Tag Archives: Consciousness

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life by Kevin Simler


  1. Human behavior is not always what it seems as it tends to be driven by multiple motives and some of these motives are subconscious or we are at least not fully aware of them. We are designed this way so that we can chase selfish motives while attempting not to appear selfish to others. Our brains try to get past this by keeping us in the dark – the less we know, the less we’ll give away. We are strategically self-deceived – individually and as a society. In a word, the “elephant in the brain” is selfishness and this book shows why only by confronting it can we begin to deal with it and what’s really going on. This book shines the light on certain real world examples where self-deception is rampant 

Key Takeaways

  1. Elephant in the brain – an important but unacknowledged feature of how our mind works, an introspective taboo
  2. We pretend like we know what we’re up to but we often don’t and this gets us into trouble 
  3. People are judging us all the time. Namely, our motives. Because people are judging us, we downplay our selfish motives and make our selves look as good as possible. This applies not only to our words but also our thoughts. In some areas of life we are more likely to point out selfish motives (politics) but in others (medicine) we are more likely to gloss over and act like everyone’s intentions are pure 
  4. By studying primates we can get a good idea of what our social interactions really mean. Distance gives perspective. Social grooming in apes is about hygiene but also politics, prestige, status, hierarchy, and reciprocation. Similar for humans 
  5. The major social interactions which fall into this category for humans is sex, hierarchy and politics. Inter-species competition is at the root and is rarely discussed. Collaboration is the flip side of the same coin. A lot of energy is wasted with competition. Imagine how much shorter redwoods could be and how much energy they’d save if they could agree on a height maximum. This is one of our species superpowers – turning wasteful competition into fruitful collaboration. Norms define these behaviors and is part of what we try to deceptively overcome. We hold ourselves back collectively for the greater good. The norm isn’t defined by how it is explicitly defined but by which actions are punished and to what degree. Weapons originally and later gossip and reputation helped keep people in line and follow norms. However, everyone cheats and it is intentions even more than actions which are judged. Humans are incredible at spotting cheating because our brains are adapted to it – meaning humans have always cheated as it gets you the reward without the cost if you can pull it off. A little discretion can go a long way if you’re trying to cheat – think of the brown paper bag used when people want to drink in public. 
  6. The most honest signals are expensive to produce but even more expensive to fake. 
  7. We deceive ourselves but blame others and project our own failings or guilt onto others. Self-deception can be used to protect ourselves but if our mental models help us navigate the world, why would we have evolved to react this way? Information is the lifeblood and you’d think that with less or incorrect info we’d be worse off. This is the old school of thought. The new school is that self deception is used for manipulation and is self-promoting. We deceive ourselves to better deceive others. Lying is hard to pull off, is cognitively demanding, and we are afraid of getting caught so not admitting it to ourselves is easier. We are not as opaque as we believe and our thoughts can be quite transparent to others but if we don’t know something, others won’t be able to see it. Modeling the world accurately isn’t the be all, end all of our brains. It is reproduction and in this case self deception helps us further this goal 
  8. 4 types of self deception in mixed motive scenarios 
    1. Madman – you’ll do anything to attain your goal and others know it. Intimidation
    2. Cheerleader – a form of propaganda where you try to change other people’s beliefs 
    3. Loyalist – shows commitment and belief and will go along with the party or person no matter what. Earned trust 
    4. Cheater – turning a blind eye so you have plausible deniability. Throw people off our trail 
  9. The main cost of self deception is that it can get us to act suboptimally
  10. Our saving grace is inconsistency as one part of our mind’s “system” can be aware of something but be hidden from others. Our brains architecture keeps some of our baser evolutionary motives hidden from full view and allows us to act hypocritically without truly realizing it. Our mind is built to help us advance socially. Shame, guilt, and other negative emotions is our brain’s cue to avoid those neural pathways, putting our true desires even further out of grasp 
  11. The most important self deception is about our own motives. 
  12. We don’t always know the “why” behind what we do but we always think we do. We can rationalize anything we do The brain can be thought of as a press secretary – giving internal and external interpretations of the experiences. Your brain is not the king of decisions like we’d like to think, but merely the rationalizer of them. Every time we give a reason we may just be making it up. We know ourselves less than we think. We cherry pick and celebrate our most pro social reasons and hide away the anti social ones 
  13. We are also intentionally blind to many non-verbal cues such as body language because being consciously aware of and in control of them would give away too much and make us feel too manipulative. Body language is an honest signal and is it the sense that it is more costly to fake them produce so we can use it effectively and should rely upon it in many different situations to get a better feel for how others are feeling rather than relying on what they’re saying. Eye contact (an even ratio of eye contact while listening and speaking conveys dominance and high social status), open postures, contact, lean in or back, pheromones, proximity, touch, how relaxed we seem, social status, and more. The beauty of nonverbal communication is that it allows us to pursue illicit agendas with a smaller risk of getting caught and accused as the actions are harder to pin down than outright actions are. That is why being aware of them is slightly dangerous and is why we don’t teach them to our children 
