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Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains, therefore, are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our own ugly motives, the better - and thus we don't like to t Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains, therefore, are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our own ugly motives, the better - and thus we don't like to talk or even think about the extent of our selfishness. This is "the elephant in the brain." Such an introspective taboo makes it hard for us to think clearly about our nature and the explanations for our behavior. The aim of this book, then, is to confront our hidden motives directly - to track down the darker, unexamined corners of our psyches and blast them with floodlights. Then, once everything is clearly visible, we can work to better understand ourselves: Why do we laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do we brag about travel? Why do we prefer to speak rather than listen? Our unconscious motives drive more than just our private behavior; they also infect our venerated social institutions such as Art, School, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion. In fact, these institutions are in many ways designed to accommodate our hidden motives, to serve covert agendas alongside their "official" ones. The existence of big hidden motives can upend the usual political debates, leading one to question the legitimacy of these social institutions, and of standard policies designed to favor or discourage them. You won't see yourself - or the world - the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.


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Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains, therefore, are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our own ugly motives, the better - and thus we don't like to t Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains, therefore, are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our own ugly motives, the better - and thus we don't like to talk or even think about the extent of our selfishness. This is "the elephant in the brain." Such an introspective taboo makes it hard for us to think clearly about our nature and the explanations for our behavior. The aim of this book, then, is to confront our hidden motives directly - to track down the darker, unexamined corners of our psyches and blast them with floodlights. Then, once everything is clearly visible, we can work to better understand ourselves: Why do we laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do we brag about travel? Why do we prefer to speak rather than listen? Our unconscious motives drive more than just our private behavior; they also infect our venerated social institutions such as Art, School, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion. In fact, these institutions are in many ways designed to accommodate our hidden motives, to serve covert agendas alongside their "official" ones. The existence of big hidden motives can upend the usual political debates, leading one to question the legitimacy of these social institutions, and of standard policies designed to favor or discourage them. You won't see yourself - or the world - the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.

30 review for The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    Thore Husfeldt

    Maybe you think you know this already. You probably don’t. The world would be slightly better if you did, so: read it this book. It’s surprising and accessible. The thesis is that our everyday actions are (1) motivated by social signalling and (2) hidden from ourselves and others. The important word is “social,” and the insight is that it is not “selfish.” Self-deception (You may already know this part) Maybe you already know about self-deception. I benefit from lying, and the most efficient way fo Maybe you think you know this already. You probably don’t. The world would be slightly better if you did, so: read it this book. It’s surprising and accessible. The thesis is that our everyday actions are (1) motivated by social signalling and (2) hidden from ourselves and others. The important word is “social,” and the insight is that it is not “selfish.” Self-deception (You may already know this part) Maybe you already know about self-deception. I benefit from lying, and the most efficient way for me to lie to you is to deceive myself first – because you were selected for detecting my bullshit, and lying is cognitively expensive. That is a primary function of my consciousness: to rationalise my actions to myself, to hide my motives from myself. I am uniquely incapable of understanding my own motivations. And so are you. These insights are shocking and important, but also available in many other recent introductions to social and evolutionary psychology. The core ideas are from Robert Triver’s Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others, and can also be found in Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Sperber and Mercier’s The Enigma of Reason, and to some extent even in Kahnemann’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Everybody should know this. Social signalling (You don’t know this yet) What then are the hidden motivations that we so aptly hide from ourselves and others? This is where the book really shines, because it’s not what you thought. Let me give just a single example: Charity. (The book has 10 chapters like that: Art, Education, Medicine, etc. I thought the Charity chapter was best at making the point.) As a sufficiently cynical person I thought I knew this already: The “real reason” for charity is, of course, not to benefit the recipient, but to advertise the donor. This behaviour is easily explained by the handicap principle from evolutionary theory: a sufficiently privileged donor can advertise his evolutionary fitness and social stability by making a large, visible donation. Folk evolutionary psychology explains why this behaviour was selected for: it advertises evolutionary fitness. This behaviour is seen in many other species, the peacock’s tail is a famous example. The larger the tail, or the larger the donation, the stronger is the fitness signal. So far, so good, any sufficiently well-read person with a Darwinian mindset knows this. Well, it’s wrong, or at least incomplete. Why? The charity industry is characterised by deliberate self-deception about the effectiveness of charity. (Note: The Effective Altruism movement – Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference – is a counterexample to this, and a very recent invention. Effective Altruism is nothing like a “normal” Charity.) Normal charities will not and cannot account for their effectiveness in actually helping the recipient. In fact, you’re making a social blunder for even asking! Why is this so? Because charity is not only an advertisement of the donor’s individual fitness “I am rich. Procreate with me! I have money to spare. Choose me as a friend!”. Instead, it is a social signal: “I give away money irrationally. I am a useful ally!” What? Think about it this way. Alice is charitable but rational. You have observed her actually researching the effect of her various donations, calculate “return-on-charity”, and the reasonableness of the recipient’s plight. You’ve seen her check quarterly investment statements and obsess over spreadsheets. She invests in charities that you’ve never heard of, but it makes sense when she explains it do you. In contrast, Bob is also quite charitable, maybe even spending less than Alice, but advertises his utter indifference to what the money is used for. He gives his money to the same causes as everybody else. And he’s easily moved: Crying pauper on the Church’s steps? Bob opens his wallet. Now, who makes the better ally for you? Bob does. Of course. If your break a leg on your way home from hunting (maybe because you unwisely ate some of the funny-looking mushrooms), then you can count on Bob to help you. You cannot count on Alice at all (she has found another cause where her time is better spent.) So: The motivation for charity is a lie. (We knew this.) But you and Bob maintain a shared fiction about its pure motives, because Bob must signal his usefulness as an ally, and you must acknowledge that signal. Neither of your can seem self-serving. Therefore, his charity must be irrational, indifferent, lavish, visible, emotional, proximate, and you must applaud him for that. In contrast, Alice makes a social mistake, because she thinks charity is about helping others (when it really was about helping future-you). You and Bob have evolved psychological mechanisms to keep this reality hidden from each other and yourselves. Alice is just blind to this social mechanism. So: our hidden motives aren’t selfish. They are social. The signal benefits both its author and its observer. (Whereas the receiver of the charity is irrelevant. He is not part of the transaction.) Signal-author and signal-recipient are selected for psychological mechanisms for denying this, and society has social and cultural norms for supporting this denial. Were it otherwise, social trust would corrode. Mind = blown. So what Our evolved, social psychology will determine that Bob is a better person. Ouch. This, of course, is a societal insight of the highest magnitude. Because in the modern world, Alice is the better person, but our brains won’t intuit that (see also Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them and probably Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, which I haven’t read). We need institutions and other mechanisms to tackle this. Things I didn’t like The book’s main metaphor, the Elephant in the Brain, does not do as much useful work as the authors may think. It shifts the focus towards the insight about self-deception, which we already knew or can read elsewhere. Instead, the book’s core message is about social signalling, where our behaviour plays the same role as grooming among primates. Elephants don’t arise from grooming. I would have chosen “The Flea in the Brain’s Fur” or something—which is much worse and tells you why I shouldn’t write books. The style is surprisingly light and accessible, much in contrast to The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life When Robots Rule the Earth. This is probably a good idea because it may widen the potential readership, but I had to cringe at some of the formulations.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Gomez

    My Ulterior Review I don't care for reviewing this book. I only care that you, the person reading this review, know that I read this book. I'm virtue signalling like crazy. It's enjoyable. I'm pretty much on board. The world is different now. My Ulterior Review I don't care for reviewing this book. I only care that you, the person reading this review, know that I read this book. I'm virtue signalling like crazy. It's enjoyable. I'm pretty much on board. The world is different now.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Patrik Lindenfors

    This was a surprisingly disappointing book. As a practicing researcher in evolutionary biology, I hate to see my subject mistreated like this. Pro tip: if you want to write about a subject - read up on it from other sources than best selling popular science accounts. For some examples, (1) Franz de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics is fun, but basically an exercise in anthropomorphizing, (2) Robin Dunbar's hypotheses of a "Dunbar number" limiting human group size has a badly thought through mechanism (m This was a surprisingly disappointing book. As a practicing researcher in evolutionary biology, I hate to see my subject mistreated like this. Pro tip: if you want to write about a subject - read up on it from other sources than best selling popular science accounts. For some examples, (1) Franz de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics is fun, but basically an exercise in anthropomorphizing, (2) Robin Dunbar's hypotheses of a "Dunbar number" limiting human group size has a badly thought through mechanism (many things limit primate group sizes) and lacks empirical support, and (3) Geoffrey Miller's ideas of the brain as sexual or fitness advertisement likewise has no empirical support. They are fun hypotheses to speculate about, no more, much less. The central thesis in the book seems to be that we are driven by hidden motives (duh) having to do with self-deception (yes!) and social signaling (also yes!). But that's it - its biology all the way down. Like the exploding field of cultural evolution hasn't made huge inroads to that type of explanation. Is biological evolution our real motive? Well no, its an underlying process having shaped some of our motives, like self-deception and social signaling. But there is more, much more, to be known about our motives from understanding cultural evolution. To recommend just one immensely readable recent book on the topic, read Joseph Henrich's The Secret of Our Success. That said, the book picks up steam towards the end, is well written and contains interesting observations. But it is sadly one-sided and lacking in current research.

  4. 4 out of 5

    ScienceOfSuccess

    The best book I've read in 2019 so far. Quite similar to "Nudge", "Freakonomics" and "Thinking Fast and Slow". Full of original thoughts and unique point of view. The best book I've read in 2019 so far. Quite similar to "Nudge", "Freakonomics" and "Thinking Fast and Slow". Full of original thoughts and unique point of view.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    I almost rated this book a 3 because if you've read Khaneman, Cowen, Haidt, etc..., a lot of what's in here doesn't come as too much of a shock. However, there were enough individual nuggets in here (usually in the chapters that relate signaling theory to specific domains of human behavior like art or religion) that made me go, "Wow, I've never thought of it like that," that I felt compelled to bump it up to a 4. The playful writing style (there are like three literal winking emojis in the text) I almost rated this book a 3 because if you've read Khaneman, Cowen, Haidt, etc..., a lot of what's in here doesn't come as too much of a shock. However, there were enough individual nuggets in here (usually in the chapters that relate signaling theory to specific domains of human behavior like art or religion) that made me go, "Wow, I've never thought of it like that," that I felt compelled to bump it up to a 4. The playful writing style (there are like three literal winking emojis in the text) makes it very readable. Five Things I Want to Remember About This Book: (view spoiler)[ 1. The Elephant in the Brain is a metaphor for the hidden, often selfish motivations that we all share, but rarely think about it. We are often incapable of even recognizing them - they exist in our cognitive blind spot. A big part of the reason we do not recognize them is because it is often adaptive for us not to. We are more convincing liars when we believe our own lies. Our perceptions themselves are often biased or slanted in our favor before they ever reach our consciousness; this enables our inner Press Secretary (the rider on the elephant, in Haidt's parlance) to confabulate more compelling narratives. In some ways, we are all like the split brain patient who gets up because his right hemisphere was covertly instructed to, but whose left hemisphere insists it's because he "wanted to get a Coke." 2. About 80% of what we do is motivated by a desire to socially signal. We signal in order to influence those around us, who are programmed to subconsciously receive and interpret the signals we send. While we are often confabulating rationales for our behavior that make us seem virtuous, these rationales are often contradictory, hypocritical, or incomplete. While we are usually at least somewhat honest (and even sometimes completely honest) about our motivations, it's much more common for us to be confused/ignorant. 3. Most people would rather see the ashes of the original Mona Lisa (in a world where it's been burned) than a perfect replica of the Mona Lisa that's indistinguishable from the original. This reveals something unusual about art: art isn't really "about" the finished product or any of its qualities. It's about the context in which it exists. We care about how the piece was made, the rarity of the materials it's made from, how difficult it was to make, who made it, how original it was, etc... far more than what the actual item itself looks like. That's why there are no "replica museums." No one would go to them, even though they'd let you easily experience all the "best" art. Art is a signal that the artist is sending us about her abilities - perhaps her ability to "waste" resources and time, or her dexterity. 4. Conspicuous consumption is everywhere. Healthcare, charitable giving, everyday shopping... The "third party" theory of advertising suggests that advertising influences us mostly by creating common knowledge about a given product. We know that others know that Corona is a beer with a particular vibe. By buying Corona, we signal to others (who we are confident will understand our signal) the kind of mood we're in. This is a much more useful theory of advertising than the notion that ads are meant to subliminally influence us to create Pavlovian associations between products and moods. BMW commercials are more targeted towards "BMW enviers" than BMW buyers - the buyers need to know that poor people will covet their BMW. Note: this model for "lifestyle" advertising doesn't apply to products that are consumed in private, like mops. 5. Religion is a weirdly adaptive way of dealing with the free rider problem. People pay a significant cost (time spent at church, abstinence from sex and drugs, tithes) in order to join the community. In exchange, the community agrees to have their back - they will demonstrate conspicuous caring, confident that others will reciprocate should the time ever come when they themselves need help. Attendance at sermons creates common knowledge about the community's values, and tacit endorsement of them. Coreligionists badge themselves (i.e. with yarmulkes or crucifix necklaces) so they can be recognized and held accountable by others in their tribe and rival tribes alike. Religion is designed to increase fertility - no birth control, early marriage. Our lizard brains respond to singing, dancing, and rituals by bonding us closer together. Holding supernatural beliefs in spite of evidence to the contrary is a part of the cost that we pay to join the religious community. (hide spoiler)]

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Half way through the book, I was really liking it and very excited about the style and the content. It's hard to find a book in this area these days that says anything new or interesting, but this one seemed to be doing just that. Then, I soured on the book. A few things--they got some of the science wrong--especially the parts on sexual selection and art. There's a lot of new data on this saying that it's not just about signaling extra resources, but that we can just have a predilection for bea Half way through the book, I was really liking it and very excited about the style and the content. It's hard to find a book in this area these days that says anything new or interesting, but this one seemed to be doing just that. Then, I soured on the book. A few things--they got some of the science wrong--especially the parts on sexual selection and art. There's a lot of new data on this saying that it's not just about signaling extra resources, but that we can just have a predilection for beauty itself. And then after that part and all the way toward the end, it was quite bleak. Unnecessarily so--it started to dip into Sam Harris territory. We're all just selfish, religion is bad, and everyone has an ulterior evolutionary motive. If you want to read an excellent counter-narrative, read the Human Instinct by Kenneth Miller

  7. 4 out of 5

    J & J

    3.5 Critique of the "authors" is that they mostly compiled other writers' or researchers' evidence (as shown by the copious amount of citations in the back of the book) although, in praise, at least they included research. Also- the book, in a good hearted attempt to show evidence, went awry with too many examples and interruptions. I enjoyed the graphs, data, statistics, etc but there were too many and they felt like a bombardment of information without allowing me time to let the information to 3.5 Critique of the "authors" is that they mostly compiled other writers' or researchers' evidence (as shown by the copious amount of citations in the back of the book) although, in praise, at least they included research. Also- the book, in a good hearted attempt to show evidence, went awry with too many examples and interruptions. I enjoyed the graphs, data, statistics, etc but there were too many and they felt like a bombardment of information without allowing me time to let the information to sink in before moving on to another topic, example, etc... I did very much enjoy the chapter about education and am still mulling this information over in my mind so it definitely gave me some new ideas to entertain.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    These authors identify some of the most interesting oddities about human behavior. They ask questions about why we do so much story telling and they do this...... by engaging in lots of story telling themselves. They did a great job of identifying the elephant in the brain, which is probably why this book received so many 5 star reviews. The problem is, while they were successful at identifying the elephant, and successful in creating more satisfying stories about the elephant, the methods they These authors identify some of the most interesting oddities about human behavior. They ask questions about why we do so much story telling and they do this...... by engaging in lots of story telling themselves. They did a great job of identifying the elephant in the brain, which is probably why this book received so many 5 star reviews. The problem is, while they were successful at identifying the elephant, and successful in creating more satisfying stories about the elephant, the methods they used to create these new, more satisfying stories are severely lacking. In turn their conclusions are themselves lacking. They are entertaining, thought provoking, and probably even get us on a better path to understand the questions presented in the book, but they are undoubtedly lacking in scientific rigor. I can tell this will be one of my most unpopular reviews, right up there with my negative review of Jonathan Haidt's Righteous Mind. I love the questions Haidt asks but think his methods do not deliver the solid "scientific" findings he suggest they do. The questions that he asks put us as a society on the right track. They are indeed the right questions. It's just that it is very difficult to find a method that can produce definitive answers about the workings of the human brain. Our scientific tools are simply not there yet. This book, while extremely thought provoking, runs into the same problem some of Haidt's books do. The science just isn't there, and pretending it is leaves science, the actual field of science, open to criticism-- as in, "Do you *believe* in science?" If the methods used produce findings that do not require a lot of interpretation, then the method is probably good. For example, humans were able to figure out that when two hydrogen atoms experience the condition of extreme heat and pressure, which is the environment in the core of stars, they strip off their electrons, smash into each other, and create deuterium and heavier elements. These results do not require a lot of interpretation. So it is worth asking ourselves if the results that come from the work of Robert Trivers are as solid and free of interpretation. If they are not, using them as a foundation for just about every argument you make in a book, makes those arguments untenable. I can’t wait until the day we stop talking about animal and plant behavior in terms of cooperation v competition and start talking about things through the narrative of physical laws— specifically the 2nd law of thermodynamics. These authors want to talk about evolution and animal behavior in very different terms. Like many Dawkins followers, they want to know if our actions are governed by competition or cooperation, as if it's one or the other. The neoDawkins crowd loves to make statements such as, “When you look deeper, what looks like cooperation is competition.” These authors are not nearly as obnoxious as Dawkins who should just add a, "Duh!" to the end of every sentence in which he responds to anyone in the field of epigenetics, anyone who brings forth evidence of cooperation in species, and the like. He has repeatedly suggested that those who don't agree with his outdated understanding of science simply "do not understand science." All the while, he hasn't a clue what thermodynamics means for the origins of life, for the dissipation of energy in systems that leads them to be active and evolved forms, and for how it even begins to govern systems that *must* cooperate and compete in order to follow the laws of the universe itself. ***(see discussion of systems' nutrient exchange below) Is what Dawkins and Trivers do really science? All of this debate definitely led to a lot of observation and experimentation and wonderful debates. I encourage all of that. Moreover, I firmly believe that Dawkins selfish gene was a helpful way to understand aspects of heredity and how traits might be handed down and modified over evolutionary time. But, it surely is not even close to the whole story. If you want to better understand evolution, you should read Jermey England's papers on how the dissipation of energy leads to the evolution of a species (or even non living forms). This whole argument about cooperation vs competition is reminiscent of psychology's nature vc nurture. Turns out it is never, ever that simple. In order to understand nature v nurture or cooperation v competition arguments, you must understand the interaction of species with each other, the genes that live inside them, the microbes that are literally part of who they are, their larger environments (including distance from a sun and heat at the center or the planet upon which they live). Unless you truly understand how all of that works, you probably cannot give a definitive answer about whether species ultimately either cooperate or compete. ***nutrient exchange: For every smaller species, there are bigger systems than a species. Animals expel waste products (carbon in air, poop, etc) that poison us. Plants take it in. To them it’s a nutrient, not a poison. Their waste is oxygen, poisonous to them, but a nutrient to us. Each type of form — the plant or animal- expels waste that is that is poisonous to them but acts as a nutrient to the other. Why do they do this? Are they cooperating? The answer is, they must engage in these behaviors because the 2nd law of thermodynamics requires them to. Do they make choices within the physical constraints placed on them? Of course they do. Can we tell stories about those choices? Sure . Will they be as accurate as describing behavior is dictated by the second law of thermodynamics? Of course not. In order to understand whether species cooperate or compete, you must look to how a species ingests and expels energy. If you are not including that, then you have lost sight of the primary motivation for any species to either cooperate or compete. If you then do not put that energy ingestion and expulsion into the larger context of the other energy systems (no matter where it is in the ecosystem), then you are not really understanding anything. At the end of the day, even if you begin to understand the root of competing or cooperating to gain resources (energy packaged as nutrients), if your story can be countered by another story, then you have more work to do in order to prove your hypothesis. Consider again the results obtained from observing what happens in the core of stars. Scientists cannot easily debate each other about whether or not 2 hydrogen are forced to smash together to make heavier elements. It is clear that is going on in the sun. But, the debates about cooperation and competition are easily debatable. It's not solid science and no should pretend it is.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fenn

    I can only hope this book sees the attention and success it deserves. Disclaimer up front: I requested and received an advanced copy of the book. That said, my opinion is genuine. You simply are not going to find another book that both describes how fundamental self-deception is to the workings of our minds and how this trait is writ large in society. The first section of the book does a good job explaining how and why people deceive themselves, skirting, sometimes breaking, norms of behavior set I can only hope this book sees the attention and success it deserves. Disclaimer up front: I requested and received an advanced copy of the book. That said, my opinion is genuine. You simply are not going to find another book that both describes how fundamental self-deception is to the workings of our minds and how this trait is writ large in society. The first section of the book does a good job explaining how and why people deceive themselves, skirting, sometimes breaking, norms of behavior set in our foraging past, as we seek status, mates and allies. We did not evolve to understand ourselves. Being apparent to ourselves would only make us transparent to others. And to make it (and to make babies) in the world, we need to be little (or a lot) sneaky. And you ain't lying if you believe what you're saying. Or at least you don't appear to be. But it's the second section of the book that sets it apart. Hanson and Simler show how our nature can be seen in our behavior (body language, conversation, laughter, consumption) in ways we are blind to. This book is an eye opener. My favorite chapter was on the function of laughter. The most practical was the one on body language. The second section also explores how the functions of some institutions (education, medicine, politics) veer from their "obvious" purposes. We spend a fifth of our lives in school, almost as much of our GDP on medicine. But we don't remember calculus and many medical procedures are as likely to hurt us as help. What's going on? We're showing, respectively, we will be good worker bees and that we care for each other. These later chapters would make (and have made) fodder for entire books. That's the book's great strength. Others have written about self deception (Trivers, Kurzban). And about some of the institutions (Bryan Caplan in particular). But you won't find a single other book of this scope. And unlike most "wow, ain't it crazy how the world works" airport books, the core idea here is pretty undeniable. The authors state they expect readers to accept about 2/3 of their claims. But the single central idea behind these claims is very convincing, and if you pop that red pill you'll know something fundamental and important. And its ramifications are real and huge. Sure, it's neat to understand yourself and your daily life better. This book can help you do that. But we also live in a world with problems that need to be addressed. And we cannot fix the broken things if we do not know what they are really built to do. Will you see the world and yourself better after this book? Maybe. Good luck. Because you're built not to.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Put simply - this is a book that would only be surprising to economists. Boldly fighting a battle against a 'rational' model of human behavior that has already largely been debunked, even by economists, this book suggests that people's motives are often not what they claim, even to themselves. The Elephant in the Brain in this case refers to the human capacity for self-deception. The authors suggest this impacts a wide variety of human behavior, from how we interact with others to why we send ou Put simply - this is a book that would only be surprising to economists. Boldly fighting a battle against a 'rational' model of human behavior that has already largely been debunked, even by economists, this book suggests that people's motives are often not what they claim, even to themselves. The Elephant in the Brain in this case refers to the human capacity for self-deception. The authors suggest this impacts a wide variety of human behavior, from how we interact with others to why we send our children to school. At least they acknowledge that this may not be a new idea to many people - in a blog post one of the authors wrote: "People on this side [psychology] find our basic book thesis, and our many specific examples, so plausible that they fear our book may be too derivative and unoriginal." Right on the money. The authors extraordinarily limited definition of 'rational' behavior was occasionally incomprehensible (for example: his assertion that voting is only rational if it directly benefits you in some financial way). There were a few other bizarre statements like one where he claimed men before the industrial revolution did not have to follow orders very often - has he never heard of serfdom? Or the military? Or slavery? I did, however, like the idea that we should accept that people's stated needs may not be only motives in a lot of their behavior, and we should look for ways to be more efficient in meeting the unstated needs. The chapter on healthcare was particularly interesting in this respect. As someone with a psychology background and an interest in evolutionary psychology, I did not find much new here. If you are interested in this topic I would suggest 'Righteous Minds' by Jonathan Haidt (heavily sited in this book) as a more in depth and thoughtful discussion of the hidden motives of human behavior. Richard Thaler (author of Nudge and Misbehaving) has also heavily covered this topic through his writing on behavioral economics.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    We don't go to art museums to see art. We go to art museums to signal our cultured intelligence to increase the supply of sexual partners. Because our culture has a lot of hangups, we prefer to obfuscate the true motive. For Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler, a cigar is neither a cigar nor a phallic symbol, but it is a signal of something because all of us are caught up in a web of primal "signalling." I mostly liked this book. For starters, the cover, a Rorschach elephant, is fantastic (unless it's We don't go to art museums to see art. We go to art museums to signal our cultured intelligence to increase the supply of sexual partners. Because our culture has a lot of hangups, we prefer to obfuscate the true motive. For Robin Hanson and Kevin Simler, a cigar is neither a cigar nor a phallic symbol, but it is a signal of something because all of us are caught up in a web of primal "signalling." I mostly liked this book. For starters, the cover, a Rorschach elephant, is fantastic (unless it's a ripoff of the poster for PT Anderson's The Master). At one point, Hanson and Simler convincingly argue that BMW ads are not targeted at their buyers but rather at the people who cannot afford to buy BMWs. The purpose of the ad is not to directly create a sense of superiority but rather to directly create a sense of inferiority. The distinction is subtle, I hadn't thought of it, and I really look forward to sharing it. Because I mostly enjoyed The Elephant in the Brain, here are some complaints about it. Simler and Hanson, economists by training and trade, take an admirably inter-disciplinary approach in demonstrating their thesis. Having said that, sometimes the risk of an inter-disciplinary approach is that the author needs to take shortcuts with content. They often refer to Machiavelli as a sincere advocate for cut-throat political strategies, but I was under the impression that The Prince is read with more complexity now. Is drinking in public by wrapping the bottle in a paper bag really cheating in the same way as cheating on an exam? They skirt norms, yes, but what advantage over others is gained? When people murmur appreciatively at your new car, is this really evidence of envy? It occurs to me that it's actually intended as a balm against buyer's remorse. They state that education is designed to help students learn material--what? Surely humanistic psychology has been at the heart of education for decades. Their analysis of the distinction between artistic and functional objects is compelling to anyone who wonders why a painting with a line might cost a million dollars, but I didn't understand how they could so completely overlook minimalism. Many of the analyses are cute, at best. Simler and Hanson attempt to forestall this reading by challenging readers to accept more than 70% of their analyses, which is obviously evidence that they in fact knew that much of their content is superficial. Although the authors' commitment to reading more deeply into all social interactions is often fascinating, we should be wary of this reverse engineering of motive. First, "reading deeply" too often means everything is about sex, status, and dominance because of evolutionary needs that drive behavior. Are we really reading deeply into our modular minds if we always arrive at the same conclusion? Summary Box 17 warns against limiting this analysis to individuals, so I'll keep to myself what is implied by Hanson's dedicating the book to the "little guys, often grumbling in a corner" or Simler's decision to write this book about shallow credentialing rather than finishing his doctorate. But even if we avoid applying this analysis to individuals, these analyses provide too tempting a model to dismiss groups' (political, ethnic, national, etc.) stated preferences by glazing over how people arrive at decisions and dismissing their ideas as "just" primal drives. The introduction suggests that the title refers to the "elephant in the room," the obvious thing no one wants to talk about. But isn't this what everyone is talking about right now? They say the brain is like an elephant, and I was shocked they didn't acknowledge the similarity to Haidt's metaphor of the mind (Haidt argues that we best understand the mind as an impulsive elephant with a rational mouse driver). Simler and Hanson often retread covered territory. In fact, if you've read Haidt, Trivers' book on deception, or Miller's book on art, you can probably skip much of this one. This is not a ground breaking work, but it might be a useful entry point to those other authors. Ultimately, the idea that superficial motives are superficial is interesting--and fun. The writing style is transparently easy and it comes with little boxes that summarize the main points. Although I have always felt condescended to when academics include these little boxes, I now realize these academics are not writing for a mass audience but rather their academic peers. They worry their peers won't read their book and so, to spare everyone embarrassment, they include cheat sheets. I note as proof that Tyler Cowen has blurbed it. 3.5.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    It's true. Humans are...just awful. If you've ever wondered why nothing in society makes any damn sense, read this book immediately. So many things go unspoken, unacknowledged. You wonder how it is that people can come to believe their own lies. This is how. And we all do it. Much of what we call rationality is just the rationalizing we do in retrospect. “We deceive ourselves to better deceive others.” It's rare that a book is this enlightening but also this accessible. (As it happens, the chapte It's true. Humans are...just awful. If you've ever wondered why nothing in society makes any damn sense, read this book immediately. So many things go unspoken, unacknowledged. You wonder how it is that people can come to believe their own lies. This is how. And we all do it. Much of what we call rationality is just the rationalizing we do in retrospect. “We deceive ourselves to better deceive others.” It's rare that a book is this enlightening but also this accessible. (As it happens, the chapter on education will make you want to scream into a pillow.)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Vivek Aithal

    The Elephant in the Brain (TEitB) is one of the most remarkable books I've read in a long, long time. Before I jump into a long review, I want to reiterate what a joy it was to read this fun and insightful book (with over 100 pages of references). The crux of the book is this - In any (partially) mind-reading species such as humans, self deception is a feature and not a bug. Now say that out loud and listen to yourself carefully. Reasons why you should read this book : TEitB tries to answer some The Elephant in the Brain (TEitB) is one of the most remarkable books I've read in a long, long time. Before I jump into a long review, I want to reiterate what a joy it was to read this fun and insightful book (with over 100 pages of references). The crux of the book is this - In any (partially) mind-reading species such as humans, self deception is a feature and not a bug. Now say that out loud and listen to yourself carefully. Reasons why you should read this book : TEitB tries to answer some of the most basic questions about puzzling human behaviour revolving around laughter (WTH do we laugh?), fashion, art, charity, religion and other "wasteful" activities. The book argues that beyond the (often self deception filled) pro-social, utility driven reason there is a dark underlying need for conspicuous display of survival surplus for 3 critical reasons - Mate, Ally, Social status. Most of our behaviour is to signal survival surplus, pro-social caring attitude, fitness display or wasteful conspicuous consumption in order to attract mates, allies or win badges. But you may argue that we don't necessarily think about the selfish signalling motives every time we do something that makes us "feel good". This is genuinely true, which is where it gets *really* exciting. The best way to convince (or deceive) someone of your puzzling behaviour is to first convince (or deceive) yourself, and really believe it. Here are some quotes from the book that I would like to refer to in the future. - Competition : "it was the arms race between lying and lie-detection that gave rise to our intelligence. It is perhaps ironic that dishonesty has often been the file against which intellectual tools for truth have been sharpened." - Self deception : We may have evolved an instinct to make art, for example, as a means of advertising our artistic skills and free time (survival surplus)—but that’s not necessarily what we’re thinking about as we whittle a sculpture from a piece of driftwood. We may simply be thinking about the beauty of the sculpture. Nevertheless, the deeper logic of many of our strangest and most unique behaviors may lie in their value as signals. - Friendship : When a close friend forgets his wallet and can’t pay for lunch, you might call him an idiot. This works only when you’re so confident of your friendship that you can (playfully) insult him, without worrying that it will jeopardize your friendship. This isn’t something a casual friend can get away with as easily, and it may even serve to bring close friends closer together. - Loyalty : The truth is a poor litmus test of loyalty. - Body Language: humans are strategically blind to body language because it often betrays our ugly, selfish, competitive motives. - Signals : Signals need to be expensive so they’re hard to fake. More precisely, they need to be differentially expensive —more difficult to fake than to produce by honest means. - Teasing : Teasing is good-natured when it provokes only light suffering, and when the offense is offset by enough warmth and affinity that the person being teased generally feels more loved than ridiculed. The fact that it’s hard to tease strangers—because there’s no preexisting warmth to help mitigate the offense—means that the people we tease are necessarily close to us. Knowing and sensing this is partly what gives teasing its power to bring people closer together. - Laughter : "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh; otherwise they’ll kill you." - Need to talk so much : "If one makes a point of communicating every new thing to others, one loses the benefit of having been the first to know it." If you tell people about a new berry patch, they’ll raid the berries that could have been yours. - Experiences : Buying experiences also allows us to demonstrate qualities that we can’t signal as easily with material goods, such as having a sense of adventure or being open to new experiences. - Art : Something doesn’t qualify as "art" unless it has decorative, non-functional elements. The fitness-display theory explains why. Art originally evolved to help us advertise our survival surplus and, from the consumer’s perspective, to gauge the survival surplus of others. By distilling time and effort into something non -functional, an artist effectively says, "I'm so confident in my survival that I can afford to waste time and energy." - Charity : helpful. We therefore use charity, in part, as a means to advertise some of our good qualities, in particular our wealth, prosocial orientation, and compassion. - Education : The signaling model says that education raises a student’s value via certification —by taking an unknown specimen, subjecting it to tests and measurements, and then issuing a grade that makes its value clear to buyers. - Education (2) : sorts us all into a hierarchy. Kids at the top enjoy prestige because they’ve defeated everybody else in a competition to reach the schools that proudly exclude the most people. All the hard work at Harvard is done by the admissions officers who anoint an already-proven hypercompetitive elite. If that weren’t true—if superior instruction could explain the value of college—then why not franchise the Ivy League? Why not let more students benefit? It will never happen because the top U.S. colleges draw their mystique from zero-sum competition. - Education (3) : "It is . . . nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry." - Medicine : Most modern medicine is an elaborate adult version of "kiss the boo-boo." - Hypocrisy : But human brains aren’t powerful enough to pull off such perfect hypocrisy, especially when others are constantly probing our beliefs. So the next best thing is often to internalize the belief, while remaining inconsistent enough to occasionally give in to temptation. - Religious rituals : They can be entirely arbitrary, as long as they’re consistent and distinctive. It doesn’t really matter what a sect believes about transubstantiation, for example, or the nature of the Trinity. In particular, it doesn’t affect how people behave. But as long as everyone within a sect believes the same thing, it works as an effective badge. And if the belief happens to be a little weird, a little stigmatizing in the eyes of nonbelievers, then it also functions as a sacrifice. - Humans : We may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon. :)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    2.5 stars rounded up. I'm rather disappointed by this book because it's basically right up my alley in terms of subject matter. Fundamentally, this book takes the position that people are rational, and if they are motivated to do things that aren't seemingly rational, then there are less evident motivations at play (that may or may not be known to the individual). My counter-position to this idea is that people aren't really all that rational, and even if they act in ways that don't mesh with ho 2.5 stars rounded up. I'm rather disappointed by this book because it's basically right up my alley in terms of subject matter. Fundamentally, this book takes the position that people are rational, and if they are motivated to do things that aren't seemingly rational, then there are less evident motivations at play (that may or may not be known to the individual). My counter-position to this idea is that people aren't really all that rational, and even if they act in ways that don't mesh with how they "should" act according to data, it's because they think they're being rational. For example, why do Americans spend so much money on healthcare and have little to show for it? The authors say spending money on unknowingly unnecessary healthcare is primed by the motivation of achieving better health and, because that doesn't explain the whole story, conspicuous care. But I think this is flawed because I think Americans spend so much money healthcare and have little to show for it because they hold a seemingly rational belief that spending money on healthcare has a direct relation to achieving better health, when in fact this isn't actually backed by data. In essence, they're acting in a way that "feels" rational ("feels", because again, people aren't really all that rational to begin with). Of course people sometimes act in ways due to motivations others may be unaware of, but more often than not, I think people are simply acting in a way that feels right to them. I think the authors should have just gone full textbook mode on this book. Granted, they say that the book is quite high-level, but this is like an analysis of an analysis of an analysis levels of high-level for my taste. Also, it's pretty wordy to explain "people act with hidden motives across multiple facets of their lives". "If you make eye contact for the same fraction of time while speaking and listening, your visual dominance ratio will be 1.0, indicative of high dominance. if you make less eye contact while speaking, however, your ratio will be less than 1.0 (typically hovering around 0.6), indicative of low dominance." "A real danger of laughter, then, is the fact that we don't all share the same norms to the same degree. What's sacred to one person can be an object of mere play to another. And so when we laugh at norm violations, it often serves to weaken the norms that others may wish to uphold." "Instead, we seem content with just the veneer of confidence and expertise, as long as our pundits are engaging, articulate, connected to us, and have respected pedigrees." "...Vaccines, penicillin, anesthesia, antiseptic techniques, and emergency medicine are all great, but their overall impact is actually quite modest. Other factors often cited as plausibly more important include better nutrition, improvements in public sanitation, and safer and easier jobs." "Parents of children in public school are not more supportive of government aid to schools than other citizens; young men subject to the draft are not more opposed to military escalation than men too old to be drafted; and people who lack health insurance are not more likely to support government-issued health insurance than people covered by insurance." [From The Righteous Mind] "More generally, any attempt to deviate from the preexisting consensus will be considered suspect. We see this kind of attitude during elections: voters typically punish politicians who change their positions to match the changing opinions of their constituents, even though it's in the spirit of democracy for a representative to "reflect the will of the people."" "...Many communities prioritize a commitment to orthodox views over impartial truth-seeking."

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sreejith Puthanpurayil

    One of the best books I've read. It covers a lot of broad areas and tries to explore the multi-layered complexity of our interactions and institutions. One of the best books I've read. It covers a lot of broad areas and tries to explore the multi-layered complexity of our interactions and institutions.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

    The Elephant in the Brain is at times an uncomfortable read, but well-worth it for anyone willing to undertake its introspective incursion. Programmer Kevin Simler (of the fascinating Melting Asphalt blog) and economist Robin Hanson explore why we are prone to self-deception about our motives, and how this deception can shed light on otherwise inexplicable individual behaviours, as well as institutional inefficiencies. The titular elephant comes from the fact that nobody wants to discuss hid The Elephant in the Brain is at times an uncomfortable read, but well-worth it for anyone willing to undertake its introspective incursion. Programmer Kevin Simler (of the fascinating Melting Asphalt blog) and economist Robin Hanson explore why we are prone to self-deception about our motives, and how this deception can shed light on otherwise inexplicable individual behaviours, as well as institutional inefficiencies. The titular elephant comes from the fact that nobody wants to discuss hidden motives, because they tend not to show humans in the most flattering light. The argument in the first half of the book may be familiar if you’ve followed writing either on neuroscience or meditation, both of which refer frequently to the Sperry/Gazzaniga “split-brain experiments” started in the 1950’s. Basically, they show evidence that much of what we think and say represents post-hoc justification for actions that we had already unconsciously decided to do. This could mean that human self-conception, possibly even consciousness itself, came originally from our need to represent ourselves socially, to make us look good even when we’re not acting particularly well. In that sense, what we typically think of as “self” is less like a president or CEO deciding our actions, and more like a press secretary explaining them. A good press secretary will come up with plausible, though not necessarily honest, reasons to explain actions already taken. The best type of press secretary is not the one that knows the full truth, then has to distort it persuasively, but the one that never knew the whole story to begin with. For this reason, our conscious mind does not have easy or natural access to our innermost motivations, and self-deception may actually be evolutionarily adaptive. We tend therefore not only to misrepresent our motivations to others, but to ourselves as well. If you’re not familiar with these arguments, they’re presented in a well-written and easy-to-understand way in this book. The second half of the book is where the fun starts. The two authors look at how these deceptions manifest in everyday life, and more importantly, in institutions. For example, why do we laugh? If you think it’s because things are funny, this is not borne out by the evidence, which suggests that laughter is prompted directly from humour in only a small minority of cases. It seems more often to be a way of signalling our intentions. Why do we talk so much? If you think it’s to convey information, this too has obvious problems—for example, why do we normally prefer speaking to listening? Why don’t we keep track of information debts? And most obviously, why do we spend so much time on small talk, or on subjects in which we already agree, which seem to convey no information at all? Once again, only a small part of conversation is covered by the intuitive excuse (conveying information) and the true motives for speaking are normally relatively opaque to both parties. The point is not that these behaviours are always deceptive, but that they have elements of deception and self-deception in them. In this way they sometimes fulfil multiple goals, even without our overt knowledge of what these goals are. On an institutional level, what is the point of education? If it were solely an economic exchange for the purpose of learning, then universities would not go out of their way to make lectures freely available online, and employers would give 75% of the additional salary paid to graduates for finishing three out of four years of college (as you might guess, it’s much lower). The prestige of association with exclusive universities is at least part of what’s for sale. Healthcare? If it were about prolonging or improving life, then we wouldn’t spend such a huge amount on end-of-life care that is often not proven to prolong life, but can even make the end of life worse. Instead, it looks like medical spending is often partially motivated to show care for relatives conspicuously. Many of our motivations involve status or signalling, to make us look good regardless of whether we actually learn anything at school or make people healthier. The arguments are extended to many other topics, including body language, consumption, art, charity, religion, and politics. On these topics it is not only provocative but entertaining. The book has faced some criticism, which I think is undeserved, for focusing so intently on the negative sides of human nature, rather than the many cooperative aspects that indisputably improve our lives. But the point is that positive motivations are often loudly advertised. The book is not at all arguing that we have purely selfish motives, just that our motivations are often mixed—and that we could improve ourselves by reflecting on this fact. Neither does the book claim to be a smoking gun on any of these topics, but rather drops the gauntlet for open discussion about the many covert aspects of human behaviour. Read with an open mind, it can not only raise questions about why humans act in certain ways, but also act as a call for institutions to be more honest about their motives, which could allow for better outcomes in a variety of fields.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Farha Crystal

    We are evolved to be a social animal and we often brag about our intelligence based on cooperation skill from the viewpoint of wide and quick information processing skills than other animals. The reason is evolved as a medium for connection between groups. I have seen people who like sharing quotes. I have also seen people who get irritated about seeing people sharing quotes. There is subgroup inside this second group, who puts their reason( as an act of explanation for the former act) into an alt We are evolved to be a social animal and we often brag about our intelligence based on cooperation skill from the viewpoint of wide and quick information processing skills than other animals. The reason is evolved as a medium for connection between groups. I have seen people who like sharing quotes. I have also seen people who get irritated about seeing people sharing quotes. There is subgroup inside this second group, who puts their reason( as an act of explanation for the former act) into an alternative/alternatives which counters the quote theme. Of course, quotes aren't universal for all time, place, region... and there are so many parameters to consider before putting "label" on things. Again if we put "label" on things, we go blind on the things to uncover... it's like Schrodinger situation to me. But, there's a grain of "reality from the perspective" in quotes sometimes ... it's not the whole truth(in fact there's nothing as whole truth) or any "perfect words"( the word "perfect" is a delusion but still a communication medium)... It's just that different people understand and interpret it from their own angle. It's just a feature of any language/literature/art. We see things in the way we wanted to see and that's just our side of reason. But, if it's our evolutionary advantage to make allies and find likable social groups, then which is more important to understand others or to express ourselves through speaking? In reality, there's always a trade-off between these two things. Please don't forget for a moment that we humans are cute hypocritical and political being. ;D But, still, why do we prefer to be brag/advertise about our own point of view rather listening to others just to understand them? Why do we laugh? How does the laughter sounds ( chuckles/giggles) produce instantaneously? Why do we laugh at jokes? Why do we brag about travel? :D Why do we brag/advertise our achievements and positive moments? Why do we brag about not bragging about our things? :P Why do we prefer people who show/share instant charity works than people who rather do slow and calculative work on charity behind the screen? Why do we prefer to show charity more to close psychologically connected people than the far psychologically connected human? :D haha, the welcome to the dark side of the human brain... the elephant we don't want to see... To tell a good lie, you first have to believe in your own lie... here's come the "Self Deception" ... the major wheel of this book. We deceive ourselves in order to deceive others for group benefit. Things I liked about this book: I like the analogy that the sense of me works as a press secretary of the president of the state. Where the consciousness is acting as a press secretary and the whole compound of my brain is acting like a president. The task of a press secretary is to defend the president from an outside angle. The more loyal the press secretary is to the president, the more she is doing well in her job. It's not an easy job. She always has to fight harsh criticism about the president from the public angle. The interesting point is sometimes she isn't even aware of president's misdeeds( just for a moment think that the president is Frank Underwood :D)but more she is unaware of his acts, the better she is defending him as a loyal employer. Now, what if the secretary isn't such a loyal employer. What if the secretary doubts/second and third doubts "the doubt" about the president? It gets more spooky when the press secretary secretly monitor the president's activity, try to analyze and judge him... :D What if she caught the president at stealing public goods for himself in the banner of party/ group/country? how is she doing now? :D How badly she want her job? Does she have a reason to continue her job? If there's a reason then she could manage to find a way to keep her job in Nietzschean perspective :D Otherwise, quit ....... Please, think about that poor consciousness :) I liked the chapter about laughter and the charity too. :) Things I don't like about these books ... The chapter about the Arts, Politics, and Religion. Maybe, I was trying/hoping to find more from these topics. Maybe I feel bored because I was already aware of the contents from these topics related coverage. Anyway, I felt the book worth reading after a long while. I guess my satisfaction level is between 3.33- 3.45/5.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Aryeh

    I liked this book within a few moments of starting it. Either I have really good taste, or the authors of this book have such a deep understanding of my hidden motives that they effectively manipulated me into thoroughly enjoying their book from the very start to the very end, which would also mean I have great taste. That, of course, is the main purpose of this review: to tell you that I have great taste in books and that I am capable of understanding them. Also, that I can demonstrate these fa I liked this book within a few moments of starting it. Either I have really good taste, or the authors of this book have such a deep understanding of my hidden motives that they effectively manipulated me into thoroughly enjoying their book from the very start to the very end, which would also mean I have great taste. That, of course, is the main purpose of this review: to tell you that I have great taste in books and that I am capable of understanding them. Also, that I can demonstrate these facts in a witty review, under the guise of 'sharing information with others' and 'keeping my gigantic catalog of books organized'. I hope it worked. But just because this is a social signal does not mean you can't benefit from it. Despite the fact that I have mostly selfish reasons for saying it, you should still listen to me when I tell you that you should read this book. It is a short, enjoyable read that starts with an explanation of their thesis and then fractures into a series of chapters where they plug said thesis into different categories like art, sex, religion, and perhaps my favorite topic, which was laughter. It's really well done. Just like this brilliant review that absolutely proves you should either mate with me or be my ally. Thank you for your time.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hatim Qa

