The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life - by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson



my notes:

Patients are also easily satisfied with the appearance of good medical care, and show shockingly little interest in digging beneath the surface.

When we step back and triangulate our motives from the outside, reverse-engineering them from our behaviors, a more interesting picture begins to develop.

“Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-deception is therefore strategic, a ploy our brains use to look good while behaving badly.

There are facets of our evolutionary past that we spend less time poring over because we don’t like how they make us look.

The worst problems for people almost always come from other people.

It was the arms race between lying and lie-detection that gave rise to our intelligence.

Gossip is a feature of every society ever studied.

For a piece of information to be ‘common knowledge’ within a group of people, it’s not enough simply for everyone to know it. Everyone must also know that everyone else knows it, and know that they know that they know it, and so on. It could as easily be called ‘open’ or ‘conspicuous knowledge.’

Other people aren’t stupid. They’re aware that we often have an incentive to lie to them.

You are not the king of your brain, you are the creepy guy standing next to the king saying “A most judicious choice, sire.”

CONFRONTATION derives from Latin words meaning ‘foreheads together.’

If talking were the cost and listening were the benefit of language, our ears should have evolved to be enormous ear-trumpets that swiveled in any direction. The burden of adaptation has fallen on speaking rather than listening.

Every remark made by a speaker contains two messages for the listener: text and subtext. The text says ‘Here’s a new piece of information,’ while the subtext says ‘by the way, I’m the kind of person who knows such things.’

We seem content with just the veneer of confidence and expertise, as long as our pundits are engaging, articulate, connected to us, and have respected pedigrees.

Peer pressure is a powerful force, and advertisers know how to harness it to their advantage.

An aesthetic shift occurred with skin color in Europe. When most people worked outdoors, suntanned skin was disdained as the mark of a low-status laborer. Light skin, in contrast, was prized as a mark of wealth; only the rich could afford to protect their skin by remaining indoors or else carrying parasols. Later, when jobs migrated to factories and offices, lighter skin became common and vulgar, and only the wealthy could afford to lay around soaking in the sun.

By distilling time and effort into something non-functional, an artist effectively says, “I’m so confident in my survival that I can afford to waste time and energy.”

We evaluate each other not only for our first-order skills, but for our skills at evaluating the skills of others.

If we give students a straight choice between getting an education without a degree, or a degree without an education, most would pick the degree—which seems odd if they’re going to school mainly to learn.

Students go to school not so much to learn useful job skills as to show off their work potential to future employers.

Educated workers are generally better workers, but not necessarily because school made them better.

Actually earning a diploma is more valuable than the individual years of learning that went into it—because employers prefer workers who stick around and finish what they start.

If students cared strictly about learning, they’d get a lot more bang for their buck at an inexpensive state school.

One of the main reasons so few animals can be domesticated is that only rare social species let humans sit in the role of dominant pack animal.

Most religions are fairly lax on questions of private belief as long as adherents demonstrate public acceptance of the religion.

Yes, you probably have ‘better things to do’ than listen to a sermon, which is precisely why you get loyalty points for listening patiently.

Today, we facilitate trust between strangers using contracts, credit scores, and letters of reference. Before these institutions were invented, weekly worship and other costly sacrifices were a vital social technology.

After you’ve paid a lot of dues, made a lot of friends, and accumulated a lot of social capital over the years, the threat of being kicked out of a group becomes especially frightening. And this, in turn, reduces the need for expensive monitoring.

Unless enough people “boo” the message or speak out against it, the norm will lodge itself in the common consciousness. Thus, by attending a sermon, you’re learning not just what “God” or the preacher things, but also what the rest of your congregation is willing to accept.

Across the board, we seem to prefer high-minded rhetoric over humble pragmatism.

Anyone who advocates for compromise risks being accused of insufficient loyalty.

As if our oversized brains and hairless skin didn’t make us an uncanny enough species, our genes long ago decided that, in the relentless competition to survive and reproduce, their best strategy was to build ethical brains.