34 Quotes from Mama's Last Hug book by Frans De Waal

Hello friends. This post is a collection of quotes from the New York Times bestseller book - Mama's Last Hug by Frans De Waal.

Mama's Last Hug has been described as a fascinating exploration of the rich emotional lives of animals.


[...] our emotions and our feelings are not the same. We tend to conflate them, but feelings are internal subjective states that, strictly speaking, are known only to those who have them. [...] Emotions, on the other hand, are bodily and mental states - from anger and fear to sexual desire and affection and seeking the upper hand - that drive behavior. Triggered by certain stimuli and accompanied by behavioral changes, emotions are detectable on the outside in facial expression, skin color, vocal timbre, gestures, odor, and so on. Only when the person experiencing these changes becomes aware of them do they become feelings, which are conscious experiences. We show our emotions, but we talk about our feelings. - Mama's Last Hug, Prologue

We're masters of fake happiness, suppressed fear, and misguided love. This is why I'm pleased to work with nonlinguistic creatures. I'm forced to guess their feelings, but at least they never lead me astray by what they tell me about themselves. - Mama's Last Hug, Prologue

Human hierarchies can be quite apparent, but we don't always recognize them as such, and academics often act as if they don't exist. I have sat through entire conferences on adolescent human behavior without ever hearing the words power and sex, even though to me they are what teen life is all about. [...] Given a choice between manifest human behavior and trendy psychological constructs, the social sciences always favor the latter. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 1

In both humans and other animals, giving in to one's emotions without regard for the consequences is about the stupidest course of action to follow. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 1

Power and rank are different things. We measure rank by who submits to whom. [...] Power is something else entirely: it is the influence an individual exerts on group processes. Like a second layer, power hides behind the formal order. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 1

Many of us now use smiley or frowny faces to punctuate text messages, which suggests that language by itself is not as effective as advertised. [...] Emoticons and words are poor substitutes for the body itself, though: through gaze direction, expressions, tone of voice, posture, pupil dilation, and gestures, the body is much better than language at communicating a wide range of meanings. - Mama's Lust Hug, Chapter 2

Some smiles are mere signals to the rest of the world, produced deliberately and found all over the Internet in portraits of politicians and celebrities and in millions of selfies. Others arise from a specific inner state, as sincere reflections of enjoyment, happiness, or affection. These smiles are much harder to feign. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 2

Emotions help us navigate a complex world that we don't fully comprehend. They are our body's way of ensuring that we do what is best for us. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

Instincts are rigid and reflex-like, which is not how most animals operate. By contrast, emotions focus the mind and prepare the body while leaving room for experience and judgment. They constitute a flexible response system far and away superior to the instincts. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

The default mode of the human primate is intensely social, as reflected in our favorite activities, from attending sports matches and singing in choirs to partying and socializing. Given that we derive from a long line of group-living animals, which survived by helping one another, these tendencies are entirely logical. Going it alone has never worked out for us. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

Scientists often declare that objectivity is their goal, but I beg to differ: all that has given us is a cold, mechanistic view of animals. The science may be objective, but it completely misses out on animal emotions. Some of the greatest pioneers in the study of animal behavior rejected this approach by stressing the need to identify with and get close to our subjects. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

[...] anyone who has lived with a dog and is unconvinced that dogs have feelings like us is psychologically deranged, dangerous even. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

Human beings evolved to reverberate with the emotional states of others, to the point that we internalize, mostly via our bodies, what is going on with them. This is social connectivity at its best, the glue of all animal and human societies, which guarantees supportive and comforting company. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

What humans tell us about their feelings is often incomplete, sometimes plainly wrong, and always modified for public consumption. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 4

When a young adult male challenges the established boss, he may lose about every confrontation and sustain frequent injuries. Yet he will keep going day after day without any immediate rewards. Only months later he may finally have a breakthrough and get support from others who help him topple his adversary. And even then, the young male may still meet resistance before he is fully accepted. It may take years before his position is truly secure. Was this his plan all along? And if not, why go through this hell? It is hard to watch these strategies, as I have done so many times in my career, and not think that they are built on hope. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 4

Blushing is highly communicative yet involuntary. Even tears can be faked more easily than a blush. We are unable to produce it on command, and unable to suppress it if we wish it to go away. In fact, the more aware we are that we are blushing, the harder it is to make it disappear. Why does our species need a shame signal that other primates lack, and why did nature not grant us more control over it? - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 4

Alpha males are not born, and they don't achieve their position based purely on size and temperament. The primate alpha male is a much more complex and responsible being than a bully. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

Politics is all about fears and hopes, the character of leaders, and the feelings they evoke. Fear-mongering is a great way to distract from the issues at hand. Even the most momentous democratic decisions often follow an emotional path rather than a careful weighing of data. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

The depth of the human desire for power is never more obvious than in individuals' reactions to its loss. Full-grown men may relapse into displays of uncontrolled rage more often associated with juveniles whose expectations are unmet. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

The most cooperative human enterprises, such as large corporations and the military, are those with the best-defined hierarchies. A chain of command beats democracy any time decisive action is needed. We spontaneously switch to a more hierarchical mode when circumstances demand it. [...] status hierarchies have a unifying quality that is reinforced as soon as concerted action is called for. This is the paradox of power structures: they bind people together. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

In my experience, the better the leader, the longer his reign will last, and the less likely it will end brutally. [...] generally a male who stays on top by terrorizing everyone else will reign for only a couple of years and end about as badly as Benito Mussolini. With a bully for a leader, the group seems to wait for a challenger and eagerly support him if he stands a chance. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

