Synopses & Reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of 2012
Whether it’s in a cockpit at takeoff or the planning of an offensive war, a romantic relationship or a dispute at the office, there are many opportunities to lie and self-deceive—but deceit and self-deception carry the costs of being alienated from reality and can lead to disaster. So why does deception play such a prominent role in our everyday lives? In short, why do we deceive?
In his bold new work, prominent biological theorist Robert Trivers unflinchingly argues that self-deception evolved in the service of deceit—the better to fool others. We do it for biological reasons—in order to help us survive and procreate. From viruses mimicking host behavior to humans misremembering (sometimes intentionally) the details of a quarrel, science has proven that the deceptive one can always outwit the masses. But we undertake this deception at our own peril.
Trivers has written an ambitious investigation into the evolutionary logic of lying and the costs of leaving it unchecked.
"Are there biological advantages to the practice of deceiving oneself and each other? The two are related, says noted Rutgers biologist Trivers in a spirited, provocative exploration of the evolutionary logic of deceit and self-deception: 'we deceive ourselves the better to deceive others.' The self-deception Trivers is concerned with is unconscious, not planned. Deception, whether in family relations, in religion, sex or historical accounts, occurs at every level of life: parasite and host, predator and prey, plant and animal, male and female, neighbor and neighbor, parent and offspring. Even though our senses show us the truth of the world around us, our conscious minds often distort it: we project onto others traits that in fact characterize us; we repress painful memories, rationalize immoral behavior, and act repeatedly to boost self-opinion. But the costs of self-deception include the misapprehension of reality, especially social reality, and the possibility of making ourselves immune to the needs of others and ourselves. For example, airline pilots sometimes commit deadly errors out of self-deception that arises from overconfidence in their skills and lack of awareness of the dangers posed by a certain situation. Stimulating but also challenging for lay readers, Trivers's study provides an energetic exploration of a perplexing human trait." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Robert L. Trivers is a Professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University. He won the Crafoord Prize in Biosciences in 2007 for his fundamental analysis of social evolution, conflict, and cooperation. He lives in New Brunswick, New Jersey.