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The Elephant in the Brain

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,459 ratings  ·  177 reviews
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 ...more
ebook, 408 pages
Published December 2017 by Oxford University Press
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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,459 ratings  ·  177 reviews

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Thore Husfeldt
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Kevin Gomez
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Patrik Lindenfors
Feb 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
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
J & J
Nov 10, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
عبدالرحمن عقاب
Nov 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: e-books
لسنا كما نظنّ! هناك مسافة ليست بالقصيرة بين ما نقوله عن أنفسنا وما نعرفه عنها من جهة، وبين ما هي حقيقتها من جهةٍ أخرى.
يعرض هذا الكتاب لما يراه دوافعنا الحقيقية وراء كثيرٍ من سلوكياتنا الاجتماعية والثقافية كبشر. ابتداءً من اتجاهاتنا السياسية وأفعالنا التدينية وامتدادًا إلى التعلّم والفنون، والضحك والتطبّب، والعون والصدقة ، والاستهلاك ...الخ.
مدار الكتاب على حجم" المصلحة الشخصية" وراء جميع أفعالنا، ومقدار الخداع الذي نمارسه على الآخرين، ونمارسه -من قبل- على أنفسنا بتزيين دوافعنا بالتبريرات العقلان
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
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) ...more
Marcin Zaremba
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Twój mózg to dupek. Ma ukryte, egoistyczne motywy a z „Ciebie” robi rzecznika prasowego, który ubiera je w piękne słówka i logiczne postracjonalizacje.

Po co? Żebyś dobrze wyglądał wśród innych mózgów, które mają podobne cele; żebyś wytrwale i metodycznie wspinał się w hierarchii społecznej, ale tak, aby nie było to zbyt jednoznaczne, bo nikt nie lubi dupków.

Poza tym nasze mózgi komunikują się ze sobą na frekwencjach niedostępnych dla „nas” i ustalają sprawy między sobą przez skomplikowany system
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Brendon Brewer
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Simler and Hanson pack a lot of information into this fascinating and eminently readable book. Simler apparently wanted to do a PhD, but decided to write a book instead - kudos for that. The basic premise is that humans have evolved psychological functions which we are often only dimly aware of. Much of our behaviour is self-serving in non-obvious ways (which is not to deny that self-serving motives can align with other motives quite frequently), and this is reflected in our institutions and in ...more
Siddarth Gore
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Aryeh Levine
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Arafat Rahman
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
ইংরেজি পরবাদ 'Elephant in the room' অনুসারে শিরোনাম। ঘরের মাঝে বিশাল হাতি, কিনতু কেউ দেখতে পায় না। তেমনি আমাদের মাঝেও না দেখা হাতি আছে -- সেটাকে নিরদেশ করছে বইয়ের শিরোনাম। লেখকদের মতে, আমাদের কাজের পেছনে লুকানো সবারথপর উদদেশয থাকে। আমরা বলতে গেলে অবচেতন ভাবেই সেগুলোকে লুকিয়ে রাখি। দারুণ বই। ...more
Sreejith Pp
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: psychology
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 ...more
Vivek Aithal
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Gus Hebblewhite
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.

Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone prepared for hard introspection
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 hidde ...more
Brian Cloutier
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tory White
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Dec 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english
At first I didn't want to believe this was true, but it has convinced me.
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Between 3 and 4. It's short, entertaining, easy read. But I would definitely recommend reading "evolutionary psychology" by David M Buss ( instead
May 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deception and self-deception. Written pretty well, but the ideas aren’t really new, maybe just presented in a different way.
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at:
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018


Humans are selfish, deceptive and self deceptive but mostly in good way.
wassname (Mike C)
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: listened
Not only is this a very interesting book, but the audiobook is a pleasure. Jeffrey Kafer was a nice choice of narrator because he reads this in a dry, witty, and sarcastic voice that compliments the topic. I planned to listen to this a bit at a time, but ended up flying through it in two days.
Tiago Faleiro
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
A great introduction to evolutionary psychology. While the authors aren't in the field, they're undoubtedly smart and not only are well aware of the literature, but also made sure to consult with experts.

The arching point of the book is that we're a product of evolution, and that evitably affects our thinking and behaviour. Because what made human beings so successfully was our large groups and cooperation, that has a heavy influence on how we evolved. This social cooperation, however, isn't al
Feb 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
On the one hand you should know this already? Especially if you have been following their and Bryan Caplan's respective blogs, there is little new. Which is probably the reason I didn't enjoy the book as much. The main premise is that "X is not about Y" as it might seem at a first glance - the classic Hansonian theme that sees status seeking and signaling everywhere:
school isn't about learning

food isn't about nutrition

bedrooms aren't about sleep

laughter isn't about jokes

charity isn't about hel
Lee Richardson
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is one where your perspective on lots of things shift after reading. In this way, to me it was similar to books like "The Righteous Mind" by Jon Haidt.

The basic premise is that lots of what humans do is "social signaling". There are a myriad of examples and explanations about the specifics, and after reading the book you kind of start to see these things everywhere. It's a bit of a depressing read honestly, not because the author's are mean-spirited, but rather because the topic reall
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is about examining our conscious and unconscious motives — especially those that we hide from other people and even ourselves. In the spirit of the book, I’m rating it a 5 because:
- I really liked it and learned a lot from it.
- One of the authors (Kevin) is a friend and I want to help increase his prestige by having a higher average review score (and maybe even increasing books sales).
- I want to increase my prestige by publicly associating with an author.
- I want Kevin to think I’m a
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“do well to turn Matthew 7:1 on its head: “Judge freely, and accept that you too will be judged.” 4 likes
“The takeaway from all these observations is that our species seems, somehow, to derive more benefit from speaking than from listening.” 3 likes
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