The Trickster´s Way: Interference of the Senses as a Strategy for Non-verbal Deception

Perception and the senses allow living agents to get information from their environment that is required to comply with the conditions of situationality and attention required to make sense of their surroundings (Niño 2015: 43) and respond in a meaningful way. However, as Plato pointed out, senses are not trustworthy as sometimes they can deceive us, leading us to wrong decisions. On top of that, different agents have evolved ways to intentionally or unintentionally provide false information to other agents to make them behave in ways that are beneficial to their own goals, and sometimes extremely prejudicial to the receivers of this misleading information.

The aim of this paper is to delve deeper into the phenomenon of non-verbal deception on human agents that I have described in my Master thesis The Trickster´s Mind by categorizing and analysing the mechanics behind different forms of deception that don’t require the use of structured verbal languages. This kind of intentional deception requires the ability to create a mental model of other agents and understand them as capable of acquiring false beliefs (Russow 1986: 41). It also requires the use of some cognitive skills that allow the deceiving agent to observe, memorize, imitate and improvise codes and behaviours that will allow the effective communication of false information to other agents.

Interference in the perception and senses of other agents lies at the core of deception. The usual aims are to generate some form of distraction that drives them away from some goal or even make them build a faulty model of some situation that should make them behave in an intended way favourable for the perpetrator. These interference techniques are analysed based on material from military spycraft manuals and written memories of con artists that rely on different forms of non-verbal deception to accomplish their goals. Finally, the paper gives special attention to the systems of social codes that function in part as safeguards against this kind of deceptive attacks and the way an embodied trickster agent manages to “hack” these codes for its own benefit.   

Niño, Douglas, Elementos de semiótica agentive, Bogotá: Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano, 2015.
Russow, Lilly-Marlene, ‘Deception: A philosophical perspective’, Deception, perspectives on human and nonhuman deceit, 1986, pp. 41–51, Albany: State University of New York Press.

Carlos Hernán Guzmán Umaña

Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Estonia

M.A. in Semiotics from Tartu University, M.A. in semiotics from Jorge Tadeo Lozano University in Bogotá. In his first thesis about the Trickster’s mind, h Guzmán analyzed the ability for creative deception from the perspective of cognitive and agentive semiotics. Board games as a diagrammatic modelling system, is the topic of his MA thesis at the University of Tartu, where he explores the possibilities that this kind of games provides as a cultural form of expression and as generators of social transformation.  

non-verbal communication
cognitive semiotics