Drunk Book Summary - Drunk Book explained in key points

Drunk summary

Edward Slingerland

How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way to Civilization

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What is Drunk about?

Drunk (2021) is a scientific and historical inquiry into the evolutionary reasons why humans started getting drunk. Drunk examines how inebriation helped our ancestors evolve into creative, communal, cultural beings, and considers whether or not alcohol is an appropriate tool for the modern age.

In the audio version of these blinks, you'll hear "Also Sprach Zarathustra," composed by Richard Strauss, made available under a Creative Commons Attribution license by Kevin MacLeod. Thanks, Kevin! 

About the Author

Edward Slingerland is a Canadian-American sinologist and philosopher. He teaches at the University of British Columbia, and his previous books include Trying Not To Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity.

Table of Contents
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    Why do we get drunk? Hijack or hangover?

    So we know that drinking can have devastating effects. Because of this most scientists agree that our taste for alcohol is an evolutionary accident, a sort of misstep on nature’s part, a behavior that has stuck around even though it offers no real benefit to the species. 

    But why would such a behavior even exist? Well, as you probably know, there are other behaviors like this – things that humans do even though doing them serves no purpose or, in other cases, maybe used to serve a purpose but doesn’t really serve that purpose anymore.

    These behaviors fall into two categories: hijacks and hangovers.

    Let’s start with hijacks. A hijack is a behavior that reaps a reward that was originally meant to be generated by another behavior. A great example of a hijack is masturbation.

    The act of masturbating serves no evolutionary purpose. It’s pleasurable, and it can lead to orgasm, but orgasm evolved to reward an entirely different behavior – sex, which does serve an evolutionary purpose; it’s how we pass our genes down to the next generation and perpetuate the survival of the species. We human beings – clever creatures that we are – figured out that we could hijack this pleasure, that we could have orgasms without engaging in a species-perpetuating behavior.

    So that’s what a hijack is. A hangover, in contrast, is a behavior arising from a drive that was once adaptive but isn’t anymore. For example, we love fatty, sugary snacks – things like french fries and potato chips and candy bars: junk food. The jolts of pleasure we get from eating junk food were originally meant to motivate our hunter-gatherer ancestors to go forth and find sustenance. The problem is that, today, you’ll still get those jolts of pleasure from eating sugar and fat, and this might cause you to overindulge even if you’ve got plenty of healthier food at your fingertips. In short, you’re hungover – acting in a way that benefited people thousands of years ago but doesn’t necessarily benefit you.

    So – hijack or hangover? Or could our fondness for intoxication best be explained by another theory altogether?

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    Who should read Drunk

    • Anyone who drinks
    • People curious about human behavior
    • Anyone interested in evolution

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