Table of Contents

Why You Should Read This Book


Part I – Foundations

Chapter 1 – The Lie of Rationality

The big lie

Emotions and decisions

We are the products of evolution

Chance and circumstance

Chapter 2 – The Big Picture of Brain Evolution

Life without brains

Why do we need a brain?

Following the recipe

Key brain systems

Simplifying to make it useful

Chapter 3 – Brain Basics

Gross anatomy

Experience wires the brain

Use it or lose it

Chapter 4 – How We Learn and Remember

The purpose of memory

Stages of memory




Forgetting and distortion

There is no detailed life recording

Chapter 5 – This Is Your Brain on Drugs

Emotions are signposts for survival

Repetition and emotion – the two key ways to learn

The treadmill of unhappiness

Altered states

The arc of addiction

Feeding and energy balance

Food and emotions

Chapter 6 – The Chemistry of Happiness

Older and newer brain chemicals

Dopamine – motivation and energy control

Updating our mental model

The pleasure circuit in more detail

Endorphins – emergency pain suppression

Oxytocin – attachment and outgroups

Serotonin – social dominance and hierarchy

Happiness gone wrong

Part II – Reptiles and Shrews

Chapter 7 – The Autopilot and the Power of Pain

Lizards and shrews

The reptile brain – avoiding harm and ignoring most events

Fear and unhappiness

Sore losers

Chapter 8 – Demystifying Risk

Relativity and reference points

Loss aversion

Sure things and surprises

Chapter 9 – The Emotional Life

Embodied emotions

Personal life experiences

Cultural overlays and interpretation

Chapter 10 – Safer in the Herd

Pluses and minuses of herds

Isolation equals death

Attachment and affection

Avoidance and approach

Status and dominance

Chapter 11 – Good Night, Sweet Dreams

The universal need for sleep

Human sleep

The effects of not sleeping

REM sleep

Dreams as a rehearsal for dangerous events

Remembering, learning, and creativity

Chapter 12 – Monkey See, Monkey Do

Mirror neurons


Getting into other people’s heads

Empathy and sympathy

Part III – Clumsy Bigheads

Chapter 13 – Humble Beginnings

Aren’t we amazing?!

Other archaic humans

Brain drain

Chapter 14 – Big Babies

Death by cannonball

Neonatal freaks

Helpless learners

Chapter 15 – Sexy Apes

Are we sluts?

Hunting, gathering, and screwing

High-risk sex

Sexual asymmetry

Men’s signaling

Women’s signaling

The biology of love

Chapter 16 – Let Me Tell You a story

The functions of language

Storytelling and mindreading

Order out of chaos

Simulating social experiences

Gossip, tribes, and civilizations

Chapter 17 – The Dance Between Your Brains

Characteristics of the primal brain

Characteristics of the conscious brain

Part IV – Hypersocial

Chapter 18 – How We Evolved to Be Cultural Creatures

The common narrative of human dominance

The real story – cultural and genetic co-evolution

Big brains evolved for cooperative learning

How culture and genes caught fire

Chapter 19 – The Building Blocks of Culture

Whom to learn from


Blind faith

Social rule followers

Chapter 20 – The Social Network

Social thinking

No one is an island

The need for belonging and validation

Peer pressure and conforming

Ingroups and outgroups

Chapter 21 – Ownership, Fairness, and Favors

Ownership and possession

Fairness or revolt

Social and transactional spheres

Reciprocity and obligation

Chapter 22 – Conformity and Integrity

The inner lives of others

Group power

Integrity and consistency

The seeds of voluntary action

Making a public stand


Part V – What’s Next?

Chapter 23 – How to Be More Primal

Get proper sleep

Be in your body

Regularly access your intuition and emotions

Avoid artificial addictions

Don’t be a loner

Learn from others and teach something

Chapter 24 – A Personal Challenge

Appendix – Recommended Reading