Trivers (Anthropology and Biological Sciences/Rutgers Univ.) searches for the evolutionary biology behind why “we are thoroughgoing liars, even to ourselves.”
Self-deception has long been a dark, opaque side of our behavior, but the author brings a bright flashlight to his investigation of why we alter information to reach a falsehood. Because Trivers approaches the questions from the standpoint of evolutionary costs and advantages, his functional answer is that we lie to ourselves the better to lie to others, that through self-deception we hide reality from our conscious minds to make a better job of our often self-glorifying, self-justifying, self-forgiving deceptions. But through his research, the author has found self-deception to be a two-edged sword, with positive effects on our survival and reproduction, but negative effects on the immune system. He tenders evidence of self-deceit on all levels—gene, cell, individual and group—from the neurophysiological to parental subterfuge (and the child’s subterfuge back) to sex (an absolute snake-pit of deceit and self-deception). Trivers examines our biases and rationalizations, denials and projections, misrepresentation and manipulations, and his writing is comfortable and suasive, resulting from his familiarity and command of the subject’s broad application and investigative history. At the same time, the author is disarmingly intimate about his own self-deceptive weakness: “I have noticed that ‘inadvertent’ touching of women (that is, unconscious prior to the action) occurs exclusively with my left hand."
A gripping inquiry. Trivers is informal but highly knowledgeable, provocative, brightly humorous and inviting.