A World Without Lies

By Ande Jacobson

As happened most nights, Alex and Rowan Jeffries were having an impassioned discussion over dinner. The twins had been sharing a house for most of their lives, Alex a professor of biochemistry and Rowan a professor of music and religious studies at the same university. Having grown up together and only living separately as university students because they attended different schools in different states, it was both comforting and financially practical to have come together again once their student days were over. Neither had ever been married, and they considered one another perfect roommates. They relied on each other and were the best of friends even though they had a few notable philosophical differences. In fact, those differences often helped them, though they really only differed dramatically in a few areas. In other areas of their lives, they were often in agreement even when their approaches sometimes diverged. This evening, they were engrossed in a discussion in which they agreed for the most part, but differed in application. The subject this evening was honesty, or more directly, the value of truth and dangers of lies.

“We agree that lies should be avoided as they cause great harm,” said Alex.

“You’ll get no disagreement from me,” responded Rowan.

“So explain to me why the so-called social contract has been corrupted from its original intent to foster cooperation based on an agreed upon set of rules of moral and ethical conduct that allow people to live together in a society. Instead, it has become something that not only promotes lies, it penalizes people if they don’t lie if what they need or want to say ‘might’ make somebody uncomfortable even if it is entirely accurate,” said Alex.

“Argh,” sighed Rowan furrowing his brow. “You’re getting hung up on the niceties of social interaction again.”

“Niceties,” grimaced Alex. “You mean lying if somebody asks a question that they don’t really want answered, often surrounding vanity. Or my least favorite – the oft used ‘how ya doin’ while passing somebody in the hallway when they really just mean to say hello without stopping for a real answer.”

“And you don’t play. I know,” shrugged Rowan. “But it’s not really lying to give a nod or a quick ‘OK’ in response to that one.”

“It is if you’re not OK,” countered Alex. “But then if you really wanted to answer, you wouldn’t be able to anyway because the other person would have rushed off to wherever they were going. People should only ask that if they actually want an answer. Otherwise, just say hi without the feigned interest that isn’t really there.”

Rowan sighed.

“What?” asked Alex.

“You’re technically correct, but you’re not going to change society. It’s become a custom, and it’s really a pretty innocuous one. On the other hand, for things that matter I agree that it would be better if people were truthful. There are penalties for lying in some instances, like in a court of law,” said Rowan. “And at least you and I are truthful with each other.”

“That’s true, and I’m glad of that” said Alex.

“Me too, but it kind of has to be that way because we could tell if the other were lying,” Rowan said with a chuckle.

Alex smiled and added, “You’d better believe it brother, but in society there’s so much harm done by lies. People lie for personal or financial gain in politics and in business, and in advertising, lies are used for pretty much everything. When people believe those lies and act on them, they can be badly hurt, or worse, they can hurt others. I’ll grant you that the social niceties, as much as I detest them, don’t cause that kind of harm most of the time, but they do erode trust. How are you supposed to know when somebody is answering truthfully if they can’t, or won’t, give you a straight answer to an earnest question? I just wish there were a way to get society to see the value in being truthful in all things. Then again, some of the basic constructs that people hold near and dear aren’t necessarily based on truth, at least not objective truth.”

“Be careful,” Rowan warned. “You mean in matters of faith when religious tenets are presented as fact even when they cannot be proven using the scientific method.”

“Of course,” grinned Alex, “but I don’t mean it as a pejorative exactly. I’m more concerned with the flagrant use of propaganda for nefarious purposes and wonder if the combination of accepted lying through social niceties to spare people’s feelings and the presentation of faith as fact contribute to how easily people are both able to lie for personal or professional gain, and being so conditioned, accept lies as fact. In many cases a lot of people seem to lose the ability to distinguish fact from fiction. Think about it. Granted, it’s not how we were raised or think, but if someone is conditioned to lie to look good or to be accepted, what would stop them from lying as a matter of course?”

Rowan looked at the wall behind Alex deep in thought while she stared at him. After an extended pause, they continued their discussion. They weighed the pros and cons of adhering to the absolute truth in various situations and came up with a list of when it seemed like fact could be ignored vs. when truth really should prevail. They agreed that in some cases fiction was acceptable and even desirable, particularly in various forms of entertainment. Whether written or acted, they agreed fiction could be used to spin an enjoyable tale, and as long as it was clear that the story being told was fictional and was not intended to be interpreted as fact there was no harm. The problem as they saw it was when fiction was presented as fact for the purposes of deception, and outside of a courtroom there were far too many instances where there were no consequences for lying.