  14. Laughter is designed for social situations, it is a sound which is always used for communication purposes, and laughter occurs in other species. This inter and intraspecies communication indicates to self and others our playful intent and happy mood. This allows for safe social play even when the behavior could technically be dangerous or serious – it is a play signal. Flirting with violating a norm or actually violating it tends to be found funny. Context is extremely important as the same event can be seen very differently. Humor is extremely informative and showing us what is acceptable and what is transgressive, showing us where the boundaries are and are norms and how far we can push it. Since laughter is in voluntary and deniable it is a great window of truth because we can’t hold it back as easily as we can with language and it gives a safe harbor to be able to explain things away if what we laugh it seems inappropriate to others
  15. Language and speech 
    1. Speaking gains you social status if you prove you’d be a powerful ally who knows something which is new and/or useful to you. When you speak you can show off your verbal and mental “tools” which make you a strong ally. That is the subtext to every speech. Speaking well gains you prestige as prestige can be equated with being a strong allies others want to partner with 
    2. This may be why people tend to speak more than listen although listening might be the best thing you can do as you can learn more 
    3. People are more impressed with others who have something interesting to say regardless of where the conversation goes rather than being led to a specific topic the speaker knows a lot about 
  16. Conspicuous consumption influences everything we do, what we buy, how we judge others, it conveys our status, values and priorities
  17. People have forever been obsessed with gossip, news, and media. And although they may say it is for staying on top of global events, the subtext is that they want to be able to know what others are talking about and chime in in conversation 
  18. Art is an impressive display in the sense that it is meant to impress others. Evolutionarily it is hard to describe or explain because it is costly takes a lot of time and does not directly do anything to enhance our survival but one thought about what it signals to potential mates the fact that we have surplus time, energy, health, and wealth to pursue these sorts of things it makes more sense. The gower bird is a great example because the male builds some impressive structures and collects hard to find artifacts and colors to put within the structure which shows the female he has surplus energy and proves he is a qualified mate. What makes this even more interesting is that after they mate the male does not help raise the young at all. His pre-mating structure speaks to his genes more than anything else he could do. Art therefore needs to be impractical in order to succeed as it shows the fitness of the individual who is performing it
  19. Charity, like everything else discussed, is not done for pure charitable reasons or else people would donate differently. There are five main factors which influence what we do and how we give it including: visibility, peer pressure, proximity, relatability, and mating motives. Being generous signals that we have a surplus of wealth time and fitness and we want our leaders to be generous because it shows that they don’t play zero-sum games, that they know how to share, and that they are socially aligned 
  20. Education in large part is the signaling mechanism to show that you have the capability to learn a broad swath of information, prioritize and work hard. It does not necessarily mean that you know these topics very well. Education is a form of conspicuous consumption too as it tends to be expensive and going to college shows you can afford it. It shows which students can learn well but not necessarily how much they know. Colleges also are in some fashion propaganda machines and also serve to “domesticate” young people
  21. As is this case with many of these hidden mode of explanation, things which seem like flaws for the stated function are in fact features of the hidden one
  22. Bringing food to people who are sick is a universal but in today’s age, far more important is that it is homemade – showing you took time out of your busy schedule to make this
  23. Americans spend too much on medicine in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses”. It is hard for most people to act in the belief that doing less or maybe even nothing is the best course of action no matter if it has been proven that it can be better. More is thought of as better because it signals that we care and are cared for. People don’t actually care as much about if something works – they want the best doctors doing the most expensive treatments. Sleep, rest and eating well is not received well when we’re sick. 
  24. We worship and believe in religion because it helps us socially by forming a cohesive community. We become accepted by a group which helps us survive and reproduce. While the skeptic may think of religions as delusions, it is hard to argue against their benefits. Sacrifice is very socially beneficial to show your loyalty and fitness. The boredom experienced in sermons may be a feature and not a bug – you are conspicuously sacrificing your time for the group 
  25. Groups of nice, trusting people tend to out compete groups of nasty people. This has deep implications if you think about it

What I got out of it

  1. Fun read with deep implications. We keep ourselves in the dark to many of our selfish motives in order to better deceive others

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

  1. Michael Pollan’s deep dive into consciousness altering substances

If you’d prefer to listen to this article, use the player below.

You can also find more of my articles in audio version at Listle

Key Takeaways

  1. One way to study a complex system is to disturb it and see what happens. This is what psychedelics allows scientists to do with the brain. A great benefit of psychedelics is that it sheds light on how the normal brain works and helps you better understand regular consciousness and that it really is only one of many forms of consciousness
  2. Set and setting are both incredibly important but even if you get those totally correct it is still very possible to have a bad trip and have what some say is the most challenging of event of their lives
  3. Psychedelics have shown have many positive impacts with people who have some serious illnesses or depression. It helps you distance yourself from your ego and gain a new perspective on life and many people who have taken it said it was one of the most impactful and important experiences that they’ve had in their lives
  4. There are many parallels between religion and the following that LSD has gotten since Hoffman discovered it in Switzerland in the 60s but the only difference is that the acolytes can directly take part in the religious experience through taking the drug whereas in other religions they have to merely be satisfied with stories as history told from authority figures
  5. Many of these experiences with drugs have something William James called the noetic quality or sense and that is the feeling that you have been let in on a secret of the universe that everyone has access to but just hasn’t realized yet and this deep quality is something dreams and other drugs usually don’t provide
  6. After these experiences, many people lose their ego and sense of self and believe that consciousness is a property of the universe and doesn’t rise out of our consciousness or minds
  7. Many believe that psychedelics laid the foundation for religion
  8. The core learning of most people’s trips, as banal as it may seem, is the supreme importance of love and of letting go of fears and expectations
  9. It was assumed that psychedelics increase blood flow to the brain and in fact it restricts it in specific areas such as the default mode network and this allows your brain to disassociate and make connections that it doesn’t do normally
  10. Uncertainty causes fear in humans and therefore the brain has developed protective pattern matching / recognizing skills. From this comes the stories we tell ourselves, whether right or wrong, to try to help us deal with the world around us. However, this takes a toll and when we become too rigid – when there is not enough entropy in the brain – it leads to linear and boxed in thinking, close-mindedness, addiction, depression, and other harmful states
  11. The veracity or truth of these experiences can of course be questioned but this may not be the appropriate measure. Perhaps the fruits of the experience, how it positively impacts people’s lives, may be the most important. It has helped people with depression, getting over their fears, worries and anxieties and helping them more fully connect with others, focus on things truly important to them, lessen the power of their ego over them, and more. Don’t fret about the details of life but focus on relationships, walks, connectedness, giving joy to others; etc.
  12. Loss of self seems to be linked to a gain in meaning

  What I got out of it

  1. Some great background information on consciousness altering substances, their benefits, their dangers, the research behind them, and more

