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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 the University of 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 published The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth, which was the topic of our discussion in a previous podcast episode back in 2016. His most recent book is entitled, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life. He also blogs at

The big mistake we are making – the ‘elephant in the brain’.
the elephant in the room, n. An important issue that people are re¬luc¬tant to ack-now¬ledge or add¬ress; a social taboo.

the elephant in the brain, n. An important but un¬ack¬now¬ledged fea¬ture of how our minds work; an introspective taboo.

The elephant in the brain is the reason that people don’t do things they want to do. They have a lot of hidden motives. People think they do certain things for one reason but really do these things for a different reason. Some of the motives are unconscious. This may be due to many reasons but one of them is the desire/need to conform to social norms. The book, The Elephant in the Brain includes 10 areas of hidden motives in everyday life. These include:

1. Body language
2. Laughter
3. Conversation
4. Consumption
5. Art
6. Charity
7. Education – one reason people really go to school is to ‘show off’
8. Medicine – it isn’t just about health – it’s also about demonstrating caring
9. Religion
10. Politics

The puzzle of social status in the workplace is one to be explored. People are always working to improve their position within an organization but often the competition is ‘hidden’ by socially expected terms like ‘experience’ or ‘seniority’. To discuss one’s social status in the workplace is not acceptable. So, to continue to explore and think about people’s true motives can be beneficial.

What you will learn in this episode:

• Why people have hidden motives.
• Are people just selfish?
• Why do companies have sexual harassment workshops?
• What could be alternative reasons to hold workplace meetings?
• How Robin and co-author Kevin Simler researched for the book
• Do we have the power to change our self-deceptive ways?

Links from the episode:

Elephant In The Brain
Overcoming Bias
Robin Hanson on LinkedIn

Want To Hear More From Robin Hanson?

Work, Love, And Life When Robots Rule The Earth