“I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live in a world where people just didn’t lie, not because it was illegal, but because they just didn’t do that,” said Alex.

Rowan chuckled. “You want Utopia again,” he said.

“Not exactly. I just want honesty to be part of our neural patterning,” said Alex.

“Not happening. There are different groups of people, some of whom are opportunists. They will take every personal advantage, including using deception and lies to get their way. Others won’t do that, but you can’t legislate morality,” observed Rowan.

“Sadly, that’s true, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could?” asked Alex.

“I don’t think you really want that, after all that’s precisely what happens in a theocracy, isn’t it?” asked Rowan. “I know you wouldn’t want that no matter the faith. Even though I have a strong faith, I wouldn’t want to presume and force others into my faith-driven practices any more than I’d want them to force theirs onto me. That’s kind of what trying to legislate morality would be like.”

“True, but don’t we already do that with criminal statutes?” asked Alex.

“Well sort of, but that’s not the same thing as forcing everyone into a single faith and imposing penalties for lack of adherence,” said Rowan. “Having a common secular code of ethics and behavior that allows for cooperation and public safety is really what the criminal statutes are about. They don’t prohibit free expression or freedom of religious practice.”

Rowan thought for a moment and went on. “Getting away from matters of faith and back to an idea of essentially outlawing fiction though, that too can be detrimental. We agree that fiction could stay without harm so long as it’s clear when information isn’t intended to be considered fact. After all, fiction can be a wonderful teaching tool for illustrating concepts, teaching history or morality, or allowing us to think about multiple alternative outcomes of a given situation. We already agree that fiction can provide wonderful entertainment among other things. It can also act as inspiration too, can’t it? In your research, weren’t some of the practices you use today initially hinted at in science fiction before they could be proven?”

“Of course,” answered Alex. “Fiction can spark the imagination, and so much of scientific research is positing a hypothesis, and then defining ways to test it. We often don’t know if an assertion is valid or not until we do that testing, so from that perspective we aren’t in the realm of proven scientific fact, but we are also clear on what has been proven and what is conjecture based on the evidence to date. As we learn more and the overall knowledge base grows, the facts can shift, or at least they can seem to. But that’s not the same thing as intentionally trying to deceive, which is what lying is.”

“OK, I give up,” chuckled Rowan. “It’s getting late, and we both have an early day tomorrow. Truce?”

“Truce! G’night Rowan,” said Alex as she got up and headed toward her room.

“Good night, Alex,” called Rowan. “Try not to let this all get you down. We’re just living through a difficult time right now.”

The next morning, they breezed past one another as they readied themselves for work. Their departments were on opposite ends of campus, and because their schedules rarely aligned throughout the day, they drove separately.

Rowan had a music department meeting first thing and headed to the conference room in the department office suite. Two of his colleagues were deep in conversation when he arrived, so Rowan entered quietly not disturbing them as he sat down at the table. As he listened, he was a little surprised by the direction of their conversation, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on exactly why it struck him as odd. His sentiment was confirmed shortly after the rest of the department members arrived and Bart Heading, the department chair, called the meeting to order.

The only order of business was related to department funding, and Bart was brutally honest and direct in his report from the administration which was very unlike him. In the past, he tended to hide bad news and spin things to protect his position over all others. This time, he didn’t do that at all. He gave a very factual report on why the department’s funding was being reduced and indicated that they needed to cut the faculty by half at which point several gasps erupted around the table.

Bart explained that enrollment in the music program had been steadily decreasing over the past decade which they all knew from their course schedules, and while music wasn’t being cut completely, the administration was shifting the university’s resources to favor the curricula that had higher demand, better external visibility, and more corporate funding including the sciences, engineering, business, and a few specific humanities that aided in the other high profile courses of study. The board had decided to keep much smaller arts offerings, of which music was a part, but the good news was that with the faculty reductions, their performance facilities would remain intact. The bad news was that they would have to double up on offices and would lose some of their rehearsal space.

Surprisingly, Bart announced that he would be taking early retirement and would shift to emeritus status. He named Claire Wheatley the new department chair effective the following Monday. He then reiterated that they needed to further reduce the department to hit their target numbers and said that if they could do this voluntarily and got enough of the faculty to agree to retire or leave, that would be the end of it. The administration had given the affected departments until the week after the term ended to complete the reduction-related transitions allowing the courses currently in progress to complete. Bart indicated that because he was the outgoing department chair, he was only teaching a single course that term. He made it clear that outside of finishing his one weekly course and being on-call should Claire require any transition help, he would effectively retire at the end of the current week. He also chuckled saying that he was pretty sure Claire would be better at the job than he was before he even got his office packed up.

The department had a vigorous discussion with several of the senior members saying that they were willing to retire, some quite eagerly. In all, they just met the number of retirements needed to not have to pursue any involuntary terminations. Rowan was too shocked to participate in the discussion at first. He really didn’t want to retire yet as he truly enjoyed teaching, though he was relieved that he wasn’t tapped to be the new department chair. He thought that Claire was the perfect choice and agreed with Bart that she would be better than he had been in no time. As the discussion continued, Rowan eventually found his voice and spoke up.

“Bart, why now?” asked Rowan. “You said that the enrollment in the arts, or at least in music has been declining for the last decade, but it can’t be the only department in which this is true. Why haven’t we seen a more gradual reduction in underutilized departments rather than a massive cut all at once? Or better, why aren’t we seeing some efforts toward outreach to try to reinvigorate the struggling departments?”

Bart paused a moment and then directed his answer to the room as a whole. “It seems a little more sudden than it actually is. The university’s executive board has been considering various options for some time and only made a final decision at yesterday’s meeting once they came to an overall agreement, at least that’s when all of the department chairs were notified. Today was the soonest I could meet with you all after receiving that notification. Also, it could have been worse. There were some departments that were trimmed back even more than ours was, and in a few cases they were cut entirely, so I consider us fortunate that ours is being allowed to continue, albeit in a more limited fashion. Within the arts, only music and theater remain because of our endowments and direct ties to those industries, but the humanities have been cut way back, and even athletics have been gutted except where they support the med school with respect to sports medicine or various performance studies. Rather than trying to reinvigorate the struggling departments, the university has decided to narrow its offerings and become almost a high tech trade school environment. That tradeoff has been what has delayed their decision until now, but based on the data in their report that I’ll forward to everyone, they said this approach was the most sustainable one.”

As the discussion continued with various department members offering other suggestions, Bart answered to the best of his ability. Where he didn’t have the information, he admitted to not knowing or understanding all of the drivers behind these campus-wide changes. Rowan found Bart’s complete honesty in how and why this was happening refreshing, yet out of character. He found his fellow department members’ reactions confounding, particularly given the faculty’s zeal in embracing the most startling changes. To Rowan, the whole situation seemed surreal and a far cry from what he had seen in the past. As folks started leaving the conference room, Rowan held back. He wanted to talk with Bart a bit more, offer his sympathies, and invite him to come by the house for dinner later that week.

“Bart, do you have a couple of minutes to talk?” asked Rowan.

Bart glanced at the clock on the wall and said, “Sure, I’ve got an hour before my next meeting. What’s up?”

Rowan flinched. How could he ask what’s up after his announcement?

“I just wanted to make sure you were OK, and wondered if you and Marge would like to come by the house for dinner with Alex and me later this week?” he asked.

“No thanks,” answered Bart.

Rowan waited a beat wondering if any further explanation would be forthcoming, and when it was clear that was it, he pushed a little more.

“Did I do something wrong here?” Rowan asked.

“No, I just don’t want to socialize with you and Alex. You’re a good guy, and I really appreciate your support during this transition, but Marge and I just don’t like Alex, and we aren’t interested in spending a social evening with you guys.”

“Did she offend you in some way?” asked Rowan.

“No, she’s just too intense for us,” answered Bart.

With that, Bart got up and left the conference room leaving Rowan to his thoughts. He had no idea that Bart felt that way even after working with him for close to 20 years, and he was a little surprised by the sharpness of Bart’s response. Between that and the discussion during the meeting, he was suspicious that something odd was going on and started to wonder if this was somehow related to his conversation with Alex the night before.

Across campus, Alex had also run into an unexpected situation in her lab. Nancy and Seth, her senior lab assistant and her new first year assistant respectively, were discussing experimental results for a project with a tight deadline when she arrived. Nancy was questioning Seth about some spurious results he’d gathered, but rather than trying to refute his error, Seth was telling her exactly how and why he’d executed his experimental run the way he did overnight accepting that the results were entirely his fault. He further requested that she rerun the experiment with him to determine if his particular line of study should be cut from the project, or if kept, how it should be revised.

Alex was pleased to see her grad group taking responsibility for their actions, but she was also surprised. The previous day, Seth had been overconfident about his skills, boasting that he would have brand new, favorable results the next day after his overnight run. None of that braggadocio was evident today which seemed like a complete character change overnight. She thought this odd and wondered what happened to him as she went to get some coffee from the break area near her office. She poured the last of the pot into her mug. As she opened the cabinet to get the coffee to make another pot, Nancy came running over to her.

“Alex, stop!” she said emphatically. “Your coffee sucks; let me do it.”

Alex set the coffee tin down and backed away from the coffeemaker. She was a little surprised by Nancy’s vehemence, but she had to admit that it wasn’t without merit. Her coffee really did have issues.

As she walked toward her office, Tomas Gonsalves saw her as he stepped into the hallway.

“Hey Alex, how are you this morning?” he asked as he stopped and clearly waited for a response.

Alex thought this particularly odd given Tomas normally breezed by on his way hither and yon never waiting for an answer. His standard mode was to use the colloquial ‘how ya doin’ as he ran by anyone he knew.

“I’m not sure,” said Alex tentatively. She really didn’t know how she was yet. She was a little befuddled from her interactions with her team, and was still mentally trying to sort that out.

“You looked a little lost in thought, and I wondered if anything was wrong,” he continued.

“I’ll have to get back to you on that after I get settled in this morning,” she said honestly.

Tomas accepted that and sauntered off.

Adding Tomas’ inconsistent behavior to Nancy’s abrupt coffee putdown and Seth’s seeming personality change gave her pause. She thought back to her conversation with Rowan the night before and started to wonder if there was more to these events.

At noon, Rowan decided to clear his head and take a walk. He called Alex to see if she could get away for an hour. She had just finished a department meeting that was almost the opposite of Rowan’s that morning. Her department’s funding was being increased, and each grad group was being slightly expanded. They weren’t gaining more full-time faculty, but they were being authorized to add projects and more teaching assistants which facilitated both project growth and course/curriculum expansion. She had been working on some project reorganization planning in response to the news that was starting to give her a headache, so she took him up on a walking lunch for a much needed break.

Once before, the twins had somehow been transported to an alternate reality for several months after one of their philosophical discussions, and they both wondered if it had happened again as they compared notes on their morning events. Did a world without lies actually exist, and if so, were they now in it? They discussed how they might determine this.

“In the world we know, or maybe knew, there are so many ways that lies come up every single day. We should only need to look at the news and do a bit of fact checking to see if the reports ring true,” posited Alex.

“Maybe,” said Rowan. “Just this morning we saw the effects in dealing with our colleagues and students, and we’ve both seen those dynamics deviate wildly from where they were yesterday. That seems pretty definitive to me.”

“On the surface I agree, but we need to confirm that this is as wide spread as we suspect,” said Alex. “I think some internet surfing is in order when we get home tonight. Like the last time, I don’t think we want to check that here on campus so as not to raise suspicions if we really aren’t from here.”

Alex thought for a moment about Rowan’s claim about fiction providing inspiration for discovery. “If we use our conversation last night as a model for where we seem to be right now, we should be able to find some use of imagination and even fiction as inspiration, but not for deception or advancement. That should be easy to validate. We just need to see how they use fact and fiction across a number of areas such as science, politics, advertisement, and entertainment. It might be interesting to take a look at how history is framed too to see if that’s honest or skewed.”

Rowan nodded, and they both glanced at their watches noting the time. Their lunch hour was just about up, so they bid one another farewell heading off in opposite directions toward their respective offices.

Rowan had a few minutes before open office hours when he got back to his office, and he decided to check his records to see if his students’ performance aligned with what he remembered. A quick check of his course rolls showed they aligned, so at least that was consistent. As his office hours started, his first arrival was a student from his music theory class. Paul performed well on the tests, but he rarely turned in his homework which counted for 50% of the grade. While his tests would have given him a solid A, the missing homework dropped that to just above a C so far.

“Can we work something out to get around the homework?” asked Paul as he lowered himself into one of the guest chairs. “You can see that I know this stuff, so come on.”

“You’ve had the syllabus since day one which clearly laid out the way the course would be graded,” countered Rowan.

“Yes, but isn’t homework just supposed to give us practice material that we are tested on?” asked Paul.

“No,” answered Rowan. “You’re right that homework gives you practice on the concepts presented in class on which you are tested, but it also expands your understanding of the material overall. A course isn’t just about the tests. In the case of music theory, it’s a body of knowledge that helps you to understand how music is comprised, the rules so to speak. It helps with musical interpretation for players, and it helps those wishing to compose to understand musical structure. It also helps us listen on a deeper level.”

Paul grimaced.

“Why are you so opposed to doing the homework?” asked Rowan.

“Because it’s a waste of my time, and I have other things I want to be doing,” answered Paul. Paul was an exceptional pianist double majoring in music and mathematics.

“What other things?” asked Rowan.

Paul glanced down at his hands and then met Rowan’s eyes. “I would rather use that time to practice,” answered Paul. “I’m working on some challenging repertoire that is a bit beyond me right now for my upcoming recital, and I need all the practice time I can get. Even though I know the music theory material really well as you can see from my tests, the homework takes too long, and I just don’t want to waste my time with it when I could be practicing.”

Rowan waited a beat as he watched Paul look back down at his hands again. “Do you have other responsibilities or activities that you shirk to get more practice time?” asked Rowan.

“Yes,” answered Paul as he again met Rowan’s eyes. “I sometimes forget to eat, and I end up not cooking when it’s my turn. My roommates are kind of mad at me, but they know how important this particular recital is for my musical future, so we made a deal. They’ll let me skate on cooking for the rest of this semester through my recital, but then I’ll have to cook five nights a week through the summer.”

“Anything else?” asked Rowan.

“I don’t think so,” answered Paul.

“What about your homework for your other classes? Do you skip that as well?” asked Rowan.

“No, I do my other homework because I don’t know the material as well as I know music theory,” answered Paul.

Rowan asked him what other courses he was taking this semester, and Paul rattled off his schedule which would be a heavy load for anyone.

“While I can sympathize with your situation, I can’t let you out of the homework because it really wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the class at this late date. There’s only a month left in the term, so there isn’t sufficient time to offer the class an alternative project to the homework that would be fair to everyone. That said, if you can get all of the homework done that’s due after your recital, I can weight that more heavily than the earlier assignments to help make up some of the difference. It won’t get you all the way back, but it won’t be a zero either.” said Rowan.

“I appreciate that and understand that it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else to completely overlook the homework in my case. I was so focused on my own predicament, that I hadn’t considered how the homework might affect everyone else in the class. Thanks for talking with me and helping me with a partial compromise,” said Paul as he got up and hurried out of Rowan’s office.

Rowan thought about verifying Paul’s claims about his homework in his other classes but then stopped himself. Why would he make that up? He thought about how such a conversation might have gone the day before and decided that the Paul he thought he knew wouldn’t have approached the issue this way. Instead of saying that the homework for his class was a waste of his time, he would have made up some excuse for not turning it in, and he wouldn’t have shared the part about his roommates. Rowan decided that Paul honestly thought that because he knew the material as well as he did that the homework genuinely was a waste of his time as evidenced by his claim that he needed to do the homework for other classes where he didn’t know the material as well. Despite his having a solid command of the subject matter, Rowan couldn’t completely eliminate the homework in calculating his grade, but Paul’s acceptance of the compromise would have been surprising the previous day. Rowan decided that this was more evidence that they really were in a world where people just didn’t lie even when they could.

Rowan got home a little after four that afternoon. Rather than practicing as he normally would when he finished work a little early, he headed straight to the home office that he and Alex shared and began doing some searches focusing first on consumer products just to see how they were presented. The product display pages looked recognizable initially. When he read the detailed descriptions, he was surprised to find pro and con lists for each product. He looked for some items that he already owned just to see how they were described and found that the ads were completely accurate without any embellishments. Advertising seemed to be reduced to objective catalogs of all kinds of goods listing only measurable or objective specifications but without any subjective commentary related to personal preference or texture such as those normally seen in customer feedback. Also, there weren’t any subjective ratings applied to the products, just the technical specifications, peer-reviewed failure studies where appropriate, and directions for use.

After satisfying himself that lies, or even exaggerated capabilities, were no longer part of marketing, a welcome change in his mind, he decided to check how news was reported. He was heartened to find that instead of the plethora of sites spinning everything in extreme directions, he found that the news was rather mundane and matter of fact, and above all, factual. It didn’t appear to be entertainment. It was actually news. He checked the television to see if the reporting was the same as he found online, and to his delight it was.

He did a little more digging to find some analyses that went beyond strict event reporting and found very balanced, fact-driven reporting on even the most complex issues. The analyses he sampled were pretty dry, but they were not presented to try to hide or deceive in any way. They were clearly presented to inform and educate, even when it came to explaining pending congressional legislation.

Rowan heard the door when Alex came in and met her in the kitchen. As they started preparing dinner, he filled her in on what he’d found regarding how things were apparently working wherever they were. They decided that they had indeed somehow been swept to the reality they had been discussing. They didn’t know how long they would be there, and they also didn’t know how much of their discussion applied overall. They decided that two areas that they still needed to check were entertainment and politics.

After dinner, they started looking through the content listings on one of the streaming services they normally used to see what programming was available. They discovered that most of the shows they tended to like including some spy thrillers, science fiction, crime or police dramas, medical dramas, action adventure shows, and movie musicals were still there, but when they brought up each one, it was very clearly labeled that it was strictly for entertainment and the content should in no way be construed as conveying anything other than a story for that purpose. Neither of them were interested in the so-called reality shows, but they decided to see how a few of those types of shows were described and were not at all surprised to find that even those had the same caveats confirming what they’d always known. Reality television wasn’t real at all.

They found others that were documentaries that were effectively analyses of various events or issues using verifiable source material. These were labeled as nonfiction and tended to be pretty dry much like the news analyses that Rowan had discovered earlier.

Alex then wanted to look at some science shows, particularly those exploring some new developments to see if there were any hints at speculating beyond what was known. These were labeled a little differently. Because they were based on established facts, they were labeled as exploratory material. There was a clear line between science fiction written for the purposes of entertainment and science speculation building on currently established fact. They decided to watch one of the space related shows, and the description of the show was exploratory. As the content was presented, it was clearly caveated as to which parts were factual and which parts were speculative and unproven.

They decided to wait to explore any deep historical material or historical dramatizations expecting that they’d be handled in similar way to the science shows.

Alex looked over at Rowan and asked, “Should we discuss the elephant in the room?”

“Which elephant is that?” asked Rowan.

“How religion is viewed here,” answered Alex.

“Not necessary. I’m confident and comfortable with my faith. I don’t need to know how people view it here. We are clearly in some parallel reality, and even if faith isn’t handled the same way here as in the world we know, that’s not a problem for me,” said Rowan a little defiantly.

Alex kept pushing him insisting that they needed to understand how this society worked and that included determining if there was anything resembling religion here. They continued discussing it, and exasperated, Rowan reminded Alex that even when they were in a world seemingly without religion at all compared to their home world, he was confident that the hand of God was at play, perhaps even driving their experiencing these alternate realities as a teaching tool. He suggested that it was unlikely they would be here permanently, and things would go back to normal whenever they were returned home, but Alex wouldn’t let it go.

To pacify Alex, he went into his room and grabbed his Bible. He brought it back to their home office and opened it. Inside, in addition to the text which at first blush appeared unaltered, there was a new section in the front of the book explaining that this was an ancient text meant to explain and document the ways of the peoples depicted therein. It also clarified that this wasn’t a historical account but was a series of stories for illustrative purposes only to be used to better understand one another and that there was in fact no way to substantiate the veracity of the claims therein. Although seemingly throwing his concept of faith into question, he instead took this as a good sign. The books were still there. He looked up the chapel on the campus website and found it too was still there along with a normal selection of services for the campus community. Perhaps rather than being presented as absolute fact, the concepts were presented as just that, concepts or philosophies to help people live and work together. They were something to help build community which in his mind was at the heart of most religions anyway.

“Hmm, interesting. Here, religion seems to be more of an open lifestyle choice or guideline rather than something into which people are indoctrinated in this world,” observed Alex.

“I disagree with your assertion that religious teachings constitute an indoctrination in our normal world, but I understand why you might think that. There are clearly abuses in some cases, but not in all. I think the bigger difference is that everything here seems to be put into the fact or fiction column based on whether you can objectively prove something conclusively. If you can’t, the people here won’t try to claim otherwise even when they could,” said Rowan. “It certainly shines an interesting light on interactions.”

“True,” answered Alex. “And I think if we consider all of our observations so far, we really are in a world without lies, but even more than that, we’re in a world based on objective fact where people not only accept reality, they don’t seem interested in trying to create a different one.”

“It does appear that way,” agreed Rowan. “But, how do you explain my student trying to get out of doing the homework? Does that constitute trying to change his reality?”

“Not at all,” said Alex. “He understood the reality and was just trying to lighten his work load by asking the question. He also easily accepted your compromise, and he was open about why he was asking.”

“That’s true, and that in itself was unlike him before we got here,” said Rowan. “Before today, I would have said that Paul was brilliant but manipulative, and he would have come up with an elaborate scheme to try to trick me into letting him off the hook with the homework. There was none of that today. Not a trace of deception.”

They kept talking and realized that they still hadn’t looked into how politics, or more specifically, political debate was handled in this world. Even in a world based on facts, there could still potentially be reasonable differences of opinion on how to approach any given issue or solve a specific problem where there were pros and cons to various options. There was an opportunity the next evening to observe some live political debate on campus. It was the height of the general campaign, and the final presidential debate was scheduled to take place there. They hadn’t originally planned to go, but given their current circumstances they couldn’t think of a better way to observe what could be the most contentious display in politics.

The next morning, Alex was already at work in her lab by the time Rowan awoke and headed to campus. As Rowan walked toward his office, he passed by Bart who was gently packing his boxes seemingly excited to be leaving soon. Rowan decided to put things to a test to see if things were still as they were the day before.

“Hey Bart, got a minute?” asked Rowan as he poked his head into Bart’s office.

Bart grumbled something unintelligible and waved Rowan in.

“I was sorry to hear about the changes yesterday and hope you and Marge will be OK. Would you guys want to come by the house for dinner later this week?”

Bart looked uncomfortable and swallowed. “Uh, thanks, but we’re pretty busy this week, and I don’t think we’ll have the time.”

“That’s OK, I get it. Maybe next week?” pushed Rowan.

“I don’t know,” said Bart. “We might be busy.”

Rowan could see that this really looked like the old Bart, and he wasn’t going to get an honest answer from him on this, but he decided not to push it any further. He knew this whole situation had to be tough on him, but he was more curious why things seemed to be back to normal. It had only been a day, not months, if they really were back. It was only one thing, so he wasn’t completely sure, but he wondered whether Alex may have seen some evidence as well.

When he got to his office, he checked to see if Alex was online and messaged her about what he suspected, and she confirmed that things did indeed seem to be back to normal. She also confirmed that she didn’t think they jointly imagined the previous day’s events, just that wherever they were, their visit was short-lived. She said she missed the honesty and lack of game playing. Today on her way to her office, Tomas did his usual fly by ‘how ya doin’ without stopping for an answer, and Nancy didn’t stop her from making a new pot of coffee.

Alex also observed some contentious interactions in her lab as Seth bragged about some test results as he tried to steal credit for a clean experimental run that Hiro had executed the night before. Seth claimed that it was his experimental design that yielded those results when it was really Nancy’s design. Alex had been considering dropping Seth from her grad group before the previous day with the news of their department’s funding windfall, and now she was back to that again, though she was going to give it another week or two. She had to consider whether he brought enough benefit to the table to continue to deal with him, or if his arrogance and deception posed too much risk to their research. She appreciated healthy confidence, but not misplaced arrogance. She also couldn’t abide by deceit. Seth’s confidence was completely out of proportion with reality, and he was prone to deceit that hurt the rest of the team. Nancy had confirmed this yet again just this morning. Unlike the day before, these two did not get along. The new wrinkle that was giving Alex pause was that she had been directed to add four more members to the group. If she dropped Seth, she’d need to replace him quickly.

As for the upcoming political debate that evening, neither Alex nor Rowan had any remaining interest in watching what would undoubtedly be more focused on fighting and manipulation than on fact finding. Which candidate would win in the final tally was yet to be determined, but the twins were firmly on the side of reality, and they doubted the debate would reveal enough of that through the spin. They planned to read the platforms, study the writings and records of the candidates, and make their decision based hard data rather than on a prime time personality test. Their previous day’s experience affirmed what they both already knew. Truth was precious, and each vowed to set that example in all they did despite challenges they encountered along the way.

 

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