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20151205 Maestripieri,Dario-Games primate play



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There are huge numbers of similarities between human and animal behavior that developed from evolutionary history that all living creatures went through. There is nothing that would drastically differentiate humans from other animals that would not be explained by analysis of our evolutionary development as primate, despite our achieving higher levels of self-awareness, communication, cooperation, and organization. This does not make humans any less valuable and unique, their lives are still worth living, and their happiness still worth to pursue, even if there is nothing supernatural in humans, their bodies, minds, and behavior.



People interact with other people to specific patterns and rules of game. Author’s extensive experience with primates allowed to look at similar patterns and rules used by our close biological relatives and demonstrate that these pattern and rules are not really that different between chimps and us.

Chapter 1: Dilemmas in the Elevator

This chapter starts with description of typical human behavior in elevator, which is closed space with other humans. Author traces this behavior to our evolutionary history when encounter with stranger of our species in close space is most often a dangerous situation that calls for establishment of dominance hierarchy either through fight or negotiation. Author provides a charming description of monkeys’ behavior in experiments designed to imitate this situation.

Chapter 2: The Obsession with Dominance

This is detailed and quite interesting analysis of dominance discovery process and how different animals, including human, do it. Very interesting is the discussion about change in chemistry of organism depending on the place in dominance hierarchy. In short dominant animals are healthier and happier than subordinates whether the environment is colony of chimps or some governmental bureaucracy.

Chapter 3: We Are All Mafiosi

This chapter describes author’s own experience of human dominance games obtained initially in his country of origin Italy’s military, then in its academia, and eventually in USA academia. All these environments are more or less saturated with nepotism and group survival networks with Italy definitely more and USA less saturated, albeit American academia is catching up. Examples of similar behavior and patterns from lives of non-human animals provided with discussion of their evolutionary meaning.

Chapter 4: Climbing the Ladder

This chapter moves from discussing support that individual get from his group, either nepotism of any other reason for support, to individual’s attempt of making it by own effort and luck. To demonstrate how it is achieved or failed author looks at 3 stories of human career:

  1. A compliant individual slowly moving along career path with very small achievement.
  2. Slash and burn revolutionary who prematurely rebel against superiors resulting in defeat.
  3. Smart Machiavellian strategist capable achieving big career breakthrough via manipulation, deception, and other time tested methods of bureaucratic advancement.

Consequently author reviews quite similar actions in the world of chimps, demonstrating quite convincingly how close are chimp’s world and human bureaucratic hierarchies.

Chapter 5: Cooperate in the Spotlight, Compete in the Dark

This chapter is about transparency or more precise about human and chimp ability to take into account other individuals and adjust own action in such way that would generate positive and beneficial image in their eyes. Some interesting experiments demonstrate that this feature is so deep seated in sub-consciousness that even such simple things as poster with human eyes watching has noticeable impact on behavior. Correspondingly when nobody sees it, behavior changes in different way with individual trying to obtain benefits even at the expense of causing damage to others. Author provides some interesting examples of this.

Chapter 6: The Economics and Evolutionary Biology of Love

This is quite an interesting take on love from point of view of economics, not necessarily simple monetary economics, but rather from point of view resource accumulation and application in order to produce and support next generation. Basically love is a bonding mechanism to create stable economic unit necessary to assure adequate resource flow to a child with live expectancy of the unit linked to the time required for child to achieve a minimal level of self-sufficiency.

Chapter 7: Testing the Bond

This is about bonds between animals and methods of these bods establishment and continuing testing, but even more about handicap principal developed by Amotz Zahavi explaining meaning of peacock ‘s tail and other examples of counter logical use of handicap as the sign of evolutionary fitness.

Chapter 8: Shopping for Partners in the Biology Market

This chapter about multiple and extremely diverse forms of cooperation in creating the next generation of species from human mating market to animal’s mating market, even about book author – publisher – agent market, all working according to similar principles defined by evolution.

Chapter 9: The Evolution of Human Social Behavior

The final chapter is about human behavior and its evolutionary roots. Author believes that evolution not only defined our biology, but also to high extent caused development of a variety of behavioral algorithms that control our behavior with emotions being activators and coordinators of these algorithms execution.


The epilog somewhat unexpectedly raises issue of meaning of live using a tragic accident of highly intellectual man who so much submerged into philosophical search of meaning of live, that he committed suicide after coming to conclusion that sociobiology is pretty much correctly defines human as just another, maybe glorified and self-conscious, but still an animal rendering live pretty much meaningless for somebody in search of deep meaning. Author pretty much rejects this attitude and sees no problem with all these philosophical problems, stating that meaning of live is pretty much the live itself and there is no point of freaking out because we are animals.


This book provides a wealth of observations, experiments, and analysis supporting my believes that we humans are animals developed via evolutionary process to become self-conscious and capable to amazing fits of cooperation and communication that by now allowed us to create an artificial environment for comfortable live, well protected from dangers inherent in our natural habitat as it existed for millions of years. By now we pretty much got evolution under control so we do not depend on survival of fittest any more. However we are in danger of self-destruction unless we’ll find way to handle unhappiness and loss of meaning when original meanings of live: get food, not die from exposure, and have sex is way too easy to achieve, making some people restless. I hope that switch of meaning of live from pursuit of surviving to pursuit of happiness would be eventually completed successfully making our current worries just a curiosity of the past.


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