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Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of…
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Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind

by David Livingstone Smith

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  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
I think what drew me in and made me want to pick up this book and take it home when I as browsing at my local library was this quote from the inside jacket cover:

“The ever-present possibility of deceit is a crucial dimension of every human relationship, even the most central: our relationship with our very selves.”

That little sentence really drew me in and piqued my curiosity! This is my first book dedicated to lying and deception, I have read a few articles in the past on the subject and that’s what sparked my interest in reading more in this area. I have to admit that I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I checked this out of the library, but having read it, I’m certainly glad that I did. I think the title gives a pretty good idea of what the book is all about…the evolutionary roots of lying, deception (to ourselves and others) and how it all ties into the unconscious mind. The author is a psychoanalyst, so naturally it’s skewed in that direction as well as dealing with a lot of information based on evolutionary psychology theories. Why We Lie offers us a glimpse at what’s behind lying (the mechanisms) wherein lying and deceit are not presented as dirty things relegated to “bad” people and social deviants…rather, what the author presents is a look at what is at the root of lies and deceit…at how lying to ourselves and others (often unconsciously) benefits “us,” as individuals and in societies.

Being a psychoanalyst, Livingstone Smith deals succinctly with Freud and the “taint” that often touches anything dealing with the unconscious in psychological study and research, plucking out what he feels are the true gems of Freud’s theories and ideas and leaving the rest. He takes these gems and marries them to evolutionary psychology theories of understanding how the mind works. Additionally the author takes the time (at the start of the book) to discuss where deceit and lying have developed in other species; notably certain species of spiders (namely Portia spiders, a species of jumping spiders…a fascinating species even without the relationship the author sets up here), Mirror Orchids, and of course the Chacma baboons (which is the example that he leads off with at the very beginning of the book). I thoroughly enjoyed his explanation of deception as an evolutionary adaptation (which is related to the development of language in humans). Another quote from the inside flap serves to illustrate yet another point of interest that I got a real kick out of while reading Why We Lie:

“Smith shows us that by examining the stories we tell, the falsehoods we weave, and the unconscious signals we send out, we can learn much about ourselves and how our minds work.”

As a result of reading this, I am probably never going to look at casual conversations the same way again as the Livingstone Smith takes great pains throughout the text to illustrate that even idle chatter gives away our true thoughts and feelings on the circumstances and events that occur in our daily lives…this part of the book, where he draws on examples of the casual chatter of his students before class and people at cocktail parties and how they often give away one’s true feelings about the people and events around us, was truly fascinating. I will point out that the author consistently reminds readers that much of what is written in his book cannot be scientifically proven (yet, at any rate), it certainly gives much food for thought.

Overall, I found this to be entertaining, fun and informative. It will certainly be interesting to see what may come in the future of psychoanalysis and evolutionary psychology study/research that might support and expound on Livingstone Smith’s ideas. I give it 4 starts overall, the book is interesting and I like that the author is upfront about the limits of the research currently available in this area as well as the benefits and foibles of those who came before him in his field. I’d recommend it, but with the admonition to take what is written here with a grain of salt…a lot of what the author has to say, while interesting is unsubstantiated and even more of it is common sense, but he puts it together in a way that is accessible and interesting to “normal” readers. You’ll walk away with some great conversation or discussion ideas and maybe even a bit of insight into yourself. ( )
  the_hag | Nov 13, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312310390, Hardcover)

Deceit, lying, and falsehoods lie at the very heart of our cultural heritage. Even the founding myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the story of Adam and Eve, revolves around a lie. We have been talking, writing and singing about deception ever since Eve told God, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Our seemingly insatiable appetite for stories of deception spans the extremes of culture from King Lear to Little Red Riding Hood, retaining a grip on our imaginations despite endless repetition. These tales of deception are so enthralling because they speak to something fundamental in the human condition. The ever-present possibility of deceit is a crucial dimension of all human relationships, even the most central: our relationships with our very own selves.

Now, for the first time, philosopher and evolutionary psychologist David Livingstone Smith elucidates the essential role that deception and self-deception have played in human--and animal--evolution and shows that the very structure of our minds has been shaped from our earliest beginnings by the need to deceive. Smith shows us that by examining the stories we tell, the falsehoods we weave, and the unconscious signals we send out, we can learn much about ourselves and how our minds work.

Readers of Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker will find much to intrigue them in this fascinating book, which declares that our extraordinary ability to deceive others--and even our own selves--"lies" at the heart of our humanity.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:14 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Now, for the first time, philosopher and evolutionary psychologist David Livingstone Smith elucidates the essential role that deception and self deception have played in human - and animal - evolution and demonstrates that the very structure of our minds has been shaped from our earliest beginnings by the need to deceive. Smith shows us that by examining the stories we tell, the falsehoods we weave, and the unconscious signals we send out, we can learn much about ourselves and how our minds work."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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