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The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life Hardcover – Illustrated, January 2, 2018
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"Many of the details of Hanson and Simler's thesis are persuasive, and the idea of an "introspective taboo" that prevents us from telling the truth to ourselves about our motives is worth contemplating. (That taboo is the Elephant [in the Brain])." - The New Yorker
"The Elephant in the Brain is refreshingly frank and penetrating, leaving no stone of presumed human virtue unturned." -Wall Street Journal
"This book will make you see the world in a whole new light." --Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg columnist; author of The Great Stagnation
"The Elephant in the Brain is a masterpiece." --Scott Aaronson, Director, Quantum Information Center, University of Texas, Austin
"In this ingenious and persuasive book, Simler and Hanson mischievously reveal that much of our behavior is for social consumption: we make decisions that make us look good, rather than good decisions." --Hugo Mercier, Research Scientist, French Institute for Cognitive Sciences
"A thoughtful examination of the human condition." --David Biello, Science Curator at TED; author of The Unnatural World
"Simler and Hanson have done it again- a big new idea, well told." --Gregory Benford, Professor of Physics, University of California, Irvine; two- time Nebula Award Winner; author of The Berlin Project
"Deeply important, wide- ranging, beautifully written, and fundamentally right." --Bryan Caplan, Professor of Economics, George Mason University; author of The Case Against Education
"This is the most unconventional and uncomfortable self- help book you will ever read. But probably also the most important." --Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at MIT; coauthor of Machine
"Thorough, insightful, fun to read, with the slight negative that everything is now ruined forever." --Zach Weinersmith, author of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
"This book will change how you see the world." --Allan Dafoe, Professor of Political Science, Yale University
"A captivating book about the things your brain does not want you to know." --Jaan Tallinn, Founder of Skype, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, and Future of Life Institute
"It's hard to overstate how impactful this book is." --Tucker Max, author of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
"An eye-opening look at how we deceive ourselves in order to deceive others." --Ramez Naam, author of Nexus
"A provocative and compellingly readable account of how and why we lie to our rivals, our friends, and ourselves." --Steven Landsburg, Professor of Economics, University of Rochester
"Simler and Hanson reveal what's beneath our wise veneer--a maelstrom of bias and rationalization that we all must- for survival's sake--help each other overcome." --David Brin, two- time Hugo Award Winner; author of Existence
"A thoughtful and provocative book." --Andrew Gelman, Professor of Statistics, Columbia University
"Simler and Hanson uncover the hidden and darker forces that shape much of what we say and do." --William MacAskill, Professor of Philosophy, Oxford University; author of Doing Good Better
"There are only a few people alive today worth listening to. Robin Hanson is one of them." --Ralph Merkle, co- inventor of public key cryptography
"Brilliantly written and entertaining on every page." --Alex Tabarrok, author of Modern Principles of Economics
"A disturbing and important book." --Arnold Kling, author of The Three Languages of Politics
"Coauthors Simler, a software engineer, and Hanson (The Age of Em), an economics professor, bring a light touch in this thought-provoking exploration of how little understanding people have of their own motivations...This is a fascinating and accessible introduction to an important subject. " --Publisher's Weekly
"An entertaining and insightful book that sheds light on a diverse collection of perplexing human behaviors from laughter to religion to the origin of language." --Quillette
"The argument that Simler and Hanson make is rather comprehensive, and compelling. They bring together research on various topics of limited reach that, when combined, speak to the outrageous gall of the mind in recreating reality to its own liking, and then covering its tracks." -- Katherine Oktober Matthews, Riding the Dragon
"Charles Darwin, Dan Kahneman and Malcolm Gladwell walk into a bar. . . It's no joke! Reading The Elephant in the Brain is like eavesdropping on a fascinating conversation among a group of well-read and clever iconoclasts as they speculate on why we vote against our economic interests, spend too much on health care, give to the wrong charities and pray to gods we aren't sure really exist." --Steven Pearlstein, Columnist at The Washington Post; Pulitzer Prize Winner
"Drawing upon evolutionary psychology, the authors tackle the basic capacity of humans for self-deception, not merely at the level of the Freudian intrapsychic but collectively as well. Self-deception, they argue, allows people to better manipulate others. In exposing the darker side of human nature, the authors take readers on a fascinating journey into hidden motivations in such diverse realms as education, religion, and politics." --CHOICE
"If you want to know what makes people tick, read The Elephant in the Brain. Simler and Hanson have created the most comprehensive, powerful, unified explanation of human nature and behavior to date." --Jason Brennan, Professor of Business, Georgetown University
About the Author
Kevin Simler is a writer and software engineer currently living in Brooklyn, NY. He's worked for ten years as a programmer, product designer, and engineering director, and continues to advise startups about technology, leadership, and recruiting.
