Daniel Solera's Reviews > Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind

Why We Lie by David Livingstone Smith
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's review
Mar 30, 2012

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bookshelves: psychology

This was one of those books that I bought basically because the title sold me. However, from the very beginning, David Livingstone Smith warns readers that the book has no experiments on which it draws to reach its conclusions. Although much of what he states is generally understood to be true in the scientific community, a lot of the book feels like it was written with very broad strokes.

Smith talks about our evolutionary ancestors, apes, and shows how they use deception to reach certain ends. From there he spends lots of time discussing the tricks that many animals use to hoodwink their predators, prey or competition. Most of what you'll read in these chapters you've seen before on the Discovery Channel or the BBC's Planet Earth series. He discusses spiders that can mislead prey with their webs, male cuttlefish who pretend to be female and squids who create a silhouette of themselves with their ink.

So you can see already that the "Lie" component of the book doesn't focus specifically on "vocalizing or articulating things that are patently untrue." Instead, he discusses the arts of misleading, disguising, and confounding. These exist ubiquitously in nature and therefore, are part of our own genetic makeup. From there, he spends a great deal of time talking about the ways in which people do these things to themselves unknowingly. This is where he delves into Freudian thought, the subconscious, and what he calls "Machiavellian modules." Though he treats Freudian philosophy with many grains of salt, he does mention that the subconscious mind, by its very nature, provokes people into lying to themselves and consequently to others.

This was a decent book for the lay person who is not pursuing a PhD in psychology. I'm sure more erudite scholars on the subject would scoff at the book and call it too parochial. I wasn't thrilled with it either, but at least now I'll be able to confidently say that people are deceptive by nature.

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