Power vs. Force by David Hawkins


  1. Man thinks he lives by virtue of the forces he can control, but in fact, he’s governed by power from unrevealed sources, power over which he has no control
Key Takeaways
  1. Behavioral kinesiology, first discovered by Dr. John Diamond, deals with a person’s muscular microresponses to stimuli. All things, people, symbols, food, thoughts, etc. have either a strengthening or weakening effect on the body. The more aware you are of these, the more you can surround yourself with things which strengthen rather than weaken you
  2. There is too much evidence of shared knowledge, a shared consciousness to ignore
  3. Man’s issue has always been that he has mistaken his own intellectual constructs for reality but they are merely an arbitrary point of view
  4. This power can be recognized only through inner awareness
  5. There is a meaningful coherence amongst everything
  6. This book attempts to create an energy field to outline the hierarchy of consciousness
  7. It is not life’s events but how we react to them which determine if they have positive or negative effects on our lives
  8. When force meets power (truth), force is inevitably defeated
  9. They key to happiness is the unconditional kindness to all of life, including ones own – compassion 
  10. Energy level 250 is Neutrality and at this point you can see past dichotomies, are not tied to outcomes or positions and are much more flexible in your point of view and opinion. These people are easy to be around, roll with the punches, are self confident, don’t judge or try to control others and don’t like to be controlled
    1. Willingness
    2. Acceptance – understand source of happiness within oneself, balance in life
    3. Reason – great at understanding intricacies between relationships, science, knowledge and education are heavily emphasized
    4. Love – true love is unconditional, unchanging and permanent. Forgiving, nurturing and supportive. Is completely inclusive and loves every form of life, dissolves negativity by re-contextualizing instead of denial or adaptation
    5. Joy – arises from within and is always present
    6. Peace – distinction between subject and object disappears, these people often remove themselves from the world as their state of bliss precludes ordinary activities. Infinite silence in the mind as it has stopped contextualizing and sees everything as one, interconnected and infinite
    7. Enlightenment – these people influence all people forever (Krishna, Buddha and Jesus), have grace which can be described as ineffable peace, body is merely seen as a tool for communication and transportation of consciousness
  11. One single experience of pure love, joy and peace can completely recalibrate ones life and lead to a continuous search for this state again
  12. Suffering simply stems from attachments and once one recognizes this one can live fully, without fear and with pure joy and love
  13. True teacher never tries to control the pupil’s life in any way. They simply show the way and let the pupil decide
  14. Simple self kindness is the most transformational act you can take. There is no downside as it increases ones own power without extracting any sort of toll. Cannot practice self kindness while expecting some sort of reward
  15. Recognizing the false dichotomy of good and bad eliminates fear
  16. Power arises with meaning and truth. It appeals to that we call nobility and equality, that which emboldens and builds up.
  17. Force always succumbs to power in the end. Force always creates a counterforce where power stands by itself and requires no outside energy and makes no demands. Power creates life and energy where force sucks it away
  18. Truth is a manifestation of consciousness itself
  19. You cannot compromise on principle and keep power
  20. The most successful and enduring companies align with attractor forces and have heart. They may take actions which don’t make pure economic or rational sense but give them a huge competitive advantage because employees love working there and customers love their product or service
  21. People who are truly great are always humble. pride and egotism are always downfalls and must be protected against 
  22. The great are revered as they exemplify the dedication and hard work needed to transcend oneself to reach excellence
  23. True success enlivens and supports the spirit. The truly successful realize that success comes from within and therefore have power. Those who believe that success and happiness and joy come from without are powerless
  24. There are very few at the top but those fighting for mediocrity have intense competition and the bottom of the pyramid is extremely crowded.
  25. Success in every area of life indicates proper alignment with these powerful forces and attractors
  26. Absolutely every thought and action reverberates throughout the universe and effects everything. There are no random events although we may not see how they are connected 
  27. The ability to hold a gaze and look into others eyes is correlated to higher levels of consciousness
  28. Awareness is the all encompassing attracting power equivalent to life itself
What I got out of it
  1. Every thought, feeling and action have consequences. Be aware of things which strengthen or weaken you, this can be food, people, thoughts, actions, beliefs and more. Definitely a bit out there but I think the concept of aligning with power/truth over force is a good one to live by

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

  1. Jaynes argues that up until 2-4,000 years ago, men were not conscious but followed the voices of gods. As language and writing developed, consciousness began to emerge which then displaced these voices. On the surface it seems crazy but Jaynes does an incredible job of making it seem plausible
Key Takeaways
  1. So little of what we do we are actually conscious of
  2. Most fascinating part of language is use of metaphors, especially that of the human body and vision. All language can be thought of as metaphor
    1. Consciousness is the work of lexical metaphors – consciousness came after language
  3. Consciousness an operation rather than a thing
    1. Conscious mind a spatial analog of the world, mental acts analogs of bodily acts
  4. Mind of Iliad – Gods take the place of consciousness.
  5. Following what the hallucinated voices say is what Jaynes means by the bicameral mind
    1. Obey voices because coming from “within” and are omnipresent
  6. Left hemisphere = language, argues part of the right hemisphere is for the language of the gods
  7. Bicameral mind is a form of social context which leads to larger communities which leads to civilizations. 
    1. Voices helped with enduring tasks (pyramids, etc.)
  8. Each new stage of words leads to new perceptions and attentions which eventually lead to changes in culture
  9. Invention of names allowed people to be “recreated” when absent
  10. First kings became gods as their commands were “heard” from beyond the grave
    1. Religious rituals, statues evolved directly from the God’s voices, satisfying their needs
    2. Large areas of worship, treating dead as alive and idols are universal to all cultures
  11. Language, writing, space for analog “I” all contribute to consciousness
  12. Prayer and everyday worship weren’t necessary as they heard the voices all the time
  13. Divination developed because voices disappeared. Omens, sortilege, augury, spontaneous divination
  14. Evolution of psyche from livingness to soul and soma (body) lead to dualism
  15. Word changes lead to concept changes which lead to behavioral changes
  16. The first gods were poets, poetry and music began with the bicameral mind
  17. Bicameral men did not imagine, they experienced
  18. Drastic changes from hypnosis indicative of bicameral mind
  19. Schizophrenia, at least in part, is a return to the bicameral mind
    1. Hallucinations, breakdown of “I”
  20. Since loss of voices, man has been in a constant search for authority
What I got out of it
  1. Supremely interesting read. Mind was blown for the first third of the book or so and then I kind of lost interest with his examples and evidence. Fascinating argument though