Book Introduction

It’s dessert time!

There is a juicy apple in front of you, and a slice of chocolate cake.

You are free to choose.

Or are you?

The choice was made for you – hundreds of millions of years ago!

This book is about the commonalities all 8,000,000,000 people on earth share.

Our ancestors were molded by ruthless survival pressures from the earliest days of life on the planet. Adaptations that worked long ago are still inside of us – also shared with insects and reptiles. Later additions are common to all mammals from the tiniest shrews to the most massive whales. Some capabilities were bolted on relatively recently, and are only shared with our primate cousins. And the runaway explosion of humans on the planet can only be explained by our bizarre species-level evolution.

The only way to understand how our brains work is to examine the complete evolutionary arc.

I don’t care if you are young or old, rich or poor, introverted or extroverted. It is not about our individual differences. This book describes the basic operating system of how we all deal with life.

Drop a rock. It falls and hits the ground.

Once you understand brain evolution, many of our behaviors will become more predictable. To a scary degree, we are reactive animals ruled by passions, and not the rational geniuses with free will that we like to imagine.

First the bad news: The notion that people make decisions and choices to maximize objective self-interest has been demolished. People are not rational – far from it.

Now the good news: We are finding out exactly how and why we act in these seemingly irrational ways. In other words, there is a method to our seeming madness.

My view of the brain is heavily influenced by evolutionary biology and psychology. I don’t believe we have arrived at a perfect brain design, or that humankind deserves an exalted and special place in the universe. Rather, we are a band of super-cooperative apes who have come to dominate the planet. In the process we have wiped out whole ecosystems in our voracious destructiveness. At this moment we are by far the most dominant force shaping the very destiny of life on earth.

We evolved for a particular environment, but our rapid social advances and mushrooming populations have created a bewildering new world. On the timescale of this dizzying change, evolution has effectively stopped, and we must rely on what has gotten us this far. By retracing the path that our distant ancestors took to get here, we can understand the stunning abilities and glaring weaknesses which we have inherited.

Sometimes our reactions and responses are appropriate and uncannily helpful. In the blink of an eye we can assess complex situations and reach critical life-or-death decisions. At other times, we are seemingly our own worst enemies – repeating the same mistakes, even when we know the results will be counterproductive, or even deadly.

Unlocking the true nature of the human brain is the last frontier. Recent work in fields such as biology, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, medical imaging, social science, and behavioral economics is combining to show us the inner workings of this evolutionary marvel.

This book is designed for you – the curious and intelligent searcher for truth.

I want to give you the essentials, and draw you a map of the wondrous terrain inside of the human mind.

You will forever be altered by the journey we are about to undertake together. It may seem like an alien landscape at first. But you will gain valuable perspectives which will allow you to live your life with a new appreciation of what makes us tick.

Forget the advanced technology all around you – let’s explore inside of the bony skull which guards the treasures within…

Get ready, it’s going to be a wild ride!