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The Elephant in the Brain cover art

The Elephant in the Brain

By: Kevin Simler,Robin Hanson
Narrated by: Jeffrey Kafer
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Summary

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.

©2018 Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson (P)2018 Tantor

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Pointless comment

I am writing this review not because I am reviewing the book, but because I want people to read it and see me as an intelligent being, who spends his time listening to books.

A great book. I am not sure how to take what I have learned from listening to this. I feel I wotn be able to look at other humans the same way. After listening to this book and learning about our own motives, we are all selfish beings and in the long run any action we take is done for our own good.

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Ranging from common sense to nonsense

Ranging from common sense to nonsense, this book is a total waste of time. Thats what you get when you put an economist and an engineer mumbling about areas they don't fully grasp, like psychology, sociology, neuroscience, biology, anthropology, and even theology. In the process of supporting a very basic and obvious argument, that we are all driven by hidden motives, the first half of the book has some random scientific examples, overused in books about these matters, from which they can only extract incredibly simplistic conclusions. You can find way better context, conclusions and theories, with authors that actually studied and know about these subjects, like David Eagleman, Suzana Herculano-Houzel, António Damásio, Bryce Hood or Steven Pinker, just to name a few. Then comes the second part of the book, where a sort of hidden agenda finally reveals itself, with cringy blows on the importance of school education and medical treatment. The kind of level of discourse and argument that you can find on a 20 year old mental coach wannabe, on TikTok. The pair also dwell on the fragilities of religion and on how faith's justification is mainly due to the need of acceptance and social conveniency. I'm an atheist and even I was uncomfortable with their arguments. If you're interested in religious skepticism, read Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett or even Darwin, instead.
By principle, I always finish every book I start reading, even if I'm not crazy about it, but this one was so unbearable that I almost gave up. Don't get me wrong, I think people are free to write about anything they want, but if you lack in knowledge, at least be smart, safe and coherent about it. There are some reasonable examples in the market, that, although its authors are far from being academics on the subjects they write about, at least they know how to keep it interesting, with good writing, decent research still with a bunch of inaccuracies) and good reasoning, like Malcolm Gladwell, Yuval Harari or Jared Diamond.

My first one star book. Avoid this.

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Red pill or blue pill?

I love to learn about human psychology because what seems to be simple on the surface is so complex beneath. For me, this book coalesced much other material about economics, evolution and psychology into a clearer explanatory narrative of human behaviour.

Unsurprisingly there are few answers to the question "What should be do with this knowledge?". But for me, simply knowing it gives me an opportunity to be humble and admit that I don't know why I did something, rather than defend it mindlessly.

An excellent book, thoroughly recommended for those, like me, who choose the red pill.

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Too long and too little news

really difficult to finish. way to long and really doesn't say to much new things

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Fascinating

Don't get too hung up and just enjoy the mild discombobulation as you realise all your good deeds are for selfish motives!
Really interesting, it makes you aware of what's really happening and how good we are at lying to ourselves and why we do it.

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An Interesting Perspective on Signalling

I enjoyed listening to this open and honest account of the authors view on why we do what we do, it was also refreshing to hear the authors acknowledgement that such behaviours have driven them to writing this book further enforcing their message.

What this book does is expose that we are all pro-self at heart, more animal than divine despite our virtues, and that acknowledging this is not actually a bad thing and in fact has far greater negative social connotations should we continue to ignore them.

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Described by the authors as a vanity project… and it shows

There is no neuroscience in this book. The facts were cherry picked to suit the argument I thought. It was ok on a surface level but lacked balance and there is too much opinion laid down as certainty, and the bias of authors rings through clearly.
The base assumption of hidden motives are without question, but there are better books that consider this topic.
It’s described in the conclusion as a ‘vanity project’ and it shows. The value is in the profit to the authors not the knowledge gained by the reader.
And I didn’t care of the narration.

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great listen, will listen again soon

loads of great content, and so much more to understand! i want to give it another listen soon to go more in-depth.

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very good book about hidden motives

very good book about hidden motives behind our action. the chapters about religion and education are especially intriguing.

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Good listen on the why of human behaviour

Interesting take on why / how we react to our environment. Looks at the animal behaviour of our brains, build on biases, evolution traits and self interest

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