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In 3 Body Problem (the 2024 Netflix TV series adaptation of Liu Cixin’s novel), why did the San-Ti grasp the concept of humans being capable of lying and deceit only after their conversation with Mike Evans in Season 1, Episode 4, “Our Lord”?

Episode 4 depicts the San-Ti struggling to grasp the concept of lying after Mike Evans introduces them to the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood." Their confusion with the wolf's deception and the fictional nature of the story itself ("a lie about a liar") leads them to the conclusion: "We cannot coexist with liars."

The San-Ti then severed communications with Evans and stopped protecting him and the other members of his organization, who were collaborating with the San-Ti. As a result, many of the organization's members — including Evans himself — are captured or killed.

The San-Ti possess sophisticated supercomputers — sophons, granting them access to virtually all human conversations and presumably a vast archive of human knowledge. Wade even mentions them "reading Wikipedia," and the UN Secretary-General acknowledges their ability to read humans like "an open book." So, why wouldn't the San-Ti have encountered and investigated the concept of lying before their conversation with Evans?

If this isn't made clear in the TV series, information from the books is welcome.

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    The story-telling is quite shaky in general. Indeed they would have caught that concept early on - come on, haven't they been in touch with humans since they were contacted in the 1950s + some 8 years for the reply? I'm pretty sure you can spot some scene where one or several of the protagonists are lying while playing the game, for example. Also they had already started killing human scientists before the concept of lying scene. "Now we will kill all your scientists... which we were already doing". The only difference is that before that, they didn't kill scientists who could be recruited.
    – Amarth
    Apr 3 at 20:26
  • I have already forgotten the character names, but the elder physicist who's daughter dies hands the protagonist the game helmet claiming it belonged to her daughter. Which she later admits was a lie. So they have a habit of occasionally recruiting new members through lies, evidently.
    – Amarth
    Apr 3 at 20:32

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Not sure about the adaptation, but it is covered in the book. The issue is presented as not one of knowledge, but of psychology. The Trisolarans in the normal way of things are biologically incapable of lying - thoughts and communication are the same thing for them.

We do not have organs of communication. Our brains can display our thoughts to the outside world, thereby achieving communication.

“Display thoughts? How is that done?”

The thoughts in our brains emit electromagnetic waves on all frequencies, including what is visible light to us. They can be displayed at a significant distance.

“So that means that to you, thinking is speaking?”

Over time, this has become deeply embedded in their culture, so even when deception becomes technically feasible it is rarely considered:

In fact, forms of communication do exist in our world that don’t require displays of thought, particularly in the age of technology. But transparent thought has become a cultural and social custom. This might be hard for you to understand, just like it’s hard for us to understand you.

As a result they can just about understand deceit, but only through significant conscious effort and need some fairly explicit explanations to follow the principle:

I understand a small part, like how an ordinary person who has a hard time understanding a mathematics monograph can make out some of it through enormous mental effort, and by giving full play to the imagination.

Evans has spoken with them a number of times beforehand:

This is our twenty-second real-time conversation. We have come across some difficulties in our communication.

The discussion is presented as a coaching session rather than presenting information - Evans has started to get some idea of how they think and is using that to guide them to an understanding of an alien concept.

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  • So the San-Ti only fully understood the concept of lying, after Evans explained it to them. Is this what happened in the book(s)? Apr 3 at 2:44
  • Essentially yes - they had the facts but needed to be guided through the implications. All quotes from the first book.
    – Michael
    Apr 3 at 7:57

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