Tag Archives: signaling

Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson

One promising approach to institutional reform is to try to acknowledge people’s need to show off, but to divert their efforts away from wasteful activities and toward those with bigger benefits and positive externalities. For example, as long as students must show off by learning something at school, we’d rather they learned something useful (like how to handle personal finances) instead of something less useful (like Latin). As long as scholars have a need to impress people with their expertise on some topic, engineering is a more practical domain than the history of poetry. And scholars who show off via intellectual innovation seem more useful than scholars who show off via their command of some static intellectual tradition.

Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, Oxford, 2018, p. 312

Robin Hanson

Apparently, beliefs are like clothes. In a harsh environment, we choose our clothes mainly to be functional, i.e., to keep us safe and comfortable. But when the weather is mild, we choose our clothes mainly for their appearance, i.e., to show our figure, our creativity, and our allegiances. Similarly, when the stakes are high we may mainly want accurate beliefs to help us make good decisions. But when a belief has few direct personal consequences, we in effect mainly care about the image it helps us to project.

Robin Hanson, ‘Enhancing Out Truth Orientation’, in Nick Bostrom & Julian Savulescu (eds.), Human Enhancement, Oxford, 2009, p. 358

Steven Pinker

[P]ublicly expressed beliefs advertise the intellectual virtuosity of the belief-holder, creating an incentive to craft clever and extravagant beliefs rather than just true ones. This explains much of what goes on in academia.

Steven Pinker, ‘So How Does the Mind Work?’, Mind & Language, vol. 20, no. 1 (February 2005), p. 18