The Elephant In The Brain Book Summary By Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson

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The Elephant in the Brain is an eye-opening exploration of the unspoken selfish motivations behind our actions.

Through comprehensive examinations and extensive research, author Kevin Simler and co-author Robin Hanson expose the underlying motivations which guide human behavior.

This book not only helps us become aware of what we might otherwise have overlooked, but provides intriguing stories to help readers gain a better understanding of these unnerving secrets that motivate our everyday behaviors.

The Elephant In The Brain Book

Book Name: The Elephant in the Brain (Hidden Motive in Everyday Life)

Author(s): Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson

Rating: 3.8/5

Reading Time: 16 Minutes

Categories: Motivation & Inspiration

Author Bio

Kevin Simler is a renowned author, engineer, and designer.

His work primarily centers around the topics of human behavior and philosophy - which can be found online on his blog

He splits his time between writing and residing in San Francisco, California.

Simler's latest literary pieces include The Elephant in the Brain, a book that provides an incredible insight into self-deception in human thought and action.

Through research from various fields, the author has crafted a compelling narrative that delves deep into our intrinsic motivations, psychology and beliefs.

A must-read for anybody curious about the truth behind human actions.

Uncovering The Elephants In The Brain: Understanding Our Primal Behaviors

Elephants In The Brain

As humans, we often like to pretend that we are above the animal kingdom.

But the truth is, our evolutionary path means that the traits of animals that have been passed down through centuries are still present in us, no matter how much we may deny it.

This is why in The Elephant in the Brain, you’ll learn about just how predictable we become when trying to advance ourselves – and what that means for our place in the animal kingdom.

You’ll discover why expensive cars will always be popular and attractive, and you’ll understand what the bowerbird’s behavior can teach us about finding a mate.

With this book, you’ll learn more about your role as part of an interconnected animal kingdom – and how you can use this knowledge to your advantage.

The Deceptiveness Of Social Grooming: How People Use Instinctual Behavior To Form Political Alliances

Animals may not be aware of the deeper motivations behind their behavior, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them.

Even primates like chimpanzees, who are observed engaging in social grooming, have deep and complex motives behind their actions – most of which are selfish.

Primatologist Robin Dunbar was the first to observe this after studying primates for many years and noticed that they continued to groom one another even after their fur was clean.

This proved that there was something more going on than just hygiene.

While primates may carry out these behaviors instinctively and without conscious thought, humans have a much greater capacity to understand others’ motivations and thus judge each other accordingly.

We can also hide our true motives from those around us – even from ourselves!

As a result, it’s easier for us to conceal our real intentions so that others do not pick up on them as easily.

Although animals are unable to determine the underlying intentions of others in the same way that people do, it is still important to recognize that these instinctive behaviors usually have deeper meanings for them as well.

Animals’ motivations for behavior are indeed deep, complex and often selfish – but they aren’t always aware of it.

Confronting The Elephants In Our Brain: How Self-Awareness Can Enlighten Our Unseen Motives

We humans are often hesitant to admit the ugly motives behind our behavior.

We may want a promotion but we’re not going to come out and say it.

Instead, we’ll use professional lingo to make sure our experience and competence is seen, unaware of the selfishness in pushing ourselves to the front of the line.

It’s easy for us humans to think our motives are pure – but we’d be kidding ourselves.

The authors call this phenomenon “the elephants in the brain” – a motive that’s important but goes unacknowledged.

It could also be considered taboo because it’s an introspective one.

Sometimes, it almost feels like these hidden motives are staring us in the face – yet more often than not we choose to ignore them rather than address them head on.

This is why we often like to keep ugly motives hidden from ourselves – so that we’re not forced to confront them or have someone else call us out on them.

Humans Evolved Big Brains In Order To Outcompete Each Other For Mates And Resources


It’s no secret that humans are a highly intelligent species.

But why is that? Well, the answer may surprise you.

We’re intelligent not because we faced predators such as saber-tooth tigers, food scarcity or fire- this is more of a ‘romantic’ way of looking at our development.

Instead, it can be argued that our intelligence comes down to intra-species competition- competing with other humans to gain food resources and social status.

Think of it like trees in a forest; they grow ever taller in an effort to get the most sunlight possible, so too do humans become ever smarter as a way of getting ahead in social competition and improving their chances at finding the ideal mate.

This hypothesis, the social brain hypothesis, explains how traits like art or music come about; they aren’t inherently beneficial but rather used as ways of signalling worth in sexual congress and thus gaining an advantage over rival candidates!