Robin Hanson is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University. He has a doctorate in social science, master's degrees in physics and philosophy, and nine years of experience as a research programmer in artificial intelligence and Bayesian statistics. With over 3100 citations and sixty academic publications, he's recognized not only for his contributions to economics (especially, pioneering the theory and use of prediction markets), but also for the wide range of fields in which he's been published. He is the author of The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth (OUP 2016).
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated edition (January 2, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0190495995
- ISBN-13 : 978-0190495992
- Item Weight : 1.5 pounds
- Dimensions : 9.4 x 1.7 x 6.4 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #214,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This isn't to say that what was in this book is false. Much of what's here is plausible and follows fairly obviously from much of what's written in evolutionary biology. There's just little here that goes beyond that which are the obvious implications and saying something new. The authors say that no one's ever written on this in the past but nothing they said here appeared new or original to me.
Simler and Hanson ask you to consider that evolutionary hold-overs motivate even your most selfless acts. The Elephant in the Brain (because it's about a big thing in our brain that we don't acknowledge) argues that many of our actions are motivated by a desire to cultivate allies and mates and, to cultivate effectively, humans have learned to lie others and ourselves. We've learned to fool ourselves into thinking we're pretty great because that makes it easier to fool others into thinking we're pretty great. Our brains evolved succeed in a social setting.
You can argue their explanation is an incomplete understanding of human behavior. The Elephant in the Brain isn't meant to be a handbook of the human brain, able to explain every single thing people do. It's meant to highlight a part of our thinking we willfully ignore. One of the authors is an economist, but the book also draws heavily on psychological and evolutionary research. Indeed, the selfishness argument that's at the heart of the book isn't an economic one (as one reviewer erroneously claims), but an evolutionary one.
Appreciate how hard Simler and Hanson's argument is to show. "You're secretly lying to yourself!" is by definition something people will not be upfront about. Much of the book applies this self-deception/selfishness theory to different areas such as art, education, donations, and body language and concentrates on the contradictions. There's a disconnect between what we claim and what we see. The "elephant in the brain" fills the gap.
To get a feel for how they make their argument, consider their chapter on donations. We typically think of donations as acts of pure selflessness--motivated by a "warm glow" from helping others--but Simler and Hanson point to some contradictions.
-We typically do not do research on the organizations we donate to.
-We are more often motivated by individual stories rather than statistics on effectiveness.
-We rarely keep quiet about our donations and most donations are not anonymous. Even "anonymous" donations aren't kept quiet.
If charity was all about helping others and nothing more, we'd be more careful about where the money goes and wouldn't be so concerned with advertising our benevolence. Charity, Simler and Hanson argue, is an advertisement: a way to show off to others so we can signal success and get allies.
Don't make the mistake in thinking that this a conscious concern; it's more of an explanation as to why the glow is warmer for some acts of charity rather than others. Telling people about our donations feels better than keeping quiet. Helping a person we can identify feels better than helping statistical abstractions that represent people. Our ancestors who were apt at visible giving in a way that felt genuine were more likely to proliferate because they had more allies and better mates. Natural selection made us charitable, but in a weird way.
To their credit, Simler and Hanson don't think humans are terrible people or donations shouldn't occur. They acknowledge multiple times that these hidden motives can have wonderful results. We should just be aware of how easily we can fool ourselves.
I don't know if 'EitB' will sell as well as 'CitR' (which outsold 6 of the 7 Harry Potter books), but, pound for pound, its pages are just as valuable.
Like CitR, EitB is about "phoniness". But, unlike CitR, it *explains* phoniness: why it evolved, when/where it is likely to appear, and why we sometimes can't stop ourselves. The book is about our own thoughts, and since we think about ~everything, the concepts have near-universal applicability. Forewarned is forearmed (at least for a certain type of person), and readers will therefore be able to use EitB to improve their health and wealth with superior decision making. However, more interesting to me, is that *some* readers will inherit a repertoire of skills for optimized hyper-phoniness. These people will be world-class persuaders -- eventually, every leader will need to know (or at least name) the ideas presented here, if only for self-defense.
This cognitive science book focuses on "ugly information", ie the kind that you don't want to show to other people. It is hard to talk about these ideas with one's friends. EitB is about disgraceful things -- things that we try not to admit, that we try not to talk about, and that we have in fact **evolved not to even think about**. After digesting the book's lessons, the reader will better understand not only  why our world has problems, but also  why some of those problems cannot be solved using traditional explanations (ie, explanations that take the form of straightforward verbal persuasion).
As I hinted in the first paragraph, Elephant in the Brain is certainly not for everyone. The ideas presented are very unflattering, and, despite the authors' lighthearted attempts to backpedal the significance of their work by talking about the moon landing or whatever, the explanations in EitB are in fact informative, accurate, relevant, and significant. If anyone asks me, readers are in danger of replicating Holden Caulfield's experience of overwhelming frustration. Some people can't handle the truth, Plato's Allegory of the Cave, etc etc, ya know? This is one of those. If you're into that, you know what to do! Buy it!