ary interpretation of selfcontentious topic could The Folly of Fools deception, the book takes a be seen as mere opinion, The Logic of Deceit and dramatic change of tack in the behavioral ecologist Self-Deception in Human Life the second half. There the Trivers makes a surprisby Robert Trivers author presents a number of ing comeback by suggestBasic Books (Perseus), Johan J. Bolhuis sociopolitical applications of ing a significant relationNew York, 2011. 413 pp. $28, his ideas. He discusses a bafship between parasite load C$32.50. ISBN 9780465027552. iko Tinbergen presaged it, E. O. Wil- fling scope of topics, ranging and the number of relison started it, but the two towering from the Challenger disaster gions “per unit area.” The figures in the behavioral ecology rev- to the conflict in the Middle East. An engag- underlying idea is that the need for protecolution of the 1970s were undoubtedly Robert ing writer, Trivers provides many interesting tion against parasites will promote withinTrivers and Bill Hamilton. Trivers, an evolu- ideas. But if they constitute science, it is of a group cohesion and hostility toward outtionary biologist now at Rutgers University, rather unconventional, democratic nature. siders. Religion then provides “substitute begins The Folly of Fools reminiscing about Unlike many evolutionary psychologists, logics with similar effects”—or, as Trivers his seminal theoretical work from the early who seem to hold that their favored theories formulates it in characteristic fashion, “We days of behavioral ecology. While Hamil- are inevitable evolutionary truths, Trivers is scratch our asses with our right hands, they ton introduced the related concepts of inclu- disarmingly honest. He notes that “[s]ome with their left [note the parasite implicasive fitness and kin selection, Trivers’s theo- real fraction of what I write must inevitably tions], so let’s avoid the nasty left-scratchers rizing focused on almost the entirely.” Again, Trivers is quick to put his opposite, conflicts of interest suggestions into perspective when he says between males and females and that, for instance, the diversity within Protbetween parents and offspring, estant churches may have little or nothing to as well as on reciprocal altrudo with parasite load. Regarding religion, ism. Trivers suggests that the his essential point is that people believe theory of human self-deception in a deity not because she—using behavthat he develops in the book has ioral ecological arguments, Trivers prefers in fact evolved from those early to regard the deity as female—exists, but insights into evolutionary conbecause we have gained evolutionary advanflict, with parents deceiving tages by being (self-)deceived into believing their young, and even themthat she does. selves, for their own benefit. Trivers’s early remark about genes could Trivers’s essential thesis is that be applied to the human mind, as our memes “we deceive ourselves the betare expected to promote their own propagater to deceive others.” tion. His argument about religion could then The author reveals his be extrapolated to evolutionary interpretabehavioral ecology credentials tions of other human behaviors and to The when he suggests that “life’s Folly of Fools itself. That is, the increasing key aim” is reproduction. With Self-deceived don. Quixote battling the giants. abundance of evolutionary psychology thehis distinctly Dawkinsian stateories (deceptively dressed up as science), ment that “our genes are expected to promote be wrong.” Although this perspective could attempts to explain nearly everything, means their own propagation,” he firmly sets the be seen as a weakness, it is actually one of they will influence the way people interpret stage for an evolutionary analysis of human the book’s strengths. Readers will find a ver- their own behavior. Thus, we could come behavior—as he sees it, applying “evolution- sion of evolutionary psychology conducted to see our behavior as (self-)deception not ary logic” to human self-deception. by an eminent evolutionary biologist. These because that is an inevitable outcome of natEvolutionary theory was famously may be just-so stories, but they are told by ural selection, but because evolutionary psyapplied to human behavior by Charles someone who knows a thing or two about chologists (and now also behavioral ecoloDarwin in The Descent of Man (1) and equally evolution—a welcome relief. Of course, that gists) tell us that it is. Despite this caveat, famously (or rather, infamously) by Wilson in does not negate any of the reservations one Trivers’s book is a thoroughly good read. If the last chapter of Sociobiology (2). The field may have about evolutionary interpretations his well-informed but modest approach starts has been clouded with controversy since its of the human mind (3, 4). Nonetheless, Triv- a new trend, then The Folly of Fools is a welbeginnings—as in the sociobiology debates ers’s frank admission that he may be wrong come and rather unselfish meme. of the late 1970s and 1980s and the still- makes his book more palatable than most in References continuing, sometimes vitriolic discussions its genre. 1. C. Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation concerning evolutionary psychology (3, 4). After entertaining and thought-provokto Sex (John Murray, London, 1871). 2. E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Harvard So how does Trivers deal with such a ing chapters on self-deception in aviation Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1975). tricky subject? After offering a scientific and space disasters and on political self3. K. N. Laland, G. R. Brown, Sense and Nonsense: Evoluelaboration of his provocative evolution- deception, Trivers really gets firing on all tionary Perspectives on Human Behavior (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, ed. 2, 2011). cylinders in his treatment of religion, which 4. J. J. Bolhuis, G. R. Brown, R. C. Richardson, K. N. Laland, he skillfully dissects until nothing is left PLoS Biol. 9, e1001109 (2011). The reviewer is in the Behavioral Biology Group, Utrecht but a system of deception of self and othUniversity, Post Office Box 80086, 3508 TB Utrecht, Neth10.1126/science.1214851 erlands. E-mail: ers. Whereas some of what he writes on that

Flattering to Deceive



Published by AAAS


Downloaded from on April 14, 2013

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful