Survival of the Friendliest Book Summary - Survival of the Friendliest Book explained in key points
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Survival of the Friendliest summary

Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood

Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity

4.3 (136 ratings)
27 mins

Brief summary

Survival of the Friendliest by Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood argues that survival in the animal kingdom is not innate competition, but rather cooperation. It offers insights on the benefits of positive social interactions and empathy for individuals and societies.

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    Survival of the Friendliest
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    Humans have evolved special cognitive skills to help us cooperate.

    Let’s start with a fun game: Take two cups and hide a treat or colorful toy under one of them. Then, present the pair of cups to a baby. Will they be able to find the prize?

    The answer is yes! That is, if you give them a hint. Just point to the correct cup and watch what happens. By nine months old, most infants can recognize this gesture as an attempt to communicate something important. They’ll follow your finger and investigate the indicated item.

    It may not seem amazing, but it is. It shows that even as children, humans can recognize that other people can harbor knowledge and intentions beyond their own. This is called theory of mind, and it’s one of humanity's greatest achievements.

    The key message here is: Humans have evolved special cognitive skills to help us cooperate.

    At first, theory of mind may seem like a basic cognitive faculty. After all, it seems obvious that other people have their own thoughts, feelings, and individual experiences that may be different from our own. However, this is actually a sophisticated concept that we don’t share with even our closest evolutionary relatives.

    Try playing the same two cup game with a chimpanzee. You’ll quickly end up frustrated. Even if the chimp knows there’s food under one of the cups, they won’t recognize your pointing as a helpful gesture. They’ll simply guess. After playing dozens of times, a chimp may catch on a little, but change the gesture even a small bit, and it’s back to square one.

    Interestingly, dogs fare a bit better. If you point to the correct cup, they’ll usually investigate that object over the other one. While it remains unclear if they understand the intention of our gestures, they at least instinctively follow them.

    Why the difference? Well, we’ve domesticated dogs. Throughout history, we’ve fed and bred dogs that follow our commands. This gave an evolutionary advantage to ones that cooperate well with human communication. Chimps haven’t had this evolutionary pressure; therefore, they haven’t evolved the cognitive ability to really apprehend our gestures.

    So, the ability to conceive of other minds and communicate with them is an evolved trait. But, that leaves us with the question: Out of all the species of animals on Earth, why do humans have the most honed ability to understand theory of mind? As we’ll see in the next blinks, evolution could provide some answers.

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    What is Survival of the Friendliest about?

    Survival of the Friendliest (2020) presents a scientific look at the origins of human sociability. This history of humanity demonstrates how evolutionary pressure made us the friendly, community-oriented species we are today.

    Survival of the Friendliest Review

    Survival of the Friendliest (2020) by Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood explores the power of cooperation and kindness in the animal kingdom, revealing surprising insights about human behavior. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Through compelling stories and scientific evidence, it shows how cooperation, not competition, is key to the survival and success of species.
    • By challenging traditional notions of "survival of the fittest," the book offers a fresh perspective on human nature and the potential for positive change.
    • With its accessible language and engaging examples, the book makes complex scientific concepts easy to understand and enjoyable to read.

    Best quote from Survival of the Friendliest

    The same parts of our brain that tamed our nature and facilitated cooperative communication sowed the seed for the worst in us.

    —Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood
    example alt text

    Who should read Survival of the Friendliest?

    • Loners looking for an empirical reason to mingle
    • History buffs seeking a deep look at ancient communities
    • Anyone interested in an evolutionary take on human friendship

    About the Author

    Brian Hare is a professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and co-author of The Genius of Dogs, a New York Times best seller.

    Vanessa Woods is a research scientist at the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the co-author of The Genius of Dogs, and the author of her own title Bonobo Handshake.

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    Survival of the Friendliest FAQs 

    What is the main message of Survival of the Friendliest?

    The main message of Survival of the Friendliest is that cooperation and kindness play a crucial role in human and animal societies.

    How long does it take to read Survival of the Friendliest?

    The reading time for Survival of the Friendliest varies, but it takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Survival of the Friendliest a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Survival of the Friendliest is worth reading because it provides fascinating insights into the science of cooperation and reveals the importance of kindness in our lives.

    Who is the author of Survival of the Friendliest?

    The authors of Survival of the Friendliest are Brian Hare and Vanessa Wood.

    What to read after Survival of the Friendliest?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Survival of the Friendliest, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Blueprint by Nicholas A. Christakis
    • Love + Work by Marcus Buckingham
    • The Intelligence Trap by David Robson
    • 100 Ways to Change Your Life by Liz Moody
    • How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster