Ten Could be Twenty or More

Today is the official release date for our book The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, and I can confirm that a copy sits on the shelf at my local B&N bookstore (across the aisle from where sits Age of Em, still on the shelf after 18 months). A Kindle version can be had for $14, and the hardback for $26 at Alibris.

On press coverage, back in July Publishers Weekly had a paragraph on it, the Boston Globe did an interview of me back then that they just released, Vice interviewed me recently so I expect that out soon, and I’m told that a Wall Street Journal review is forthcoming. Amazon now has 5 reviews, Goodreads has 7, and 3 reviews have appeared on blogs. And I’ve done 6 podcasts.

Though we see our main thesis as big and radical, so far all reviewers seem to have accepted it! (As did all of our 7 of the academic reviewers our publisher obtained internally a year ago.) That thesis is:

Our main goal is to demonstrate that hidden motives are common and important— that they’re more than a minor correction to the alternate theory that people mostly do things for the reasons that they give. For this purpose, we don’t need to be right about everything. In fact, we expect most readers to buy only about 70 percent of what we’re selling— and we’re OK with that.

We of course hope for more readers and press coverage. But we hope even more for intellectual engagement – people both agreeing and disagreeing with our particular arguments. And our highest hope is to inspire others to continue our research agenda. In our book we give detailed arguments for hidden motives in these ten areas of life:

Body Language, Laughter, Conversation, Consumption, Art, Charity, Education, Medicine, Religion, Politics.

But there are many more areas of life that we didn’t consider, and an awful lot of them are also plausible candidates for hidden motives. So if you have ambitions to be a social analyst who discovers important things about the social world, this seems to be a great opportunity for you. Go take some other area of life full of puzzling behaviors, and see if an alternate account of typical motives could better make sense of those puzzles.

We’ve already shown you how with our ten examples. To join our revolution, you just have to do the additional work in one more area. There’s social analysis gold in them thar hills. With your help, our ten examples could expand to twenty or more. And then we together would have pioneered a new understanding of human behavior.

Added 3 Jan: See my coauthor Kevin Simler’s “Ten Reasons To Read” our book.

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  • Your 6 podcasts are linked with http://elephantinthebrain.com/media.html but that results in a 404.

    • Robin Hanson

      Yeah, my coauthor decided to reorganize the website; I’ll put in a new link when he converges to a new structure.

  • Xi Rasoji

    I just got a hardcover today, read the introduction and can’t wait to read the rest. Couple of questions:
    – why all the moral framing of our subconscious motives?
    – why did you do write this book? Pause… the question behind the question.

    • Robin Hanson

      We known people will frame it morally, and so we address that, but it isn’t our focus. We talk in the book about why we wrote it.

  • Kyle Hipke

    This is hands down my new favorite book I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of books). And I haven’t even finished it yet.

    In the section on conversation, you make the claim that we don’t tend to discredit the value of the information that speakers convey – this is evidence that we don’t actually see conversations as a reciprocal exchange situation. We are happy to hear what people say so that we can see what tools they have.

    2 thoughts come to mind about this:
    1. There’s still an incentive to discredit the value of what is said, to the extent that we see ally-seeking activities as a competition. If I am in a group conversation and I want people to see my tools as more useful than the tools of other speakers, why wouldn’t I try to discredit whatever the speaker says? I wonder if this sort of behavior would be seen as a norm violation.
    2. I wonder if people become curmudgeonly / antisocial to the extent that they feel the people around them have no valuable tools to offer them. The more one sees oneself as superior to others, or the more one is disappointed by the value of what they learn from the people around them, the less one sees allies as a very valuable thing. The incentive to listen to others goes away. I feel like this could explain some of my own behavior. That doesn’t necessarily mean that other people don’t have useful tools – it might just mean that I am not surrounding myself with the right people.