The Liar Puzzle

Remember those language puzzles that used to stump us in our school days. that grow out of the human ability to say things that are not true? They come in many forms, some complex, some simple. Among the more complex, there was The Evil Emperor.

Evil Emperor: Make a statement about anything.  If it’s true I’ll have you fed to the lions. If it’s false I’ll have you tossed into the volcano.

Clever Victim:  You will have me tossed into the volcano.

So that if E.E. prepares to throw C.V. into the volcano, C.V.’s statement becomes true, and E.E. needs to send you to the lions, but if he does that the statement becomes false – and E.E. is stymied.

Or there was The Two Countries:

The Traveler approaches two doors, one leading to the Country of Truth and the other to the Country of Lies. Each is guarded by one of its people, one who speaks only the truth, and one who tells only lies. The traveler wants to enter the Country of Truth, but the doors are unmarked. To learn which is which he must ask one of the guards. But he is allowed only one question. What to ask?

Clever Traveler: Which is the door to your country?  To which either the truth-teller or the liar will indicate the Country of Truth.

As for short versions, probably the shortest is:

“This statement is a lie” which, if it is indeed a lie, will be true, and if true, a lie.

The defense lawyers in Donald Trump’s hush-money trial are giving us a new variation on this old puzzle. The big difference is that the (alleged) liar and the (alleged) truth-teller are the same person.  To sort things out, it’s useful to divide this person into three -Personae? Stages of Development? – The first we can call Lawyer Cohen (speaking to investigators), the second Defendant Cohen (speaking at his trial) and the third Witness Cohen (speaking at Donald Trump’s trial)

The defense lawyers want to make the case that Witness Cohen is a habitual liar.

Q: What is the evidence for that?

A: We know that Lawyer Cohen lied under oath.

Q: How do we know that?

 A: Because Defendant Cohen told us so, under oath

Q: When Defendant Cohen told us that, was he lying or telling the truth?

A: He was telling the truth.

Q: And what, in brief, was the lie that Lawyer Cohen had been telling?

A.  Wasn’t it that, in the hush money affair,  no crime had been committed?

Q. If you argue that this was a lie, haven’t you accepted that crime was committed?

A. Now Witness Cohen is saying about the same thing as did Defendent Cohen.

Q. Do you want us to believe that when Defendant Cohen said that crimes were committed, he was telling the truth, but when Witness Cohen says the same thing, he is lying?

A. But if the story Witness Cohen is telling is all a made-up lie, then the story told by Defendant Cohen (being the same story) would also be a made-up lie, motivated by – what? – a passion to get himself in prison, even though innocent?

Like they say, you can’t make stuff like that up.