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Why do we do the things we do? More than a decade in the making this game changing book is Robert Sapolsky's genre shattering attempt to answer that uestion as fully as perhaps only he could looking at it from every angle Sapolsky's storytelling concept is delightful but it also has a powerful intrinsic logic he starts by looking at the factors that bear on a person's reaction in the precise moment a behavior occurs and then hops back in time from there in stages ultimately ending up at the deep history of our species and its evolutionary legacy And so the first category of explanation is the neurobiological one A behavior occurs whether an example of humans at our best worst or somewhere in between What went on in a person's brain a second before the behavior happened? Then Sapolsky pulls out to a slightly larger field of vision a little earlier in time What sight sound or smell caused the nervous system to produce that behavior? And then what hormones acted hours to days earlier to change how responsive that individual is to the stimuli that triggered the nervous system? By now he has increased our field of vision so that we are thinking about neurobiology and the sensory world of our environment and endocrinology in trying to explain what happened Sapolsky keeps going How was that behavior influenced by structural changes in the nervous system over the preceding months by that person's adolescence childhood fetal life and then back to his or her genetic makeup? Finally he expands the view to encompass factors larger than one individual How did culture shape that individual's group what ecological factors millennia old formed that culture? And on and on back to evolutionary factors millions of years old The result is one of the most dazzling tours d'horizon of the science of human behavior ever attempted a majestic synthesis that harvests cutting edge research across a range of disciplines to provide a subtle and nuanced perspective on why we ultimately do the things we dofor good and for ill Sapolsky builds on this understanding to wrestle with some of our deepest and thorniest uestions relating to tribalism and xenophobia hierarchy and competition morality and free will and war and peace Wise humane often very funny Behave is a towering achievement powerfully humanizing and downright heroic in its own right


10 thoughts on “Behave The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

  1. says:

    Robert Sapolsky is a neuroendocrinologist and has studied primates for decades in Africa and I love him If anyone wants to watch it he did a TED talk on what makes human's uniue from other animals The book itself covers a wide range of topics mostly centered around neurology and it's subseuent effect on behavior The book is a little long and dense and I have finals so I shouldn't even be reading it but I've been making time to get it done anyways The book goes through the biology of behavior and describes what happens when we do something and how the body's various hormones and major neurotransmitters work to shape it The book then goes into the genetic and evolutionary basis of our behavior and the ways we're predisposed to think about others specifically in groups and out groups This topic is then expanded to talk about culture and hierarchies and our uniue behavior as humans of killing over ideas The book end with a discussion of neurology's place in law and how much culpability people actually have for their actions There's an appendix at the end of the book for those not as familiar with neuroscience or hormones and proteins of the body This was a really ambitious undertaking and the book covers such a vast amount of information I learned a lot but even with my own familiarity with a lot of the subjects it took me a while to get through this one so I'm not sure how enjoyable this will be for a general audience I had so many different thoughts while reading this because it brought up a lot of pertinent issues but now I can't think of any of them for some reason I think I'm just a little overtaken with how much I learned from the book Sapolsky even talked about a lot of popular nonfiction books I havent gotten around to reading plus the criticisms of them and what the evidence against and for them are It's just a lot to wrap my head around and I mean his whole point is that behavior is extremely complex and context dependent and that we don't yet understand enough to be able to predict it accurately There are certain ways of thinking that we are predisposed towards but nothing is a hundred percent certain yet I love neurology and the brain and so this is my type of books so of course I enjoyed it immenselyI'm not sure how much anyone else would like it He did a very thorough job going through the current literature and covering much of what is being talked about in the present which a lot of nonfiction books tend not to do I learned a lot and I really think I need to read of Sapolsky's books


  2. says:

    Sapolsky is my lord He's an Olympian god on high He's a titan This book is retarded It's almost impossible to read It's like 10000 pages long But it's next to impossible not to adoreIt's basically a textbook for his ridiculously cosmically good Stanford undergraduate course on the biology of behavior HUMBIO 160 StanfordYou're not fully sentient until you have watched all 20 hours of his lectures from the course at least once which are freely available on YouTube Or listened to them in condensed form in his absolutely spellbinding audio programs available by Great Courses The message is glorious than any gospel or sage vision Its biology man It's a real live magical miracle We are meat bags of salt water lipids proteins and chemicals that emerged from endoplasmic sewage and are now capable of having an experience DudeThat alone is frickin amazing beyond words but that's only the beginning Sapolsky is a puckish rascal genius Sapolsky is an intellectual nonpareilThis is a horrible AF review of the important work of a fuckin' intellectual demigodFIVE STARS


  3. says:

    This book is a masterful distillation of academic research on social behavior It's creatively organized clearly written and always fascinating I listened on audiobook but will probably buy a physical copy for referenceBut I'm only giving it three stars because it completely fails to grapple with the replication crisis sweeping through these fields After Sapolsky mentioned a study that I know researchers have failed to replicate I waited for him to discuss the subseuent controversy He never did At that point I started keeping a tally of red flags studies that have subseuently come under fire but where Sapolsky fails to acknowledge any controversy about their findingsThe ones I noticed People behave themselves when there is an eye watching them even if it's just a painted eye Researchers are having trouble replicating this finding Implicit bias tests Sapolsky uses this literature extensively without criticism It's not clear it's as useful as people think Willpower is like a muscle that gets tired from use Something as simple as having a snack can help Another one that it's not so clear this is true People take hurricanes seriously when they are named after men Another study that has come in for a pile of criticism Legalization of abortion led to a drop in crime two decades later No and also Steven Pinker's critiue in Better Angels of Our Nature Air rage is likely if coach passengers have to pass through first class Probably not and Judges are way harsher right before lunch Non Priming studies cited extensively Not so easy to replicate issues have percolated through the mainstream Just last week the NYTimes had a great feature about the replication crisis told through the story of Amy Cuddy whose work is also cited uncritically in Behave 'm not an expert on this stuff but I still found all these red flags There are surely many I've missed At the same time because I'm not an expert I can be convinced that the replication crisis isn't that big a deal But Sapolsky doesn't even try Unfortunately that makes me call into uestion Sapolsky's authority and credibility as a guide to this literature It's a doubt that poisoned the whole book for me including his tour of literatures far removed from the ones above For example I don't know much about neuro imaging studies About them Sapolsky says These studies are difficult to pull off as neuroimaging is as much an art as a science When I read that and when I've spent half the book hearing him talk confidently about lots of problematic studies part of me wonders hmmm so are neuro imaging studies garbage? Should I just skim this chapter? I don't knowOr at other points he talks about studies I am unfamiliar with but because he's sacrificed his credibility on studies I do know a bit about I don't trust his interpretations I think to myself hmmm that sounds suspect I seriously considered uitting the book because of these issues I'm glad I stuck with it because IF THIS STUFF TURNS OUT TO HOLD UP then it's a wonderfully nuanced portrait of the factors that drive our behavior neurological genetic social But what a disappointing caveat to have to attach to a book


  4. says:

    This is an outstanding and monumental synthesis on the causes of behavior by a talented researcher and teacher He excels in making the science of the brain and behavior accessible to a wide audience without oversimplification The goal is to provide a handle on how to account for the origins of the most admirable and most despicable of human actions ie the roots of empathy and altruism on the one hand and violence war and genocide on the other Sapolsky’s accomplishment yields an expansion of what we mean by the biological basis of behavior enough knowledge of brain systems to make you dangerous and a better appreciation of the interplay between cognitive and emotional contributions to our actions You will come away with a better appreciation of human evolution an informed perspective on whether our hunter gatherer ancestors were aligned with a Hobbesian dog eat dog character or of an Edenic Rousseau types In the end he mounts an assault on the need for a concept of free will arguing that it is euivalent to putting a homunculus in the driver’s seat above the material universe His mantra is for a multifactorial and hierarchical array of causes behind behavior In the end it will be easy to conclude that the extreme complexity of the brain limits the gains in explanatory power from any simplistic reductionist plan I this vein I liked the uote from Hilary Bok The claim that a person chose her action does not conflict with the claim that some neural processes or state caused it; it simply redescribes itSapolsky’s organizing principle of serving up mountains of research progress according to different timescales that precede particular behaviors is a very helpful approach Looking at events a second before a behavior taps into automated and unconscious processes in the brain; seconds before brings in higher neural systems associated with conscious actions; hours to days before is the realm of hormonal influences; days to months before the impact of things like chronic stress and adaptations of neuroplasticity; years and decades before includes the shaping of culture and individual development; and centuries to millennia before the processes of evolution You’ll be busting at the seams by the time you get through this program He is so skilled at introducing humor and commonsense translations to the concepts presented you will be amazed in your ability to follow his presentation and never fall asleep If some of the presentation doesn’t uite sink in he excels in summary take home messages at the end of each chapter and provision of freuent links among the chapters A big plus for me was his overall humility and restraint in claiming than is reasonably warranted from the data He is scathing for the excessive claims such as of genetic causes of bad behavior eg calling a variant of a monoamine oxidase gene that provides limited predictability for violent behavior a “warrior gene” use of premenstrual syndrome as a claim of diminished responsibility in a court defense and the puffing up of the evidence about “mirror neurons” which are active both when a primate acts and observes the same act in another as the foundation of empathy and altruism The stupendous advances from being able to assess activity of significant brain structures in humans through functional magnetic resonance imaging are also subject to overinterpretation which I think he mostly avoids I liked his outrage that the problem of PTSD depended on brain scans showing shrinkage of the hippocampus to get Congress to recognize the problem as worthy of expanding treatment resources For me I was impressed by the power of images of changed receptors in the meth addict’s brain to justify funding of substance abuse treatment as a “brain” disease The principle is the same these people need help in the social and psychological realm and using images as a reification of their state doesn’t really change the situation That said I was disappointed with his simplistic summary that schizophrenia is a “biochemical disorder” and dyslexia a result of “microscopic cortical malformations” The interdisciplinary nature of the topics here raises the issue of reliability of the presenter in interpreting the research I appreciate how the author has a solid track record both in field studies of dominance and aggression in baboons and in laboratory studies on hormonal and brain system roles in social behaviors Having been a researcher in the area of brain mechanisms of aggression and motivational systems for several years I can testify to the veracity and wisdom of his analyses of brain studies As my former scientific career ended up mostly in the area of brain development and plasticity I can say he was inaccurate on the status of research on a couple of subjects eg the claim of long distance sprouting of new connections to account for repurposing of the visual cortex in blind people; the conclusion that the extensive neuron cell death during development serves primarily an error correction functionCan the average reader handle and dig all the brain talk in this book? I think the author does a great job keeping the jargon down in the narrative and slipping a lot of the details into copious footnotes providing a primer on basic neuroscience in an appendix and justifying significant points with a huge collection of references stored in the back A couple of areas of the prefrontal cortex the amygdala and the dopamine reinforcement system get the starring role in most of the studies discussed As an example here is a bit on the dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortex The dlPFC is the decider of deciders the most rational cognitive utilitarian unsentimental part of the PFC In contrast to the dlPFC there’s the ventral part of the PFC particularly the ventromedial PFC vmPFC This isan honorary member of the limbic system because of its interconnections with it Logically the vmPFC is all about the impact of emotion on decision making And many of our best and worst behaviors involve interactions of the vmPFC with the limbic system and the dlPFCConsider a classic moral uandary—is it okay to kill one innocent person to save five? When people ponder the uestion greater dlPFC activation predicts a greater likelihood of answering yesIn this bit on dopamine I give you a taste of his humor Though the dopamine system is similar across numerous species humans do something utterly novel we delay gratification for insanely long times No warthog restricts calories to look good in a bathing suit next summer No gerbil works hard at school to get good SAT scores to get into a good college to get into a good grad school to get a good job to get into a good nursing homeHere is a sample on the amygdala long linked to a major role in fear and anxiety Amygdalae are prepared to learn to associate something bad with ThemSo if whites see a black face shown at a subliminal speed the amygdala activates But if the face is shown long enough for conscious processing and anterior cingulate cortex and the “cognitive” dlPFC then activate and inhibit the amygdala This is so depressing—are we hardwired to fear the face of someone from another race to process their face less as a face to feel less empathy? No For starters there’s tremendous individual variation Moreover subtle manipulations rapidly change the amygdaloid response to the face of an OtherHere is a good example of his humility in the