In short, we are intelligent because competition made it so.

Gossip: The Secret Weapon To Curb Unnecessary Competition

When it comes to humans, competition is a powerful instinct.

However, in some situations it can be unnecessary and better left repressed.

In order to do this, social norms are implemented; they’re community-specific standards or rules that attempt to determine people’s behavior.

Take the post office as an example: when there’s a long line at the counter, most people will stay quietly in line rather than cutting in front.

This type of social norm prevents unnecessary competition, but these rules need the full cooperation of everyone else in the community to be enforced effectively.

In addition to collective enforcement, gossip can be an effective tool for enforcing social norms too.

As one example from the book The Elephant in the Brain, there was once a colleague who was an unmitigated bully; no one dared confront him directly so resorting to gossip about his behavior became the only way for them to enforce their set of social norms until he was eventually fired.

The moral of the story is that while social norms can help prevent unnecessary competition among humans, they do require a community willing to actively enforce them in order for them to be effective..

The Power Of Nonverbal Communication: Using Body Language To Speak Louder Than Words

We often don’t pay attention to body language and that can leave us in the dark a lot of the time.

We may think that we have all our bases covered when it comes to communication, but in reality most of what is said between people has nothing to do with the words they speak.

Body language can express so much more than we realize.

It can tell another person if you’re sad, bored, excited or feeling confident simply by how you move your eyes, shoulders and even your facial expressions.

It’s almost like a sixth sense that we don’t always make conscious decisions about — whatever emotion you have in response to something will manifest itself in how you physically respond without you necessarily deciding it should.

When it comes to social norms, body language comes in handy as well; if an action goes against the accepted behavior, small body movements are often used instead to express the intended message — for example when someone feels desire for another person but norms demand modesty in expressing it.

No matter what though, we don’t tend to notice body language or think about its meaning and that often leaves us blissfully unaware of what’s really going on – both within ourselves and with other people.

The Human Inclination To Conspicuously Consume: How Public Displays Of Wealth Reflect Our Social Standing

Social Standing

Have you ever questioned why people buy fancy cars and homes that they don’t really need? Well, it’s partly down to a phenomenon called conspicuous consumption.

It offers the owner an advantage over their competition when it comes to sex and social status.

In 1899, American socio-economist Thorstein Veblen first coined this term in his book “The Theory of the Leisure Class”.

But there is a more subtle reason why people make these types of purchases – to show off their individual status and even project themselves in a specific way.

For example, say you want your colleagues at work to know that you are pro-environmental.

You may purchase eco-friendly items or even upgrade your car; decisions that may carry higher costs but impress others with your beliefs.

This was verified in a study in 2010 among psychologists Vladas Griskevicius.

Participants would either purchase online or publicly and those who were being observed had a decision-based preference for environmentally friendly products as opposed to those shopping online who did not have this same mindset or priority.

Essentially, it wasn’t so much about taking care of the environment but all about perceived social acceptance – showing off their own status and idealized traits to others.

Art Represents Our Desires To Show Off And Mate With Genetically Fit Partners

Although it isn’t necessary for survival, art can actually supply a competitive edge when it comes to sexual selection.

To understand why this is the case, we need to look no further than evolutionary psychology and the behavior of animals like the bowerbird.

The males of this species build elaborate structures made of sticks and other debris to attract potential mates.

They’ll adorn these structures with feathers, berries, and colored leaves—sometimes going so far as to spend hours perfecting the design.

Despite all this effort, these bowers serve no practical purpose—they aren’t even used as nests!

These displays are not about survival or providing for offspring; they are meant to attract mates by showcasing resourcefulness, showing potential partners that a given male has excess energy and resources that he can spare on making art (even if it is just an ornate bird habitat!).

Not only does this give the observing female an indication of his genetic fitness–it also serves as a way of promoting competition among potential mates.

By displaying his resourcefulness in such a showy manner, a male may be able to outcompete others who do not have access to or ability with such resources.

Wrap Up

The Elephant in the Brain is ultimately about understanding how human behavior works from an evolutionary perspective.

We are driven by our instinct to survive and procreate, so we often use tactics such as displaying favorable traits in order to gain resources and potential mates.

This book provides a comprehensive insight into why we do what we do, even if it’s not always apparent.

It also shines a critical light on how this behavior shapes our societies and institutions.

By understanding the true motives behind our actions, we can make better decisions that lead us to healthier and more successful lives.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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