I am making my way through Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson's book The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life . . . the thesis is that not only is our rational mind a "slave to the passions" but that it is beneficial to not recognize this . . . we have a purposeful evolutionary blind spot in our brain that makes us not only hide our true motivations from others but also hide them from ourselves; Simler and Hanson claim that at the root of many of our seemingly altruistic and pure motives are much more self-serving ends, often to show our fitness to the opposite sex and society at large . . . you gave to charity to help the children, of course, but also to show that you have excess funds and are willing to use them to help the community at large . . . but admitting the latter is in poor taste; while you know that a consistent bedtime is great for your children's health, it also really nice to get the little buggers out of you and your wife's hair at the end of the day; you enjoy playing an instrument and don't mind the tedious practicing, but your skill and confidence is also signalling that you have extra time and energy and cognitive ability and manual dexterity to pursue something aesthetic in your spare time; you recently decided that gun control is a good thing and attended the march in Washington, but you also want to signal to your team just how much you despise Trump and the Republicans . . . the book is a light read (with no solutions to this hole in our cognition) but it will get you thinking about what people are possibly signalling with their actions; here are two things that came to my mind:
1) I've been really broken up about the loss of our dog-- I've been listless and cranky and out of sort since we put him down-- and we had off on Thursday for a "slush day" and I went for a run in the snow in Donaldson Park and this made me sad, because Sirius would always accompany me around the park when it snowed . . . and I recognized that part of this sadness was missing the companionship of my trusty pet and part of it is missing the signalling; when you walk or run or bike with a well-trained athletic dog, you are showing the world that you like animals, that you have a purpose, that you have spent much quality time with this happy creature-- and Sirius was especially well-behaved and friendly . . . in a very real sense, he would attract people (sometimes even good looking people of the opposite sex) because a friendly well-trained dog signals something very particular to the world that we often don't think about, especially if there's a routine about it . . . so I miss that signalling as much as I miss my dog, the hefty responsibility of having a dog is actually part of the attraction: you are saying, on top of my wife and kids and job and all that, I can also take care of an animal and train it properly and exercise with it and take it on adventures . . . and now if I take a walk in the park, I'm just a lonely middle-aged man out for a stroll;
2) I've had a number of people tell me they've essentially stopped listening to music-- they've moved to podcasts and audiobooks-- and I'm wondering if this is a result of cell-phones and headphones and air-conditioning and the ubiquity and accessibility of all content; there's much less communal listening because of digital technology; everybody has everything right inside their phone so you don't need to hang out with your friend who bought the newest CD and sit and listen with them . . . when you are listening communally, music is a real signal-- whether it be on a boom box or a car with all the windows open-- then you need to blast stuff for your tribe: hip hop or alternative or jazz or whatever-- and if people of your tribe are listening, then the signals can get really precise: alt-country is very different than hot country, the type of hip-hop indicates whether you are a wannabe gangsta or a cerebral proponent of multiculturalism but there's much less of this now, people are ensconced in their own private sonic worlds, so they can listen to whatever music they want and no one will know but they can still signal to the outside world with their audio consumption, it's just more about the residue . . . I certainly like to listen to podcasts, but I also like the after-effect: I know some new stuff that might contribute to the next conversation I participate in . . . and an audiobook is similar, not as much fun to listen to in the moment, but the aftereffect is significant, you've read a book and can discuss this and review it and show off your cognitive ability and your allegiance to particular ideas and people . . . music is a much more powerful signal in the moment, when there's a number of people listening and I think it's sad that we've moved away from this, so the only solution is to buy some giant C batteries and bring back the boom box.