Prof. Timur Kuran on Preference Falsification, Revolution, and Mass Deception

Why are great social upheavals such as the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe so often entirely unexpected and a surprise to “experts” who spend their lives studying the societies in which they occur? In 1995, Duke University professor Timur Kuran, in his book Private Truths, Public Lies, presented the theory of “preference falsification”, in which a commonly held view (for example, “communism doesn’t work”) is not expressed in public, even in the absence of explicit repression and threats, due to social pressure and the belief, because others are silent, that the opinion is isolated or rare.

This situation can persist for a protracted period, but it’s metastable: in a phenomenon like the “slow clap” of movies, where, after hearing an heretical truth, one person begins to clap slowly, then is joined by another, then another, finally ending in a thunderous ovation, an isolated courageous person speaking an unvoiced but widely shared opinion can act as a nucleation site to trigger a “preference cascade” which can upset the unstable equilibrium almost instantaneously.

In this extended (two hour and forty-five minute) conversation Prof. Kuran and Eric Weinstein discuss preference falsification and how it contributes to the dysfunctional, polarised, and profoundly stupid political discourse in developed countries today, and the prospects for a “multi-dimensional” understanding of problems and policies which might get beyond bitterly contested and unproductive dichotomies toward actual solutions.


Starting at 1:34:29 there is an extended and insightful discussion of Turkey: its history since the first world war, the extent of the Kemalist revolution, where it appeared to be going, what was really going on, and how it came to where it is today. If this is something that interests you, it’s worth a listen.


Thanks. I found the whole video worthwhile.

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Ironically, they both engage in false “both sidesism” which itself is preference falsification.


?Could some of this simply be that the “experts” are so buried in their “field”that they can’t see outside of its boundaries. “Thinking outside the box” has become a metaphor but in reality it is only not going along with everyone else’s thinking.


An outrageous example of preference falsification is ordering pizza for a group of people. Somebody expresses a preference for kumquat and avocado pizza. The next has to narcissistically one up and suggests squid and cucumber. And so on. When the pizza arrives, however, they all dive in to the one pepperoni and the guy who endured scorn to order that only gets a slice or two.

This dynamic can involve many psychological disorders such as Munchausen by proxy.