How the Kanamits Passed the Lie-Detector Test

When the Kanamits landed in the legendary Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man,” people were suspicious. And not simply because these alleged benefactors were nine feet tall and could talk without moving their lips. (Any market for basketball-playing ventriloquists, you suppose?)

No, they wondered: Could these visitors from outer space really have no ulterior motives? Did they truly want nothing more than to help us, as they claimed?


So the people of Earth fell back on a tried-and-true method — at least, to anyone who’s ever watched a police show. They had the head Kanamit take a lie-detector test.

As TZ fans know, the Kanamit passed it. But the ending makes it clear that he had to be lying. Which raises the question: How did he “beat the box”?


It wasn’t that their physiology differed from ours. The questioner began, after all, with a few test questions that showed that the Kanamit would set off a reaction on the machine if he lied, just as a human being would.

And it couldn’t be that the Kanamit believed his claim about helping the people of Earth. The Kanamits may have been ruthless, but they weren’t crazy. They knew what they were really here for. So how did he do it?

I think I know. Let’s review the dialogue and see if you can spot it as well:

Questioner: “What is the motive of the Kanamit people in offering such great gifts to the people of Earth?Those Lying Kanamits - Lie

Kanamit: “I hope that the people of Earth will understand and believe when I tell you that our mission upon this planet is simply this: to bring to you the peace and plenty which we ourselves enjoy, and which we have in the past brought to other races throughout the galaxy. When your world has no more hunger, no more war, no more needless suffering, that will be our reward.”

Narrator: “And the machine showed no deviation. According to it, the Kanamit was telling the truth.”

Of course it did, and for a simple reason: the Kanamit wasn’t lying. Look at the first part of his answer: “I hope that the people of Earth will understand and believe when I tell you that our mission,” etc. He did hope that we would believe him when he said that. It was a lie, but he was being honest when he said he hoped we would believe it.

Tricky devils. I hope we tasted bad.



Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Pinterest

You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 03/14/2012, in Twilight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I don’t think he was lying at all. That WAS their mission to Earth. They wanted us peaceful, happy and healthy. Just because he didn’t mention the fact that, once they got us to their world, they were going to eat us didn’t mean it was a lie. A crafty omission, perhaps, but not a lie.

  2. So you’re saying that even without the “I hope the people of Earth believe” clause, it still wouldn’t qualify as a lie? Interesting. But wouldn’t the word “simply” undercut that idea? You’re right, they wanted us to be peaceful, happy, etc., but that wasn’t ALL they wanted.

    Still, you’ve thrown a new light on it. You may well be right, JM! Either way, those Kanamits were some tricky SOBs.

    • I think the key phrase is “on this planet.” The eating took place elsewhere! Taken in context of what they were doing on Earth, he was telling the absolute truth. (Yes, we’re probably overanalyzing this, but, hey, it’s the Twilight Zone.)

  3. I’m thinking we both could have gone far in law school. That Kanamit had us all from the word go. And yes, if the Twilight Zone doesn’t merit overanalyzing, nothing does.

  4. I agree with J.M. (although I’m late to the party) – even without the “I hope that the people of Earth will understand and believe” line, I see another way around the lie. By removing people from Earth (for WHATEVER reason), they remove more mouths to feed (“no more hunger”), and you have to assume that some less-than-stellar citizens would be leaving, which could bring more peace and end some suffering (too bad the Kanamits didn’t have more discerning tastes for scumbags). That’s a warped way to look at it, but… it works!

    • So it would be a classic example, therefore, of us reading into their words what we wanted to hear. The title would seem to support your hypothesis. After all, the whole twist to this episode turns on a misreading of the phrase “to serve man.” You’re right, that could work. Thanks, Mandy!

  5. Excellent analysis. Also, if we stopped killing ourselves and people stopped being hungry, it would be their reward. My guess is that we taste like chicken.

  6. “… to bring to you the peace and plenty which we ourselves enjoy … When your world has no more hunger..,” then you will be fat enough to eat, yet no one asked the Kanamit about what was on his menu!

    After all, “To Serve Man,” it’s – it’s a cookbook!

    • Yep. It all sounded so good, nobody wanted to ask, I guess. Until it was too late ..

      • I think the most important line is “to bring to you the PEACE and plenty which WE OURSELVES ENJOY, and which we have in the past brought to other races throughout the galaxy.” given the narrative exposition, “peace” can mean death certainly and plenty can mean lots of humans boarding the ship. The “we ourselves enjoy” is a big give away, they like the taste of human flesh. They’re just explaining what they’re going to do. The most spine-tingling part is that they’ve done this before in other galaxies, terrestrial genocide, who knows how many alien planets they’ve conquered and they get away scot-free to do again.

  7. In The Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man” I’ve often wondered why they decided to test the Kannamits with a polygraph. The Kannamits stated off the bat that they did not use their voices to communicate with each other, but were using electronic voices to speak to the peoples of the Earth. Therefore, whatever we heard would not affect their biorhythms. Those would be affected by the telepathic messages they sent to each other. Therefore they would be able to flawlessly rig their answers.

  8. John Dinsmore

    Interesting that no one ever brings up the topic: If the original translation was “to serve man”, from the alien language, that translation would not work. Why. The episode implies they translated to serve as to be of service. However, if it was a cookbook, that would mean the title was to serve man as in to serve chicken. In many languages other than English, the phrase to serve as to provide a service is different from to serve as in preparing or cooking. Therefore, the plot device of to serve man is patently illogical. Additionally, an intelligent race would likely not be foolish enough to leave with the humans they are planning to eat a cookbook on how they plan to eat them, fried, boiled, barbequed.

  9. Kevin Ingham

    The cook book would have been better called “How Best To Serve Man” and I take it the name Kanamit is some sort of pun (can of meat)

  1. Pingback: The Apocalyptic Zone | Shadow & Substance

  2. Pingback: An Alienating Thought | Shadow & Substance

  3. Pingback: The Twilight Zone’s Dirty Dozen | Shadow & Substance

  4. Pingback: Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “To Serve Man” | Shadow & Substance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: