The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson

Oh em gee. I have new favorite people. Forward slash book. I realize this changes from week to week… and that I flip flop between positions of eminence like some sort of Havaiana. (its the best I could come up with)*

*as opening paragraphs go… not the greatest… but I’m typing at pace and feel retraction is admitting defeat (something I’m clearly loathed to do this early on)

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Enter, The elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson. A duo, that added together, equals awesomeness. Yes, I realize I overuse the solution in this equation, but this time, its totally justified.

Two things almost stopped me experiencing this exceptional piece of work. I tend to see-saw between audio books and podcasts. Usually dependent on when my Audible credit becomes available…. so I almost missed Sam Harris (The waking up podcast) talking to Robin Hanson. I read the show notes for the podcast (which I often use to gauge my opportunity cost, ie what do I think will add more value, Sam Harris… or killing whatever high frequency hearing I have left with Five Finger Death Punch)

The show notes read like this…

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robin Hanson about our hidden motives in everyday life. They discuss selfishness, hypocrisy, norms and meta-norms, cheating, deception, self-deception, education, the evolutionary logic of conversation, social status, signaling and counter-signaling, common knowledge, AI, and many other topics.

I grimaced. It sounded dry. And cerebral. Definitely NOT something I was in the mood for… But I listened to the fist couple of minutes anyway, the housekeeping section (more because I was wondering if Sam was going to say anything about Lawrence Krauss*). He doesn’t, but Sam does allude to the poor sound quality in this podcast. ‘Well now I’m definitely NOT going to listen to it…’

*(wordy aside) I don’t have a massive hard-on for Lawrence. BUT… I’m not into Crucifixion by media (if you can call Buzzfeed media) either. If he’s found guilty in a court by his peers let him suffer the barbs of derision… but until then… fuck you all. 

Generally speaking, the only movements I’m into are my bowel movements. I did read Lawrence Krauss… (damn… I’m not sure whether to put an s’ or es onto the end of that… its one of those grammatical rules I never bothered to learn and now its coming back to haunt me) I did read the nine page treatise/response to these allegations by Lawrence Krauss (that’s better) and his explanations seem very reasonable (although they would, wouldn’t they?) I think the only acceptable behavior these days is to NEVER flirt with anyone. Ever. That way the species will die out… and things can just go back to before all this (totally bullshit) evolution happened. To quote Douglas Adams (RIP)

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In any event at the moment, guilty or innocent, it sucks to be Lawrence Krauss. (Unless all this media attention has actually helped him in getting his thing wet, which as far as I can tell, is all he ever wanted to do in the first place)

We now return to our regular programming. I ended up listening to the whole podcast and I’m really glad I did. Its really good. Highly recommended. And the sound while not I-max is actually, mostly fine. Robin Hanson comes across as supremely likable. And an interesting foil to a much more dour Sam Harris. (sorry Sam)

This whole endeavor lead me to consumerism.

I must be honest, I stared at the cover for quite a while before I purchased this book. It just doesn’t speak to me at all. I know, I know, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover…’ But I really hated the Rorschach effect and I hated the ‘Hidden motives in everyday life’ tagline even more.

I finished it in one night.

Which doesn’t often happen anymore because I really love sleeping. (Definitely in my top five things to do with my time now that I’m tiptoeing towards the mid point of my life expectancy)

So… what is this book about? The short answer is everything…  I briefly considered doing a synopsis… but I don’t think I can do it justice. Besides that’s what Goodreads is for. I’m just here to ramble nonsensically and pitch the book from left field.

I can however attest to wanting to read this book again. (also something that almost never happens anymore) I blew through it so fast on my first read I didn’t stop to underline any passages or take any notes… and this is definitely the sort of work that requires some some form of rumination. (the deep considered version of rumination and not the bovine chewing the cud kind)

Otherwise this book is really well written, in a prose that’s very easy going and engaging. I didn’t have to spell out any of the big words and the punctuation all seemed pretty reasonable. A lot of authors (especially academics), while supremely knowledgeable… can be frustratingly obtuse. It makes reading their work more akin to cognitive coal mining,  but maybe you’re into that sort of thing. I, on the other hand prefer my reading to be a slothful (preferably supine) event and if I’m going to receive a mental enema, I prefer to be lubed up. And maybe encouraged with some kind and thoughtful words first.

Its a great book. You guys rock. You managed to succinctly convey your thoughts and ideas and I was thoroughly entertained throughout. More than that, you’ve given me lots of think about. Thank you.