Books

Book Review: The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life by Kevin Simler, Robin Hanson

I’m not sure what to make out of this book. It gives a bleak picture of humans, showing how competition, self-serving motives, fallacies, storytelling, and blindness affect our behavior and relationships with others, not in a good way. But, I’m willing to accept that, after all, we are one species who have invented weapons capable of destroying most of the planet, and here we are, standing ever so close to midnight of the doomsday clock. So that’s not the issue I have with the book. They are right. We have hidden motives, even those we don’t understand ourselves to have. I was disappointed with the book’s anecdotal evidence of their hypothesis. They gave a scientific explanation for every fact they stated. That’s not the problem, but I have come to think that you can morph any scientific study to serve your purpose. See, we have hidden motives for our behavior.

So rather than enjoying the ride, I wanted to argue with the book and state: how about this study and this and how about this and that point? Most of the studies and topics they made were too one-sided for my taste. They left the broader spectrum of things out. I get it. Kind of. This was a book on a mission. The writers themselves stated that they want to make us humans better by helping us to understand our downfalls. Yes, I root for you. I think it is a critical mission to be on, but do you have to leave out all the moving parts, and does this change things? How about personal stories and experiences? As you see, the book bothered me. I wanted more from it. Maybe an honest discussion. But maybe that is just me. Maybe this is enough to wake us to see how our brains are organized and what faults it has, and how our environment and upbringing play a role.

I’m not saying this book isn’t worth your time, especially if you are not familiar with our default biases and storytelling tricks our minds come equipped with. But, even when you are, I would say to read the book and form your own opinion. Maybe I was in a foul mood reading this, and now I’m nitpicking. 

Thank you for reading, and have a great day ❤

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