A Book Response Prediction

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Schopenhauer, 1788-1860.

My next book won’t come out until January, and reviews of it will appear in the weeks and months after that. But now, a year in advance, I want to make a prediction about the main objections that will be voiced. In particular I predict that two of the most common responses will a particular opposing pair.

If you recall, our book is about hidden motives (a.k.a., “X is not about Y):

We’re afraid to acknowledge the extent of our own selfishness. .. The Elephant in the Brain aims to .. blast floodlights into the dark corners of our minds. .. Why do humans laugh? Why are artists sexy? Why do people brag about travel? Why do we so often prefer to speak rather than listen?

Like all psychology books, The Elephant in the Brain examines many quirks of human cognition. But this book also ventures where others fear to tread: into social critique. The authors show how hidden selfish motives lie at the very heart of venerated institutions like Art, Education, Charity, Medicine, Politics, and Religion.

I predict that one of the most common responses will be something like “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” While the evidence we offer is suggestive, for claims as counterintuitive as ours on topics as important as these, evidence should be held to a higher standard than the one our book meets. We should shut up until we can prove our claims.

I predict that another of the most common responses will be something like “this is all well known.” Wise observers have known and mentioned such things for centuries. Perhaps foolish technocrats who only read in their narrow literatures are ignorant of such things, but our book doesn’t add much to what true scholars and thinkers have long known.

These responses are opposing in the sense that it is hard to find a set of positions from which one could endorse both responses.

I have not phrased this prediction so as to make it very easy to check later if its right. I have also not offered a specific probability. Given the many ambiguities here, this seems right to me.

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  • Lord

    I’ll go with the second though I think it needs a qualification. I think we all know this to be true to some extent, but that we try to focus on positive sum areas where everyone can be selfish but limiting the impact of that selfishness on others, and that egregious selfishness is as condemned as modest selfishness is encouraged.

  • I think the second response has more truth in it, but you certainly have brought things together more than people generally did in the past.

    • consider

      We don’t know that without comparing their book to past papers or books. Could you list two or three that you have in mind?

  • Neuronaut

    “it is hard to find a set of positions from which one could endorse both responses.”

    How about this set of positions:
    Your thesis has been stated for centuries, by many scholars, each offering little evidence, and you are only the most recent to do so in this way.

    Not that I necessarily agree with this, but it would seem to tie those two responses into a coherent position.

  • Ronfar

    The thing is, if act X has both a pro-social and a selfish explanation (you give to charity because you want to help people vs you give to charity because it makes you look good to others) then the answer can still be “both” without the selfish motive undermining the genuineness of the pro-social one. Selection, natural and otherwise, cares about selfish benefits, but there’s a simple and effective, if often costly, solution the problem of how to appear to be a good person: actually be a good person! So selection creates good individuals because being good looks good, but individuals often act good because they really are good.

    Which is how both criticisms can co-exist: people are good (and you haven’t proven otherwise, how dare you accuse us of low motives) but they were made good by a process that rewards the appearance of goodness (duh, of course the ultimate source of goodness is the selfish rewards to goodness). Adaptation-executors, not fitness-maximizers!

  • Silent Cal

    It could be that the world has long been divided into cynics and idealists, and your book makes standard cynic claims. Then it would be no contradiction for the cynics to say your claims are old news while the idealists decry your lack of evidence–the only bad intellectual behavior by either camp would be their failure to acknowledge the other.

    (In reality your cynical claims are far from standard, though)

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