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The Elephant in the Brain

Hidden Motives in Everyday Life
Narrated by: Jeffrey Kafer
Length: 10 hrs and 26 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,038 ratings)

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Publisher's 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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    5 out of 5 stars
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Signalling and self-deception explained

Simler and Hanson have crafted a tidy and provocative book about how full of it we all are and why. And how self deception appears and functions in our most hallowed institutions: education, medicine, charity, etc.

They make a strong case. The book has a light and breezy tone at times, but is full of info and good illustrative examples (more so when they stay away from examples from their own lives).

The reading by Kafer is very solid.

Not many books pack this much value. A big idea explained and then its real world implications explored in many directions. Yet not too dense for listening to while commuting.

This is a top 5 audiobook for me. Actually enjoyed my time on the 405 for the last week.

186 of 193 people found this review helpful

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unfiltered perspective

Ideal blend of theory, research with practical perspectives. Some groups will feel he steps on their toes - better also order steel toed boots.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

and intellectual indulgence

as a trial lawyer and businessman I found this book absolutely fascinating in terms of understanding why people do ridiculous things thinking they're intelligent I've recommended this book to every lawyer in my law firm and my kids

115 of 121 people found this review helpful

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Fails to fully convince — but an ape like me WOULD say that, wouldn’t I?

Some of the arguments reduce to simple observations of generic, widely known human motives, so much so that they become unfalsifiable. Others, such as the idea we get too much medical care to signal we’re being well taken care of by our allies, are just implausible and ignore a wide variety of closely associated behaviors that don’t fit that theory—like the widespread phenomenon of “self-medicating” with vitamins and alternative remedies, a $40 billion industry, or other diet and lifestyle practices that signal a preoccupation with *self*-care. Or consider the fact that people often both conceal important medical problems or discuss them endlessly with anyone who will listen. There’s always an ad hoc explanation that can account for opposite tendencies, but it’s hard to know how seriously to take them.

126 of 134 people found this review helpful

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Interesting insight into the mind

Enjoyed thoroughly. Narrator was very good. The material was at a level that a layperson could understand. One could also jump to various chapters at the end without being lost as to what was going on.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

potentially life-changing

a great insight into the human mind and motives. it can change the way you look at others but especially yourself.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant - no bullshit

A quick run through of studies on altruism, self-interest, and how we lie to ourselves. There are many interesting examples that show clearly to what extent various activities are more inherently functional, enjoyable, or just signalling.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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Think Again!

I love books that reveal us to ourselves. I imagine this book would be on the top shelf of the Buddha's or Socrates Shelf.
In an age where folks seem drowning in informations tailored to their unique bullshit lives, this book cuts the shit and gets to the heart of the matter.
We are big fat liars. It is of the upmost importance we know this, so we can better navigate all the folks lying around us, pretending, living make believes lives.
If you are a fan of the truth and myth busting, this is the book for you. If you want to wake up to the reality around you, this book will help set you free.
It's one of my favorite books of the year, along with, How Emotions Are Made and 21 Lessons for the 21 Century. It's the Golden age of knowledge and also of ignorance. You can decide to live an inauthentic and robotic life, or you can get in the drivers seat and see through your own self serving deceptions and others.
Otherwise do whatever's clever when one isn't so clever. Live a fictional life, or write your own Destiny.

71 of 79 people found this review helpful

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Let Me Save You the Credit

Despite some of the glowing reviews, this book is not as revelatory as is made out. It does serve as a basic introduction to the field of motivation, but anyone who is at least somewhat acquainted neurobiology will find it on the side of ho hum. I think a far better listen is anything by Dr. V. S. Ramachandran who is both more insightful and interesting. Also, though not in a neuroscience context but also about motivation, is the now-old-standard: Freakonomics.

But lest you still want to listen to the book: here it is in summary: the are two basic motivations: sex and prestige. Further broken down: sexual motivation is the desire to attract a mate to reproduce, and prestige is the desire to gather allies. That’s it.

Perhaps the main reason I found the book as lackluster is because of its reliance on the field of evolutionary psychology. There is a reason psychology is called the “pseudo-science.” After all, more than half of all psych research is nonreproducible. But evolutionary psychology is even worse. There is nothing about it, in scientific terms, that is “falsifiable.” Therefore, it is not science. It is opinion. Perhaps the opinion is correct but until opinion can be tested it is not worth a whole lot.

111 of 125 people found this review helpful

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  • RP
  • 03-07-19

slow and boring

struggled to finish the book. expected more in depth analysis instead of bunch of random facts about animal and human behavior.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-23-19

great view into how our brains work!

I highly enjoyed a look into how self-deception plays a vital role to us all

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  • George Boylan
  • 07-28-19

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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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-31-19

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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  • mihai
  • 11-06-18

revelatory

after reading/leastening to that it become near impossible do further deny the presence of the elephant...

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Nathan
  • 10-28-18

Definitely worth your time!

This was everything I expected based off other reviews, easy to digest and useful info for every day life. My only gripe was the narrator, such a well written book deserves a fitting voice.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful