The Elephant in the Brain:
Hidden Motives in Everyday Life

a new book by
Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson

Coming January 2, 2018
Oxford University Press

Preorder from Amazon.


the elephant in the room, n. An important issue that no one wants to ack­now­ledge or add­ress; a social taboo.

the elephant in the brain, n. An important but un­ack­now­ledged fea­ture of how our minds work; an introspective taboo.

Human beings are primates, and primates are political animals. Our brains were designed not just to gather and hunt, but also to get ahead socially, often by devious means. The problem is that we like to pretend otherwise; we're afraid to acknowledge the extent of our own selfishness. And this makes it hard for us to think clearly about ourselves and our behavior.

The Elephant in the Brain aims to fix this introspective blind spot by blasting floodlights into the dark corners of our minds. Only when everything is out in the open can we really begin to understand ourselves: 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.

Acknowledging these hidden motives has the potential to upend the usual political debates and cast fatal doubt on many polite fictions. You won't see yourself β€” or the world β€” the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.

Detailed Outline Available

About The Authors

Kevin Simler is a writer and software engineer currently living in Brooklyn, NY. After graduating from UC Berkeley with degrees in philosophy and computer science, he started a PhD program at MIT, but later dropped out to join a software startup in Silicon Valley. He's worked for 10 years as a software engineer, product designer, and engineering director, and continues to advise startups about technology, leadership, and recruiting. He's written this book as an alter-PhD project. You can read more of Kevin's work at his blog,

Robin Hanson is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University. He has a PhD in social science from Caltech, master's in physics and philosophy from U. Chicago, and worked for nine years in artificial intelligence as a research programmer at Lockheed and NASA. He helped pioneer the field of prediction markets, and recently published The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth. He’s had sixty academic publications, 3440 citations, 640 media mentions, given 300 invited talks, and blogs at More here.


Sign up to be notified when the book launches:

(No spam, and we'll keep the emails to a minimum. Promise.)

In the meantime, you can find us on: