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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 out of 5 stars (15 ratings)
Non-member price: $29.24
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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

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

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  • Burger Flipper
  • 02-10-2018

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.

139 of 142 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Phil
  • 07-02-2019

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

75 of 77 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anonymous User
  • 11-10-2018

potentially life-changing

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

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • D. Bier
  • 30-10-2018

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.

94 of 99 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-01-2019

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.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Rich
  • 15-10-2018

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.

23 of 24 people found this review helpful

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  • Angel
  • 02-10-2018

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.

63 of 70 people found this review helpful

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  • lee
  • 05-03-2019

Interesting new perspective

The book was not overly dry despite the subject. I especially enjoyed one of the authors internal conflict with the subject matter while writing it.

It offers a decent understanding of our subconscious and explains how we may naturally be more selfish than we'd like to admit

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Management Consultant
  • 14-01-2019

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.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Russ
  • 25-02-2019

Almost ideal. If you are US citizen.

Great book, wonderful story, but in the very end medical, charity and religious chapters are valid mostly for US citizens, and provide very little useable information for non-US citizens.
Other than that, book is awesome.

33 of 42 people found this review helpful

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  • mihai
  • 06-11-2018

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