Trivers’s book out soon

September 30, 2011 • 11:20 am

Bob Trivers is a bit of an eccentric character, but his ideas on parental investment, parent-offspring conflict, and altruism have been landmarks in evolutionary psychology, and even though some of his ideas may be far-fetched, they’re never boring. He’s one of the most important evolutionary thinkers of our era.

I’ve just received a copy of his new book, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, whose thesis, as stated on the book jacket, is that “in order to deceive others, we often deceive ourselves first.” In other words, we have evolved brain “modules” to hide our own motivations, or suppress data or arguments that conflict with our genetic interests.

This is definitely a book worth reading if you’ve any interest in the evolution of human behavior, and you can get it for less than seventeen bucks on Amazon.  (It’s officially out October 25.)  This book has been in the works for a very long time: as I recall, it was originally supposed to have been co-authored with Huey Newton, a founder of the Black Panther party (now that would have been interesting!), but Newton was shot to death in 1989.

I note that the back dustflap comes with a ringing endorsement from Richard Dawkins:

This is a remarkable book, by a uniquely brilliant scientist.  Robert Trivers has a track record of producing highly original ideas, which have gone on to stimulate much research.  His Darwinian theory of self-deception is arguably his most provocative and interesting idea so far. This book is enlivened by Trivers’s candid personal style, and is a pleasure to read. Strongly recommended.

Some of the chapter titles are “Deception in nature,” “False historical narratives,” “Religion and self-deception,” and “Fighting self-deception in our own lives.”

23 thoughts on “Trivers’s book out soon

  1. self-deception evolved in the service of deceit

    Especially interesting in the context of the many discussions about religion, here at the WEIT website.

    1. …but if the title is derived from Proverbs, I don’t follow the logic:

      The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, But the folly of fools is deceit


      The quote varies with the brand of bible though

  2. Love Trivers, a hero. Actually heard him speak in basement with 5 grad students and prof while in grad school at U of Chicago, recorded it as well. Have to transfer it. This was before his many meltdowns. Changed my life. Actually measuring relationships and evo devo stuff — wow!

    His ideas always challenge and left to others to dispute, he’s not an experimentalist but a divergent thinker. We need more. He is a wacky dude as well. Yeah, wacky evo dudes and dudettes.

  3. Can’t wait to read it. I’m first on the reserve list at my library when it comes in. Maybe he’ll explain how conservatives/evangelicals cope with their cognitive dissonance without imploding.

  4. Seems to drive home Feynman’s “first principle”: that “you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

  5. The most interesting deception in a long line, I’d say, is that “life is a gift worthwhile to be passed on.”

    We have to get over that hurdle to actually pass on our genes, and be evolutionarily successful, no?

    1. Does anyone really have a baby as a favour to the baby?

      I had three babies because I wanted a baby for my own sake (I was deluded and hormonal), not for the baby’s benefit.

      1. From sort of personal experience: When I was little I asked my mum where I came from. She just walked away muttering “‘Trust me’ he said… That’s what he said to me…”

  6. Just evolutionary psychology? For jebus’s sake, Trivers won the Craaford prize in 2007. His importance in evolutionary biology cannot be overestimated.

    1. I too was going to comment on the use of the hot-button and human-centric phrase ‘evolutionary psychology’.

      I would have called him a behavioral-ecology theorist.

      1. Sociobiology…

        Evolutionary Psychology…

        Behavioral-Ecology Theory…

        What term will you be avoiding next? I predict that it will be even longer, but will still be an attempt at a neutral paraphrase of ‘Evolutionary theory applied to social behaviour’, which biologically uninformed critics will interpret as ‘Social Darwinism and biological determinism’, and regard as applying principally to one species of mammal (because they neither know nor care that there’s other stuff out there).

        Changing the name of the field every few years does not seem to me to be helpful.

        1. it does smack of reinventing the wheel at times, especially to those of us who were around when Sociobiology itself was still considered to be the height of controversy.

          the problem is, not only does the name get reinvented, but it often appears as though the people involved either ignore or were never even aware of the vast amount of research on the relevant subjects that came before them.

          Evo Psych, as the latest iteration, I find highly populated with such individuals.

  7. Recently Robert Trivers was the featured guest on KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny. Michael Krasny is an erudite and engaging interviewer, which in my opinion makes Forum the best talk-radio program in the country.

    I haven’t heard this interview myself yet, but apparently they discuss Trivers’ book The Folly of Fools. Here’s the link to the interview with streaming audio:

    1. Reading the hardcover — so many good quotes bought kindle version too. Trivers is hero of ours. One of the few to call a spade.

      Anyone rejected by Harvard gets our respect. He has a mental illness, so apparently do many creative folks, or relatives who do.

      It’s much more a pop read than hard rocking data based. Good for him. Would never doubt his scholarship.

      Practically no one will like his deeply anti-ideology theme but hey, ideologues never like anything.

      Unfortunately, he has very few videos out there. Check out the one at a Canadian University. Classic myth busting including some on homophobia. Great fun.

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