Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson

The Elephant in the Brain

Everything is signalling. That’s the premise of this book. Simler and Hanson take you on a journey of the ‘Hidden Motives in Everyday Life’ which covers a range of domains in which signalling secretly dominates. This includes things such as conversation, consumption, art, charity, education, medicine, religion and politics. The central argument goes into the idea that most of this signalling occurs without us being aware of it, thus not being aware of the real reasons for our behaviours.

This book is incredibly good and personally opened up a new domain of thought. Simler and Hanson go into detail about simple things such as body language and laughter and explain what they signal, for instance body language being a way to communicate status. Beyond this their explanations about specific domains such as art, charity and education are very insightful. They make you think a lot more about how these domains operate and that there’s always an underlying motive which is often ignored or just not explicitly, or even implicitly acknowledged. I found the education section quite interesting as they touched on the ways in which we’re domesticated by the education system, which is something I haven’t properly considered, and that I’d like to explore more.

Overall, this book is such a good read, and I would highly recommend if you want to learn about yourself and the inner workings of society a little better. You’ll definitely discover some topics of interest throughout the book and it’s well written and accessible. Even if you aren’t interested in those kinds of things it will made you a bit more self-aware, which is always a good thing.