The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden motives in everyday life is a unique new title in that it dives directly into the way that human beings hide our motives for our actions, even from ourselves, and how much of a disruptive impact it has on every single aspect of our lives.
This book was written by Kevin Simlar and Robin Hanson after they began to research why people behave the way they do, and why so many struggle with understanding the congruency of their behavior with the thoughts they have on a regular basis.
The first big chunk of the book pertains directly to why we hide our motives, the incentives we have for hiding our motives from society, and how when we hide our motives from ourselves we have to contend with very awkward contortions of self perception and self-deception – contortions that can impact our lives in ways very few of us can even imagine.
Human beings are the only species on the planet we are aware of that have the ability to not only act on hidden agendas and hidden motives, but that we are also biologically and socially designed to do exactly that.
The way we evolved created a brain and a consciousness that is very much centered around self interest, but the social rules and social constructs we established to survive and thrive as a species force us to appear anything but self-interested.
Because they are maybe the most amazing things in the known universe our brains were able to come up with a way to trick our conscious mind, leveraging our subconscious so that we have the ability to act in self interested ways while at the same time feigning behavior that seems nothing but alter domestic.
Through their research, the authors uncovered the fact that self-deception isn’t necessarily lying to ourselves, in that we most often aren’t even aware of the fact that we are lying to ourselves in the first place!
On top of that, it turns out that the brain’s ability to do so is a strategy designed to help us best survive and a strategy that ALL of us in the human race employee on a round-the-clock basis.
The book also digs into the way that we use social constructs to avoid wasteful competition, and how we coordinate specific actions based on how we see the rest of our tribe behaving. This concept, the concept of “Common Knowledge” is best illustrated by the fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes – where everyone buys into the same lie, not because they are all falling for it, but because socially all of them have agreed to it as their collective reality.
The book is filled with details regarding our subconscious mind works (sometimes quite actively) in diametric opposite to our conscious mind, but it also shows how what feels like a paradoxical approach to our behavior is often times the most efficient and most successful way to lead the kind of happy, healthy, and successful lives we all deserve.
You’ll understand a lot more about how the brain works (your’s as well as everyone else’s) by the time you finished up with The Elephant in the Brain.