Questions With Answers That Disconfirm Themselves

The great psychologist Bill Miller once joked that he had invented a scale to assess humility. It had one item: “Are you an unusually humble person?”. The scoring guide for the scale related that a “yes” response meant that the true answer was “no”.

I thought of this the other day when someone who had clearly mixed me up with someone else asked whether it was true that I had links to MI-6. I was taken aback for a moment and then responded “If I said no, wouldn’t that mean that the true answer might well be yes, and if said yes, wouldn’t that mean that the true answer was no?”.

There must be other questions of this form…pray elucidate, RBCers.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

18 thoughts on “Questions With Answers That Disconfirm Themselves”

  1. Reminds me:

    “You think you’re really righteous
    You think you’re pure of heart
    But you know I’m a million times
    More humble than thou art.”

    Weird Al, “Amish Paradise”

  2. It’s probably true that given the way eyeglasses are prescribed, compulsive liars needing corrective lenses inevitably have glasses that don’t work at all.

  3. Asymmetric, but “do you always answer no ?” or other way ” do you ever answer no?”.

  4. Saul Gorn had a large collection of similar stuff, though mostly not in the form of questions.
    “Saul Gorn’s Compendium Of Rarely Used Cliches”

    e.g., “I’d give my right arm to be ambidextrous.”

    See also Michael O’Hare’s recent quoting of his father: “I’m glad I don’t like lemons, because if I did, I’d eat them, and I hate the things!” which is a recasting of Lewis Carroll’s conversation between two little girls:
    Small girl: I’m so glad I don’t like asparagus.
    Friend: Why?
    Girl: Because if I did I should have to eat it, and I can’t bear it!

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