to the next plot point? ;>

  2. Rob Jenson says:

    What is the liar’s paradox? “This statement is false.”

    I agree with you that Spock’s statement “Vulcans do not lie” is probably a lie, especially in the scope of your definition. The first time Spock has uttered it, it could be true, if he was unaware of another Vulcan ever having lied. However, after he had lied the first time, or had been lied to by another Vulcan, that statement would be false.

    Spock is only half-Vulcan, so we have to cut him a little bit of slack.

    I think we also have to remember that the Vulcan tradition of the exercise of pure logic over emotion is a mental discipline. They are trained from a very early age to suppress their emotions and exercise only logic. They are not physiologically incapable of emotion, they just learn to control their actions and to some degree their physiological responses to emotions. Presuming the code of ethics is dictated by logic, then in most cases they believe that lying is not logical. However, since it is not something that can’t happen — just something that would be shameful and contrary to the cultural mores, then one must accept that it happens[1].

    If there is a lie that can be rationalized as logical, for example for the survival of the individual, or of the species[3] (vis-a-vis, propagating the broad statement “Vulcans do not lie” instead of the more specific “Vulcans do not lie, unless it is the logical alternative to truth”) then I would think that it would be logical to lie.


    [1] For some reason, perhaps because of my rigid[2] training in philosophy, I feel the need to present the following: Lying for a Vulcan is the same as “masturbating on the subway” is to a human being. It happens, but is isn’t the cultural norm, and in most cases we would say that isn’t part of the “normal” behavior of Terrans.

    [2] Probably should have been rigorous.

    [3] Or, most importantly, to make the plot of the episode / movie work. 🙂

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