The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life - Deepstash

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A phenomenal book on understanding your own "hidden motivations in everyday life" and why we do what we do. Widely applicable to all parts of life, and the kind of explanations you can't stop thinking about after reading.

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life

by Kevin Simler, Robin Hanson

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Elephant In The Room vs Elephant In The Brain

  • EIR- An important issue that people are reluctant to acknowledge or address.
  • EIB- An important but unacknowledged feature of how our minds work; an introspective taboo.*

We, human beings, are a species that’s capable of acting on hidden motives. Our brains are...

  • Primate grooming is about politics
  • By grooming each other they help forge alliances that help them in other situations
  • This explains why grooming time across species is correlated with the size of the social group, but not the amount of fur
  • Larger groups have, on ...

Competition

  • Our ancestors got smart primarily to compete against each other in a variety of social and political scenarios.
  • Social challenges, such as competition for mates, jockeying for social status, coalition politics (alliances, betrayals, etc.), intra-group violence, cheating, and decept...

  • For sociologists and anthropologists, conventions like queueing are known as norms. They're the rules or standards about how members of a community should behave.
  • Collective enforcement, then, is the essence of norms. This is what enables the egalitarian political order so characte...

Cheating

  • Norm-evaders and norm-enforcers are locked in a competitive arms race of their own-a game of cat and mouse-pushing each other ever upward in mental ability.
  • Our norms are only partially enforced, so we need big brains to figure out how to cheat.

  • The perverse incentives of mixed-motive games lead to option-limiting and other actions that seem irrational, but are actually strategic
  • Closing or degrading a channel of communication
  • Ignoring information, also known as strategic ignorance
  • Purposely believing som...

When we use the term "motives," we're referring to the underlying causes of our behavior, whether we're conscious of them or not.

Reasons can be true, false, or somewhere in between (e.g., cherry-picked). One of the most effective ways to rationalize is by telling half-tru...

Body Language

  • Human beings are strategically blind to body language because it often betrays our ugly, selfish, competitive motives
  • A cue is similar to a signal, in that it conveys information, except that it benefits only the receiver
  • An open posture makes a person vulnerable
  • ...

Laughter

  • We laugh far more often in social settings than when we are alone
  • It's a vocalization, a sound, and it serves the purpose of active communication
  • When we laugh at our own actions, it's a signal to our playmates that our intentions are ultimately playful
  • In other s...

Speakers strive to impress their audience by consistently delivering impressive remarks.

They're compensated not in-kind, by receiving information reciprocally, but rather by raising their social value in the eyes (and ears) of their listeners.

  • We are stuck in a rat race
  • No matter how fast the economy grows, there remains a limited supply of sex and social status-and earning and spending money is still a good way to compete for it
  • The easier it is to judge someone based on a particular product, the more it will b...

  • While ecological selection (the pressure to survive) abhors waste, sexual selection often favors it
  • Because replicas are cheap relative to the originals, we'll pay less to see a much wider variety
  • We find attractive things that could have been produced only by people with ...

Charity

  • According to one calculation, for the cost of sending a kid through college in America, you could instead save the lives of more than 50 children in sub-Saharan Africa
  • The main recipients of American charity are religious groups and educational institutions
  • When we evaluat...

  • If a small amount of useful learning takes place, then sending every citizen to school will result in only a small increase in the nation's overall productivity
  • Meanwhile, when you're an individual student within a nation, getting more school can substantially increase your future ...

  • Each party is hoping to earn a bit of loyalty from the patient in exchange for helping to provide care.
  • In part, it's a simple quid pro quo: "I'll help you this time if you'll help me when the tables are turned."
  • When choosing between doctors, people typically focus on the...

  • Beliefs are often better modeled as symptoms of underlying incentives, which are frequently social rather than psychological
  • We don't worship simply because we believe, we worship (and believe) because it helps us as social creatures
  • A religion is an entire social system

  • People do not vote for their material self-interest
  • Instead, they vote for the candidates and policies that would make them personally better off
  • We tend to vote for our groups' interests
  • For our beliefs to function as loyalty signals, we have to believe things th...

  • We ignore the elephant because doing so is strategic.
  • Self-deception allows us to act selfishly without having to appear quite so selfish in front of others.
  • Another benefit to confronting our hidden motives is that, if we choose, we can take steps to miti...

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