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Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  793 ratings  ·  93 reviews
The evolutionary psychology behind human inconsistency

We're all hypocrites. Why? Hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind.

Robert Kurzban shows us that the key to understanding our behavioral inconsistencies lies in understanding the mind's design. The human mind consists of many specialized units designed by the process of evolution by natural selection. While thes
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 23rd 2011 by Princeton University Press (first published December 21st 2010)
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Morgan Blackledge
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Uncle Walt said it all when he quipped:

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes".

If you've ever wondered how someone can say one thing and do another (i.e. be a total hypocrite). The answer may be that there's more than one them. A lot more than one.

Don't feel bad for them though. Because the same could be said about you, me and everyone else.

According to modularity theory, who we are and what we do depends on which competing mental module wi
Jessica Zu
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Overall, it's a pretty good read. And I am convinced by the modular model of the brain. That being said, I did find some of this research methodologies problematic.

First of all, his approach to brain is completely instrumental. If the brain's function cannot bring reproductive advantage, then it must not be there. As a researcher, I think the author should know better than this. Many times, we find functions of certain organs (which can be the brain) accidents of evolution, in the sense that th
Jesse Markus
Jul 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Kurzban's writing is crisp, clever and humorous, and he argues persuasively for some ideas that really shouldn't be all that surprising, if you've kept up with psychology and neuroscience lately. Basically, the self is an illusion, there are lots of different subroutines running all at once, and different circumstances will affect which parts of the brain are making the decisions. The part of the brain that speaks, the conscious mind, is often unaware of what the rest of the brain is doing, whic ...more
Dan Slimmon
I read this book as part of Robert Wright's Buddhism And Modern Psychology online course. I was excited to read it because I find fascinating the concept of consciousness as a sort of "press secretary" that evolved to explain our actions to others. This would tie consciousness to language in a nice, satisfying way.

Unfortunately, in this book, Kurzban doesn't really elaborate on the "press secretary" concept. He spends a lot of time giving muddy exposition on psychological misconceptions about se
Clark Hays
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“Evolution doesn’t care if you’re happy…”

This book just made it onto my list of all-time favorites. The author, an evolutionary psychologist, advances a powerful argument that the human mind is modular — a collection of systems designed (actually, shaped by evolution) for various adaptive reasons. These modules work alongside one another — occasionally in harmony, very often not — to help protect the vessel long enough for it to pass genetic material to the next generation.

He painstakingly bui
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
The mind is not a singleton but a rather a collection of processes which have a very specific function. This is the main argument put forth in the book and the art of putting displayed by Kurzban is both highly interesting and logically solid.

The perspective to human morality that Kurzban offers in the last chapters of the book is rather new and surprising. Many of the things we instinctively think as moral are nothing more than evolutionary adaptations which, at the modern world and upon closer
Good but with a caveat. Though I appreciated and learned a great deal from the modular model of the mind Kurzban presents with humor, the author seems to me to be a classic case of a "specialist generalizing" (Frankl) and equating the mind to be "nothing but" an information processing device, not making any leeway for other interpretations/metaphors. The metaphor of the conscious self as a press secretary and propaganda machine is definitely illuminating and convincing, but I kept wondering if t ...more
Krista Evilsizor
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Good overall thesis about the modular mind and hypocrisy but sloppy execution. With all of its informality and condescension the book came across more as a 220 page apology for the author's actions (I mean, seriously he apologized for them twice to his wife and once to his parents) than a scholarly work.

I would have expected better from Princeton Press, but Kurzban seemed to include enough lauding over Steven Pinkner to get away with meandering text, far too much use of Frogger as an example, a
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about the modular mind concept, very clear and sometimes quite funny look at our "mind" and just who is in actually in control. Before reading the book the idea just seems absurd, but by the books end I must say that I'm pretty firmly convinced. The author shows through numerous studies that not only is a mind made up of modules pauible but really quite probable. ...more
Basically, he argues that our minds operates with a number of modules— we're essentially like an iPhone with many apps. Each module, or app, is responsible for some function of our mind and often is competing with other modules that may hold contradictory feelings and beliefs which is why we're not morally consistent and can oscillate between rational and irrational thinking and behaviour. Modules compete against one another with the victor driving behaviour.. Some of the more negative aspects o ...more
Nov 14, 2011 rated it liked it
The book starts off strong. The modular model of the mind is certainly appealing, and I wish Kurzban spent a little more time with the Braitenberg vehicles and the modules that drive their behavior, since that analogy helped me understand his model better. Shortcomings in the model's explanatory power quickly show up, however: his arguments for a "press secretary" module, while interesting, leave something to be desired. I got the sense that he was either leaving something out for the lay audien ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
A quick and witty introduction to evolutionary psychology. The author suggests that instead of thinking of the mind as a single entity whose purpose is to produce a sense of self existing within a unified view of the world, that our brains may be more similar to the various apps running on a smart phone, which run more or less independently of one another, and do not always produce consistent results. It is because of these often contradictory app products that we are all "hypocrites." If the au ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly persuasive, I am sold. Maybe a little bit repetitive but definitely not boring - Kurzban has a good sense of humor and does a great job of presenting his view of the mind. I also loved how careful he was at interpreting evolutionary psychology, which can lead you to foolish statements otherwise.

If you are a libertarian, you will enjoy reading the epilogue. It explains why we tend to prevent other people from doing things which don't harm anybody (drugs, prostitution, etc.), even thou
Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book gets five stars due to the elegance in which the theory is presented. Nice touch of humor too! I was directed to this book over a year ago via Robert Wright's course titled Modern Psychology and Buddhism. I should have read it back then. The modular theory of mind ties up many loose ends in psychology and meshes nicely with the Buddhist concept of annatta.
In the words of Steven Pinker, "Robert Kurzban is one of the best evolutionary psychologists of his generation: he is distinctive n
Jon Mountjoy
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is a difficult book to read. The book is far too long - needlessly so. It's a little repetitive in places (okay, I get your modular mind - no need to drill it home so many times), and seems to want to be two books: one on brain modularity, one one being a hypocrite. The story telling was at times flippant, and occasionally felt arrogant - so much so that I noticed. While the author is thorough in pointing to references to support statements, I didn't feel the main theses of the book were we ...more
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
A rhetorically aggressive introduction to the modular theory of the mind with a few eye-opening insights.
Chris Boutté
Jun 10, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my new favorite books. I remember hearing about it years ago when I first got interested in human irrationality, but I totally forgot about it. When I was asking my followers for recommendations for books about cognitive dissonance, someone brought up this book. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. Kurzban has a unique perspective and theories about how our minds work, and how it leads us to irrational and hypocritical behavior. Not only did this book introduce me to a new ...more
Jurij Fedorov
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it
I think we can all agree that the points made in this book are very intelligent, great and scientifically valid points. The science is spot on and the points are new and at times very clear. He goes to great lengths explaining how the brain works. And for people new to psychology this can very well be their introduction to the field as it is accessible and down to earth.

I understand that the brain is not just split in 2 parts - one rational and one automatic. Of cause that simplification n
Peter McCluskey
Oct 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Minds are Modular
Many people explain minds by positing that they're composed of parts:

* the id, ego, and super-ego
* the left side and the right side of the brain
* System 1 and System 2
* the triune brain
* Marvin Minsky's Society of Mind

Minsky's proposal is the only one of these that resembles Kurzban's notion of modularity enough to earn Kurzban's respect. The modules Kurzban talks about are much more numerous, and more specialized, than most people are willing to imagine.

Here's Kurzban's favorit
Dolf van der Haven
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Triggered by a Coursera course on Buddhism and Evolutionary Psychology, I was looking forward to reading this book, as I hoped it would give me a solid overview of the latter subject.
Several things put me off, though:
- The author goes out of his way stating that the modular view of the mind is so very plausible and cannot imagine anyone thinking otherwise. This narrow-minded view of the subject gets annoying after a few dozen pages.
- The author actively avoids answering some fundamental question
Chris Branch
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I realize there are various well-respected evolutionary biologists and other smart people who have serious criticisms of evolutionary psychology, but I have to say that I find it very convincing, and Kurzban's explanation of it is one of the best I've read.

Even if his description of our minds' modules turns out not to be precisely correct in all details, it seems clear that something like this must be the truth. It explains so much about why people act the way they do, and ties in so elegantly
Ivan Taylor
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book that I have read in years. I became a firm believer in evolutionary psychology after reading this book. I agree with the author that the mind is made up many fairly independent modules. I was convinced that we are mistaken to think that the mind that does the talking is really us. Therefore, asking someone what they prefer is a mistake. Therefore, I agree with the author that there is no true self. Therefore, no self-interest in the economic sense. Therefore, the whole stud ...more
I'm very familiar with evo psych, so the book seemed a little too long. Could have been shorter.

It was a nice read overall. A lot of examples/experiments were presented in support.
Goodreads won't let me untag the "read," so first up is honesty that I've not actually read this.

One of my Goodreads friends five-starred this, but no review, so I clicked the link.

Book is totally wrong on brain modularity. That's evolutionary psychology BS that's as much BS as the other failings of ev psych, and is also out of date in the world of neuroscience.

I don't know what else is wrong with the book, but from the editorial blurb review on it, with ev psych being mentioned more than once,
Ozzie Gooen
Oct 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think the thesis of this book is very original and important. There is little else like it. It reminds me a lot of Elephant in the Brain, but came out first and definitely had unique things to say.

I found the writing style a bit awkward, and have a hard time making out what to think of all the evidence. However, I would guess that the main theses will stand the test of time.

I really want to see more books like this.
Apr 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Ah, the modular mind. Did you ever wonder where your MIND is? Is it a part of your brain? Does it exist "outside" you somewhere? How do we make decisions and how can it be that we hold contradictory views sometimes? Why can't we be consistent? And why, on earth, does it matter what the opinions of other people are?

Kurzban gives us one explanation: the modular mind. Our brain is not one big lump (we actually already know that because we've seen the MRIs that show the various parts of the brain th
May 14, 2018 rated it liked it
First 2 chapters & prologue: 5 stars.
Last two chapters & epilogue: 1.5 stars.
Everything in between: 3.5.

Started off as a great book. Chapters 1 and 2 blew my mind in some very specific ways, giving me new ways to think about certain problems I've been rolling around in my thoughts and notes.

Then it became somewhat of a chore to read, though his voice remained entertaining and ironic in a way I enjoyed.

What really lost me though, was the morality cases that applied all this modularity and hypoc
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book had some excellent points, and it was a good introduction to the theory of the modular mind. It was a bit repetitive and, at points, less insightful than I was expecting.

The thesis:
"This book is an attempt to explain why we act the way we act, and, perhaps partly in our defense, to show that if we are wrong a lot, well, being right isn't everything... It is about contradictions. It's about how you can, at one and the same time want to go for a training fun and also want to stay in be
a hooded figure from your friendly neighbourhood dog park
I really liked this book! It meanders a bit here and there, but overall does a very good job of explaining such a counter-intuitive concept with humour and accessibly enough. Definitely some nice food for thought.

"The mind is the product of modules working together, often managing to look so good that, yes, they can be confused under certain conditions for something that conforms to some definition of rational. But it's best not to be confused by this illusion. There is no reason, in principle,
Aug 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a fascinating read! Yes, it is rather obvious that the brain is a set of modules, each performing a specific set of functions. But what does the module-brain imply for our moral actions, our perceptions of ourselves and others? Can it be explained with evolution? And how can we really get the idea that there is no "I"?

Getting used to the ideas in everyday life is a matter practice, "I" guess, and there is a lot to take from Buddhism. Still, even language has evolved around the intuition of
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Rob Kurzban completed a Master of Public Administration degree at the Fels School of Government and, after 25 successful years as an academic, now works as Director of Development for a non-profit that delivers health, education, and basic human services to low income populations. He also started a business called RE:Writers which delivers quality writing services in the financial, academic, and n ...more

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6 likes · 1 comments
“This might be one reason that politicians appear to be such hypocrites. My guess is that—and maybe I'm just naïve—politicians, despite appearances, aren't actually all that much more hypocritical than the rest of us. It's just that the rest of us skate by without anyone noticing.” 4 likes
“The notion that we systematically adopt false beliefs to “protect the self” is illogical when you consider that whatever the mind is designed to do, it must be to get things done, not to make us happy.” 3 likes
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