Everyday we lie to ourselves. In order for us humans to take action we require motivation, but what are the so called motivators? Well donating money to a certain charity may be motivated by altruism yet only 1% of the people who donate remain anonymous. Lesson being that donors not only need a sense of motivation but also need to be appreciated for that altruism. It gets worse, Humans don’t even know how to identify our very own true motivations, in fact we end up deceiving ourselves to make our behavior appear more pure than it actually is. It is a certain pattern which is carried on across all kinds of different areas like consumption, politics and education.

In their book the “Elephant in the Brain” the authors of the book take on the most dismal science of economics and put them together into a story which is based on Humans acting badly but believing they are great!. The authors state in their intro “The line between cynicism and misanthropy – between thinking ill of human motives and thinking ill of humans – it is often very blurry.” The book actually highlights that the actual elephant in the brain is our self-deception and human motivations which surround the actions we take every day in our very own life. This elephant in the brain is only visible to those who seek it but many of us often disregard it as we get discouraged at our selfish behavior.

Furthermore Humans really care deeply about being shown as prosocial while in fact we are also trapped in to a constant competition over status attainment, careers and spouses. We want to be benefitted from the work we carry out and we make this hard on ourselves by creating excuses for not being motivated to do any work at all. We give to charity because wr want to be noticed, same is the case when we get a degree from college, we earn it to learn but end up signalling to employers that we will be willing to work hard.

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Another factor is that we do not realize when are taking advantage of duality of our actions. We truly believe we are being altruistic, just as we want to truly believe that we are in college to learn and learn only. That self-deception is very critical for the human mind, since it helps lower the cost of demonstrating our prosocial bona fides. Furthermore Elephant in the brain is a rather bold but accurate analysis. They have taken upon the information from different research advances in the human nature such as Jonathan Haidt’s work on the righteous mind and Robert Trivers work on the evolutionary psychology to help integrate their thesis in to a book and in turn they came up with a book which describes how the elephant in the brain affects us in every part of our life.

Moreover the authors of the book actually seem to be very curious and investigatory about the patterns of the human behavior and hence realize that they are at least pushing some of their many readers in to a very un comfortable position. Yet the book is only making one claim and one claim only which was only just applied in myriad of ways. It is unclear to me who the reader would be who accepts only parts of the books premise. Either you’ve come around to the cynical view of human reality or you simply haven’t there is no middle ground.

To make matters worst, even after reading the proclaimed book we are left completely un aware of what to do with thesis. I mean yes it is an accurate and conclusive book about human nature, but what next what do we do to improve our significant nature? There is only a simple conclusion in the end which calls for humans to to have greater situational awareness and a short albeit excellent section on designing better institutions to account for the hidden motivations which we all have the potential to achieve. The books observations however do not end up leading us to a greater project or a clear path towards a better society which is a little disappointing. Indeed the book has made some conclusive indications surrounding the human brain and its nature but we feel the book will be nothing more than a cynical fodder for the Silicon Valley product designers. It would have been better to help people achieve those hidden motivations rather then just talk about how people ignore these motivations or disregard them.

Finally the science is dismal because as a project it leads nowhere. The book reveals that everyone is secretly selfish and obsessed with the status and they don’t even know that. The authors conclude the book with a final line stating “We may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon” and yes we did that and it is that surprise from such a dreary species that shows what the human potential if motivated, can achieve. Finally there is no doubt an elephant in our brain, but the influence can go away easily, ultimately its all in our own hands what we choose to do! Because it’s the choices that make us who we are.


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