Spouses, siblings, and friends constantly go through cycles of conflict and reconciliation, repeated over and over, to negotiate their relationships. You show anger to make your point, then bury the hatchet with the help of a kiss and some cuddling. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

Whereas chimpanzees resolve sexual issues with power, bonobos resolve power issues with sex. Moreover, they have sex in all possible combinations, including members of the same sex. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

Emotions can be good, bad, and ugly, which is as true for animals as it is for us. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

The computer metaphor for the brain is profoundly misleading given that the brain is wired in a million ways to the body and is an integrated part of it. The human mind makes no distinction between body and brain and represents both. I am not at all convinced therefore that waking up in a digital format will be a happy moment. Happiness is visceral, and a brain severed from the viscera probably doesn't feel anything. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 6

People are not rational maximizers, though. This conclusion is nowadays hailed by dramatically declaring the demise of Homo economicus, the image of our species offered by economics textbooks, according to which we make perfectly rational decisions in order to satisfy our greed. Studies have undermined this popular assumption by showing that emotional biases often make us choose quite differently. We're not nearly as rational and selfish as we're thought to be, and not all our desires are material. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 6

Sensitivity to reward distribution helps ensure payoffs for both parties, which is essential for continued cooperation. It is probably no accident that the animals most sensitive to inequity - chimps, capuchins, and canids - hunt in groups and share meat. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 6

Epidemiological data show that the more unequal a human society is, the shorter-lived its citizens are. Large income disparities tear the social fabric apart by reducing mutual trust, stirring up social tensions, and creating anxieties that compromise the immune system of both the rich and the poor. [...] If inequality reaches extreme levels, a society may even face the explosive situation for which the French Revolution, for once, does carry an important lesson. Humans seek to level the playing field, and if efforts to achieve this are blocked for too long, we may bring in the guillotine. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 6

When people ask me if I think an elephant is a conscious being, I sometimes retort, "You tell me what consciousness is, and I'll tell you if elephants have it." This usually shuts them up. No one knows exactly what we're talking about. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 7

Behind the debate about animal consciousness lurks an issue that many scientists would much rather avoid: what humanity does to animals. Clearly, we don't treat them well, at least not most of them. It's easier for us to live with this fact by simply assuming that animals are dumb automatons devoid of feelings and awareness, as science has done for a long time. [...] In this era of factory farming, animal sentience is the elephant in the room. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 7

It would be great if humanity could cut its meat consumption by half while drastically improving the lives of the animals that it does eat. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 7

All life-forms do their best not to be eaten by hungry enemies, and all seek to acquire enough energy to survive and reproduce. They may not do so consciously, but clinging to life is part of being alive - no exceptions. Even single-celled organisms rapidly swim away from a toxic substance. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 7

Being with animals profoundly shapes our perceptions and nudges us to learn more about them and care about conserving them. Watching entire school classes of children running around at the zoo filling in their teachers' questionnaires makes me optimistic, because I see enthusiasm and a hunger for knowledge. [...] We have a long history of close interaction with animals, both for pleasure and for subsistence, the abandonment of which would not necessarily be a good thing for them or for us. It would leave animals even more out in the cold than they already are. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 7

One day we may be able to measure the private experiences of other species, but for the moment we have to content ourselves with what is visible on the outside. In this regard, we are beginning to make progress, and I predict that a science of the emotions will be the next frontier in the study of animal behavior. [...] Emotions infuse everything with meaning and are the main inspiration of cognition, also in our lives. Instead of tiptoeing around them, it's time for us to squarely face the degree to which all animals are driven by them. - Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 8

Cited Quotes

Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to. - Mark Twain, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 2

To watch inspired laughter register with an audience is to be present at a great and violent mystery. Faces convulse, tears stream, bodies collapse, not in agony but in rapture. - John Lahr, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 2

The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing. - Blaise Pascal, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

You live with a cripple, you will learn to limp. - Plutarch, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. - Adam Smith, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 3

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. - Mark Twain, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 4

The story of the human race is War. Except for brief and precarious interludes, there has never been peace in the world; and before history began, murderous strife was universal and unending. - Winston Churchill, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 5

Who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another? - Pyotr Kropotkin, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 6

The will of the animal, as well as that of man, is never free. The widely spread dogma of the freedom of the will is, from a scientific point of view, altogether untenable. Every physiologist who scientifically investigates the activity of the will in man and animals, must of necessity arrive at the conviction that in reality the will is never free, but is always determined by external or internal influences. - Ernst Haeckel, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 6

It requires something not unlike perception in order to sense imbalance; it requires something not unlike implicit memory, in the form of disposition for an action, in order to hold its technical know-how; it requires something not unlike a skill to perform a pre-emptive or corrective action. If all this sounds to you like the description of important functions of our brain, you are correct. The fact is, however, that I am not talking about a brain, because there is no nervous system inside the little cell. - Antonio Damasio, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 7

I should like you to consider that these functions (including passion, appetite, memory, and imagination) follow from the mere arrangement of the machine's organs every bit as naturally as the movements of a clock or other automaton follow from the arrangement of its counter-weights and wheels. - René Descartes, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 7

If we are going to entertain the existence of experiential states, such as consciousness, in other animals, we must be willing to work at a theoretical level where arguments are adjudicated by the weight of evidence rather than definitive proof. - Jaak Panksepp, as quoted in Mama's Last Hug, Chapter 7