What We Are Reading Today: Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya


“The Elephant in The Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life,” is a self-help book by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson published in 2018.

The title alludes to the idiom “the elephant in the room,” which refers to obvious problems we tend to ignore. The social psychology book focuses on how human beings attempt to keep their self-centered personality traits hidden from society.

The authors encourage readers to confront these characteristics, in order to understand how this informs their social behavior.

In part one titled “Why We Hide Our Motives,” the authors introduce the thesis that human beings magnify socially acceptable and positive character traits to better assimilate in society.

Unfortunately, they argue, if selfish motives are unaddressed, this could affect the proper functioning of society on the social, political, religious and education levels.

If dishonesty with oneself remains the norm, questioning the legitimacy of societal institutions could cause injustice and division among people, they contend.

However, if humans acknowledge and understand selfish or narcissistic personality traits, this could have a positive impact on society.

In his blog titled “Melting Asphalt,” Simler has posted discussions about human behavior and philosophy twice a month since 2012. Simler holds degrees in philosophy and computer science from the University of California, Berkeley. He started a doctorate in computational linguistics at Massachusetts Institute for Technology, but left to join Palantir Technologies in 2006.

The book’s coauthor Hanson is an economist and associate professor of economics at George Mason University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Irvine. Hanson also holds a master’s in conceptual science from the University of Chicago. He has a doctorate in social science from the California Institute of Technology.

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