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The Elephant In The Brain

Hidden Motives In Everyday Life

Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson

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People are easily satisfied by the appearance of good medical care, and show shockingly little interest in digging below the surface - people facing dangerous heart op, unwilling to pay $50 for example, to learn of the different death rates for this surgery at different hospitals.

Medicineisn't just abouthealth - it's also an exercise in conspicuous caring.

Christopher Boehm's Hierachy In The Forest analyzes human societies using the same concepts used to examine chimp societies. So an office full of software negineers becomes a tribe of chattering primates. Meetings, shared meals and team outings look like elaborate grooming sessions. Job interviews are thinly veiled initiation rituals. And particularly, competition for status. Dominance displays, squabbles over territory and active confrontations, and all to keep position in hierachy.

The human brain is designed to deceive itself, the better to deceive others.

Education isn't just about learning, it's about getting graded, ranked and credentialled, stamped for the approval of employers. Religion isn't just about private belief in a god, but about publicly belonging to a tribe.

Chimps groom each other far more than is necessary just to clean out dirt and bugs. The extra care is to forge alliances that help them in other situations.

How did we wind up as big-brained apes? Two groups of explanations:
(a) we faced challenges from environment - getting food, evading predators, finding shelter, adapting to different climates, so we learned to co-operate and make tools. Or
(b) we faced social challenges - competition for status and mates, avoiding violence and cheats.

We'd prefer to believe it was thest, the evidence favours the second. We are certainly content to celebrate competition in sport and commerce, but not so keen to look at relationship jealousy, power struggles at work and in social groups, politics in the office.

Our brains evolved not justas survival machines, but as courtship machines. And many of our most distinctive behaviours serve reproductive rather than survival ends.

If you're a male chimp who wants to bethe leader, it's not enough just to be the strongest. You also need a gang of other strong males. You need to have the ability to identify, attract, and retain good allies. It's this coalitions-for-cooperation that makes chimp life political.

Are brains hard-wired to cheat. When abstract logic puzzles are framed as cheating scenarios, they become a lot easier to solve.

Robert Trivers book The Folly of Fools: On the one hand, our sense organs have evolved to give us a detailed and accurate view of the outside world .... exactly as we would expect if truth about the outside world helps us to navigate it more effectively. But once this information arrives in our brains, it is often distorted and biased to our conscious minds. We deny the truth to ourselves. We project onto others traits that arein fact true of ourselves - and then attack them! We repress painful memories, create completely false ones, rationalize immoral behaviour, act repeatedly to boost our self-opinion, and show a suite of ego-defence mechanisms."

We are fantastic self-deceivers - about our driving skills, social skills, leadership skills and sporting ability. Weare particularly bad about assessing our own health - we avoid taking tests that may have bad results, we underestimate our chances of getting cancer.

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