On Trivers

Great profile in the Boston Globe about Robert Trivers. I had the privelege of meeting Trivers at a little conference I helped Tyler Cowen & Robin Hanson organize on self-deception while I was at Mercatus. Trivers is undoubtedly one of the weirdest people I've ever met. He apparently has a penchant for stealing and hoarding pens. He is quite frank about it. So, reasoning that the principle of diminishing marginal utility might help save the pens of those around Trivers, a colleague and I rounded up a varied bunch of spare pens from around the office and left them at Trivers spot, along with a cheap watch from the lost and found, while everyone was having a coffee break. He was delighted. He instantly put the watch on and stashed all the pens in his bag. Big smile. Later, he complained about the flourescent lights bothering his eyes and wondered if we had a hat he could wear. Since we kept no hats around the office, I popped over to the GMU Law bookstore and bought him a Mason cap. Again, just thrilled! He wore it happily the rest of the conference. Later, I received what I consider the ultimate compliment from a man like Trivers: “Hey man, I like your phenotype.”

My impression was that he's a very emotionally labile person who naturally gravitates to a fairly agressive form of tit-for-tat. If you do nice things for Trivers, he's just incredibly warm and grateful. If you do things that Trivers doesn't like to Trivers, he angrily retaliates with extreme prejudice.

And he is brilliant. I can't wait for the book on self-deception.