    This books, as it's clear from the title, explores a lot of the psychology behind a lot of the decisions we take in our lives that we might not be willing to admit. How one might say that he wants to be a doctor because he wants to help people but he actually wants the prestige and the high pay that comes with being a doctor (not that there's anything wrong with it). How we claim that religion is making us better people when, for a lot of people, religion is something that we practice because th This books, as it's clear from the title, explores a lot of the psychology behind a lot of the decisions we take in our lives that we might not be willing to admit. How one might say that he wants to be a doctor because he wants to help people but he actually wants the prestige and the high pay that comes with being a doctor (not that there's anything wrong with it). How we claim that religion is making us better people when, for a lot of people, religion is something that we practice because the communities we live in might reject us. . The two authors argue that being selfish isn't something that we should be ashamed of. It is okay to admit that you do things to feel good about yourself and talk about it with your social circle in order to even feel better. They present ideas that may not be new but they discuss them from an interesting perspective. . It's a hit or miss but I highly recommend it 👍🏽 . في تعبير باللغة الانجليزية معناه (خلينا نتكلم عن الفيل الي بالغرفة) ويتم إستخدامه عند الرغبة في الحديث عن مشكلة/قضية يعرف كل الموجودين في الغرفة بوجودها لكنهم يتجاهلونها. هذا الكتاب يتخذ من هذه العبارة عنوانا له وبتغيير بسيط . الكتابين يناقشوا أفكار مختلفة في العقل البشري وكيف أن هناك دوافع خفية تدفعنا للقيام بالأعمال المختلفة التي نقوم بها يومياً ممكن إن الواحد فينا يخجل من أنه يعترف بوجودها في عقله. . كيف إن الطبيب يقول بأنه يبغى يكون طبيب لأنه يبغى يساعد الناس وإن الراتب والمكانة العالية في المجتمع مالها علاقة (نوت ذات إنيثنج إز رونج وذ ذات *بصوت ساينفيلد*)، وكيف إن ناس كثيرة تمارس واجباتها الدينية لأنها خايفة من إن المجتمع وما بقناعة نفسية منها.. وامثلة كثيرة ثانية . الزبدة إن ترا عادي تتبرع بمبلغ علشان تحس إنك إنسان طيب، ولو بتتكلم عنه مع ربعك والناس المحيطة بك ما بالضرورة بتكون إنسان يسوي ذا الشيء علشان يجذب إهتمام الناس لأنك ما تقدر تدخل في نوايا الناس، كونك تضحك على نكتة تتخطى حدود حمراء لناس كثيرين ما معناها إنك شخص سيء.. يمكن، مو رأيك نته؟ 😂 . أحس ما الكثيرين يتقبلوه لكني إستمتعت به بصراحة، أنصح به

  20. 4 out of 5

    Siddarth Gore

    For a nonbiological example, consider the difference between blue jeans and dress pants. Jeans are durable and don’t need to be washed every day, whereas dress pants demand a bit more in terms of upkeep—which is precisely why they’re considered more formal attire. This is without a doubt 5 stars. It gives you an arsenal of things that you can use to judge people. You will find that in every conversation there are people who are adding their voice not to take the conversation forward but to let ot For a nonbiological example, consider the difference between blue jeans and dress pants. Jeans are durable and don’t need to be washed every day, whereas dress pants demand a bit more in terms of upkeep—which is precisely why they’re considered more formal attire. This is without a doubt 5 stars. It gives you an arsenal of things that you can use to judge people. You will find that in every conversation there are people who are adding their voice not to take the conversation forward but to let others know that they are smart and capable. Unknowingly, of course. It’s crass to quote one’s IQ or salary, but if those numbers are worth bragging about, we typically find a way to let our peers know—perhaps by using big, show-offy words or by buying conspicuous luxuries. We name-drop and #humblebrag. We show off our bodies by wearing flattering clothes. Or we let others boast on our behalves, as when we’re being introduced as speakers. The problem is, most times that someone is us. Ultimately all our social interactions boil down to sex and status. Don't believe it? Of course you don't. As they say, it is hard to make someone understand something if their lives depend on not understanding it. But understanding something and putting it in practice are two entirely difference things. Especially when the learnings go so against our nature. I am setting an alarm to get back to this book once every month. Let us see how that goes... "You are not the king of your brain", says Steven Kaas. "You are the creepy guy standing next to the king going, A most judicious choice, sire." [Even this review is an attempt to brag. To tell you that I read fancy intellectual stuff. Thankfully the book tells us that it is OK (even advantageous) to do such things. But it is even better if you manage to understand your real hidden motives once in a while.]

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anurag Dahal

    Every self-deceived, selfish and seemingly pro-social humans (I mean everyone) should read this gorgeous flesh of tree.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Abhishek

    By far one of the most (almost depressingly) influential books I've read in a while. Operates at an extreme density of insights / reality-check moments on a spectrum of topics from everyday life -- art, charity, politics, education, religion, medicine, etc. Chapters follow a simple framework -- begin with observations of usual human activities (going to school / voting in elections / taking medicines, etc.), then describe why people think they do what they do (to get educated / to elect effective By far one of the most (almost depressingly) influential books I've read in a while. Operates at an extreme density of insights / reality-check moments on a spectrum of topics from everyday life -- art, charity, politics, education, religion, medicine, etc. Chapters follow a simple framework -- begin with observations of usual human activities (going to school / voting in elections / taking medicines, etc.), then describe why people think they do what they do (to get educated / to elect effective leaders / to keep healthy, etc.), then point out obvious loopholes in how activities don't align with stated goals, and finally propose an alternative causal hidden motive that explains behavior better than the publicly stated one. In general, I found myself not always agreeing with the described hidden motives, and almost always agreeing with the lack of alignment between stated motives and behavior. But irrespective of whether you agree / disagree, like / hate what's said, it does help build an accurate world model.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gus Hebblewhite

    If you're already familiar with 'The Righteous Mind', 'The Case Against Education', 'The Myth of the Radical Voter', Effective Altruism, the famous panel studies on health insurance and so on, then you'll cover some familiar territory. Even so, it's an original take that ties together many areas I find independently interesting, and manages to soften its inherently cynical claims with a sense of humility and compassion. The chapters on Art, Charity, Politics and Education are all outstanding. Thi If you're already familiar with 'The Righteous Mind', 'The Case Against Education', 'The Myth of the Radical Voter', Effective Altruism, the famous panel studies on health insurance and so on, then you'll cover some familiar territory. Even so, it's an original take that ties together many areas I find independently interesting, and manages to soften its inherently cynical claims with a sense of humility and compassion. The chapters on Art, Charity, Politics and Education are all outstanding. This might now be the book I would recommend my 16 year old self.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paul moved to LibraryThing

    There is nothing surprising or even taboo in this book. What sheltered lives do the authors lead? This is one step above a bloke in a pub. An interesting, articulate guy but still not any kind of expert in the field. Scholarly paper - this is not.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brian Cloutier

    Very worth reading, dense and without any extra pages. There's a fair amount of overlap with Inadequate Equilibria. Where that book claimed you might be able to do better than civilization when you're aiming in a direction most people's incentives don't point, this book points out plausible candidates for those incentives in a variety of fields. The main idea is simple (often, we're just trying to get laid) but the real value of this book comes from just how many fields it applies that idea to. T Very worth reading, dense and without any extra pages. There's a fair amount of overlap with Inadequate Equilibria. Where that book claimed you might be able to do better than civilization when you're aiming in a direction most people's incentives don't point, this book points out plausible candidates for those incentives in a variety of fields. The main idea is simple (often, we're just trying to get laid) but the real value of this book comes from just how many fields it applies that idea to. The first few areas, body language, laughter, consumption, are great. The book becomes a bit less convincing as it tackles larger problems like politics and religion, but those parts are still well-worth reading. The subject-specific chapters are mostly summaries of other books. The section on Art is mostly a summary of The Mating Mind, the section on Education is just a summary of Bryan Caplan. I haven't read any of the source materials so all these chapters were still interesting, but these aren't battle-tested and studied applications of their idea, you're not really reading science, just the parts of the author's world-view which overlap with the world-views of some other authors. I'm not condemning the book! Not everything needs to be a thesis, but a lot of this book feels too convenient. It feels like they looked around for behaviors and tried to work backwards to explain them with signalling, instead of using the idea of signalling to make predictions and seeing how closely those matched reality. I mean, if Religion and Politics are both just struggles for social status, why do they look so different? In both religion and politics you strongly hold beliefs with little evidence in an act of epistemic sacrifice, a costly signal to those around you that you're dedicated to the group (It's even better if your belief is contrary to evidence). However, in religion you mostly care about your local community, whereas in politics you care about your half of the country? Religion asks you to make sacrifices such as attending sermon or attending the Hajj, but Politics only asks you to wear some badges which advertise your affiliation. These are some pretty big differences! If I want to understand some other institution, like Science, this book lets me think "maybe signaling is important", but doesn't give me many tools to figure out how to apply that theory. And let's take a look at science. The Elephant view would be: most research is about prestige. Scientists are just following their incentives. They'll do whatever gets them into the most prestigious journals so they'll talk at more prestigious conferences and eventually, maybe, get more prestigious jobs. This is probably true, but it's missing a big piece. If all we're doing is trying to be more impressive than our peers, why aren't we all doing art? How did we settle upon the norm that discovering true and novel things about the world is prestigious? If medicine is really about conspicuously caring about our loved ones, then why has medicine gotten so much better? Putting in effort which actually helps your loved ones seems to have some value, or else we would have never bothered to find better treatments. This is getting to my second big gripe with the book. I think it would be easy to read this book and get the impression that competition for sex and social status is the only relevant force behind our institutions. The authors make a good case for signaling being a force behind many of our behaviors, and they stop short of saying it's the dominate one but they often heavily imply it. If all we cared about was advertising how well we could provide for potential mates we'd be burning money in the streets. If our conversations were mostly about showing how useful of an ally we make, we'd spend most of our time namedropping and trying to solve each other's problems. They try to explain away the lack of signaling which is too conspicuous by saying it's against our norms, but why is it against our norms? And even given our norm against bragging, art feels like a rather inefficient way to showcase how much free time we have. This all might sound like I didn't enjoy the book, I definitely did! The chapters on Counterfeit Reasoning, Body Language and Consumption were amazing, and I enjoyed almost all of the rest of the chapters, I'll have fun talking about them, but this text wasn't very convincing, and didn't really change my mind.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Debra Robert

    I joined a non- fiction book club, virtually, because of my time home due to the Coronavirus. I’m glad I did because I hadn’t heard of the book and it is one of self-reflection that I might have put on my “to read” list. Simler and Hanson wrote in a way that made it easy to understand their points. They reviewed and set the stage. Some points made me think about what I really do things - like drive my Prius. I do care about gas mileage and saving money. My car does have nearly 200,000 miles on i I joined a non- fiction book club, virtually, because of my time home due to the Coronavirus. I’m glad I did because I hadn’t heard of the book and it is one of self-reflection that I might have put on my “to read” list. Simler and Hanson wrote in a way that made it easy to understand their points. They reviewed and set the stage. Some points made me think about what I really do things - like drive my Prius. I do care about gas mileage and saving money. My car does have nearly 200,000 miles on it and I’ll drive it as long as I can. However, being in the suburban community I am in makes it more rewarding. My community, including the community of my peers, values the environment and saving for travel verses the showing of money. The authors made strong points about giving to charity, healthcare, religion, and the reasons why the polarization in politics is difficult to exit. Self-deception is all I will say. I read this book more slowly than most, assigning myself 50 pages a day to read. This grew out of a desire to really absorb the information AND if I was really being honest ... finishing the book before my video chat. The Elephant in the Brain is a book that is eye-opening but not in a - Holy Cow - kind of way. (Haha - elephant kind of way!) It is more subtle but does make some worthwhile points and may change the way you look at some of the things you do.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gianluca Truda

    This thing red-pilled the hell out of me! I'm pretty familiar with Hanson and his blog, as well as the concept of social signalling. However, the examples and nuances in the book truly hammered home how pervasive and powerful signalling and self-deception is in human behaviour. This book is less than 10% fluff and definitely worth the time to read. I was particularly taken by the sections on politics/voting, education, and healthcare — my views on these topics are irrevocably shifted. I almost re This thing red-pilled the hell out of me! I'm pretty familiar with Hanson and his blog, as well as the concept of social signalling. However, the examples and nuances in the book truly hammered home how pervasive and powerful signalling and self-deception is in human behaviour. This book is less than 10% fluff and definitely worth the time to read. I was particularly taken by the sections on politics/voting, education, and healthcare — my views on these topics are irrevocably shifted. I almost regret listening to this instead of reading the ebook, as I missed out on making notes for excerpts I'll certainly wish to return to. That said, the audio version is well-made and very digestible. If you have a very rosy view of humankind, this might upset you and leave you quite cynical. But, for those who are well-versed in the Litany of Gendlin, it's a must-read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kunal Sen

    We are primarily animals whose brains evolved to deal with the realities of our distant ancestors, surviving in the African savannas. It developed subconscious traits that we still carry, and it is these traits that guide most of our behaviors. However, the brain also evolved ways to hide these from our conscious brain as this obscuring offered some evolutionary advantage. Therefore, to understand our true intentions, we have to peel off layers of conscious virtuous intentions, and look for thes We are primarily animals whose brains evolved to deal with the realities of our distant ancestors, surviving in the African savannas. It developed subconscious traits that we still carry, and it is these traits that guide most of our behaviors. However, the brain also evolved ways to hide these from our conscious brain as this obscuring offered some evolutionary advantage. Therefore, to understand our true intentions, we have to peel off layers of conscious virtuous intentions, and look for these self-preserving mechanisms. That is the main thesis of this book. It mostly succeeds in making the reader feel rather naked. I couldn't help questioning my self justifications that I nurtured all of my life and felt good about many of the choices I made. However, in some areas the book suffers from excessive simplification to prove their point. For example, the chapter on art, while mostly on the money, make sweeping simplifications about the nature of art. Similarly, I found the chapters on education and medicine only partially convincing. In spite of these shortcomings, I think it is a very important book to read. I cannot imagine anyone will not have an altered view of their self and people around them after reading this book. After all, isn't that why we read books?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tory White

    I found this book under “biological sciences” but I believe it would be better labelled as “pop sociology”. Many of the themes found in this book are ones I’ve heard in my Sociology classes—from the communal aspect of Religion to the displays of social status in body language. However, even though I am quite familiar with this subject matter, I was still incredibly surprised with how well the authors synthesized the information into a digestible, well-though-out read. I enjoyed this book tremend I found this book under “biological sciences” but I believe it would be better labelled as “pop sociology”. Many of the themes found in this book are ones I’ve heard in my Sociology classes—from the communal aspect of Religion to the displays of social status in body language. However, even though I am quite familiar with this subject matter, I was still incredibly surprised with how well the authors synthesized the information into a digestible, well-though-out read. I enjoyed this book tremendously and it is a book I will gift and re-gift to all my friends. The only downside to this book is that it has made me question myself a bit too much… Be warned if you give it to your friends because they will also be able to pick apart your own motivations…

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sven Kirsimäe

    "Humans are animals. This has been a central theme of this book, but it's a fact we often lose sight fo in everyday life. It's too easy to get caught up in all the ways we're different from other animals: language, reasoning, music, technology, religion. And yet even in our uniqueness, humans were forged by the same processes responsible for all animal behaviors: natural and sexual selection, the relentless imperative to survive and reproduce." (the beginning of Chapter 11). The book correlates w "Humans are animals. This has been a central theme of this book, but it's a fact we often lose sight fo in everyday life. It's too easy to get caught up in all the ways we're different from other animals: language, reasoning, music, technology, religion. And yet even in our uniqueness, humans were forged by the same processes responsible for all animal behaviors: natural and sexual selection, the relentless imperative to survive and reproduce." (the beginning of Chapter 11). The book correlates well between the human and animal realms by trying to remove the notion of "special", "unique" and "magical" that seems to be a human treat to describe ourselves.

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