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Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us about Ourselves

Frans de Waal

Top 10 Best Quotes

“Emotions help us navigate a complex world that we don’t fully comprehend. They are our body’s way of ensuring that we do what is best for us.”

“Feelings arise when emotions penetrate our consciousness, and we become aware of them.”

“Emotions evolved, in short, for their capacity to induce adaptive reactions to danger, competition, mating opportunities, and so on. Emotions are action-prone. Our species shares many emotions with the other primates because we rely on approximately the same behavioral repertoire.”

“I have sat through entire conferences on adolescent human behavior without ever hearing the words power and sex, even though to me they are what teen life is all about. When I bring it up, usually everyone nods and thinks it’s marvelously refreshing how a primatologist looks at the world, then continue on their merry way focusing on self-esteem, body image, emotion regulation, risk-taking, and so on. Given a choice between manifest human behavior and trendy psychological constructs, the social sciences always favor the latter. Yet among teens, there is nothing more obvious than the exploration of sex, the testing of power, and the seeking of structure.”

“Humans diverged from apes about as long ago as African and Asian elephants did from each other, and they are genetically as close or distant. Yet we freely call both of those species “elephants” while obsessing over the specific point at which our own lineage moved from being an ape to being human. We even have special words for this process, such as humanization and anthropogenesis. That there was ever a point in time is a widespread illusion, like trying to find the precise wavelength in the light spectrum at which orange turns red. Our desire for sharp divisions is at odds with evolution’s habit of making extremely smooth transitions.”

“Emotions often know better than we do what is good for us, even though not everyone is prepared to listen.”

“Emotions may be slippery, but they are also by far the most salient aspect of our lives. They give meaning to everything.”

“The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

“Our desire for sharp divisions is at odds with evolution’s habit of making extremely smooth transitions.”

“Nevertheless, scholars keep obsessing about selfish motives, simply because both economics and behaviorism have indoctrinated them that incentives drive everything that animals or humans do. I don’t believe a word of it, though, and a recent ingenious experiment on children drives home why. The German psychologist Felix Warneken investigated how young chimpanzees and children assist human adults. The experimenter was using a tool but dropped it in midjob: would they pick it up? The experimenter’s hands were full: would they open a cupboard for him? Both species did so voluntarily and eagerly, showing that they understood the experimenter’s problem. Once Warneken started to reward the children for their assistance, however, they became less helpful. The rewards, it seems, distracted them from sympathizing with the clumsy experimenter.50 I am trying to figure how this would work in real life. Imagine that every time I offered a helping hand to a colleague or neighbor—keeping a door open or picking up their mail—they stuffed a few dollars in my shirt pocket. I’d be deeply offended, as if all I cared about was money! And it would surely not encourage me to do more for them. I might even start avoiding them as being too manipulative. It is curious to think that human behavior is entirely driven by tangible rewards, given that most of the time rewards are nowhere in sight. What are the rewards for someone who takes care of a spouse with Alzheimer’s? What payoffs does someone derive from sending money to a good cause? Internal rewards (feeling good) may very well come into play, but they work only via the amelioration of the other’s situation. They are nature’s way of making sure that we are other-oriented rather than self-oriented.”

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Book Keywords:

evolutionary-biology, evolution, primates

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