face of the brains complexity A “neurobiological” or “genetic” or “developmental” explanation for a behavior is just shorthand an expository convenience for temporarily approaching the whole multifactorial arc from a particular perspectivePretty impressive huh? Actually maybe not Maybe I’m just pretentiously saying “You have to think complexly about complex things” Wow what a revelation And maybe what I’ve been tacitly setting up is this full of ourselves straw man of “Oooh we’re going to think subtly We won’t get suckered into simplistic answers not like those chickencrossing the road neurochemists and chicken evolutionary biologists and chicken psychoanalysts all living in their own limited categorical buckets”Sapolsky shines in his overview on the roles of testosterone on aggression of oxytocin on empathy and prosocial behavior and of stress on both realms of behavior I liked his conclusion that no drug or hormone or gene can be said to cause a behavior And all we know of a person’s state of brain health genetic background and experience does not provide a reliable predictor of bad or good behavior At a critical point Sapolsky illustrates the importance of a multifactorial outlook by considering whether a particular woman will suffer from depression Having a certain variant of the serotonin transporter gene has at most a 10% predictive power But adding development in poverty experience of child abuse levels of glucocorticoids in the bloodstream living in a collectivist culture and menstrual status might bring you up get you up to a 50% level of prediction This illustrates both progress in understanding the causes of behavior and the limitations of such knowledge The author hits a popular vein in his chapter on adolescence The late maturation of the prefrontal cortex and its function to in reigning in excessive emotionality or impulsive behaviors is held to represent a biological foundation for the folly of youth I’m not sure what benefits we get in how to treat teenagers wisely with this knowledge over the standard psychological consideration of them as being immature We are not far from McLean’s model of the Triune Brain with the neocortex in primates an evolutionary wonder that is seen as riding herd on the unruly mammalian limbic system and lizard brain of the brainstem like Freud’s Superego over the Id And emphasizing to parents and teachers the risks of teens’ late development of executive brain functions practically puts them in the category of the brain damaged Still it was fun to experience how elouent Sapolsky gets on the subject If by adolescence limbic autonomic and endocrine systems are going full blast while the frontal cortex is still working out the assembly instructions we’ve just explained why adolescents are so frustrating great asinine impulsive inspiring destructive self destructive selfless selfish impossible and world changingWhere it comes to egregious acts of violence or crime neuroscience provides little new ground for or against excusing someone’s responsibility for their acts on the basis of biological causes not in the person’s control Still an essential role of the criminal justice system is to “protect the endangered from the dangerous” And despite any solid way to predict dangerousness juries need to consider diminished capacities for judgment among the accused Knowledge about the delayed maturation of frontal cortical systems in adolescents helps to justify being lenient on them in the justice system The philosopher Stephen Pinker and neuroscientist Michael Gazzanaga both lean with Sapolsky toward the concept that free will is an illusion but they still argue we must hold people responsible to varying degrees for violent criminal acts The argument that a man can’t help being a pedophile but is responsible for acts of child abuse is compelling But Sapolsky holds his ground that the latter acts are biologically determined no less than the ingrained proclivity to fixate on children and to think otherwise reflects an unscientific dualism of an ethereal homunculus pulling the strings He doesn’t have a practical answer for reforming the criminal justice system though he did launch an ongoing discussion between a group of jurists and social scientists and a set of neuroscientists starting with a workshop One can expect further encroachment of neuroscience into the courtroom which Sapolsky hopes will proceed with great caution Perhaps we’ll have to settle for making sure our homuncular myths are benign and save the heavy lifting of truly thinking rationally for what matters—when we judge others harshlyHopefully the new science of unconscious biases among juries and judges can also be applied to help mitigate some of the excess manipulations of the prosecutors and defense lawyers For example research showing that sentences rendered by judges tend to be severe when they are hungry ie right before lunch And all members of society and jury members must somehow be on guard for subterranean perceptions like the following From an early age in both sexes and across cultures attractive people are judged to be smarter kinder and honest We’re likely to vote for attractive people or hire them less likely to convict them of crimes likely to dole out shorter sentences Remarkably the medial orbitofrontal cortex assesses both the beauty of a face and the goodness of a behavior and its level on one of those tasks predicts the level during the other The brain does similar things when contemplating beautiful minds hearts and cheekbones And assumes that cheekbones tell something about minds and heartsThis is a long book but I wished the author would have spent time on the nature of war from a biological perspective I don’t believe he ever broached the subject of territorial aggression which represents one of the major classes of intraspecies violence found among many species and some primates and the form that most closely resembles human group conflicts that involve killing people over turf Maybe the outrageous claims of a territorial instinct behind human war by the likes of Desmond Morris and Robert Ardrey nearly 40 years ago still make this a disreputable topic for current scientists to pursue The discovery that groups of chimps sometimes coordinate together on patrols and raids into another chimp community and kill members they encounter was a shock to many who imbibed Jane Goodall’s portrait of their communities and obvious analogies to human war were made in the media Usually territorial conflicts in animals are resolved through symbolic displays that provoke a withdrawal by the intruders of another groups’ territory The professor I worked with on a brain region that appeared to organize the freeze flight fight system in rats in the early 70’s David Adams went on to lead efforts that emphasized that the technology and weapons humans use in group conflicts in the historical period makes war a different kettle of fish from animal territorial aggression because the distances over which the weapons operate preclude use of the usual behavioral signals that moderate lethal outcomes As part of his work for UNESCO he helped facilitate the drafting of the Seville Statement on Violence in 1986 a proclamation signed by 20 prominent scientists that aimed “to dispel the widespread belief that human beings are inevitably disposed to war as a result of innate biologically determined aggressive traits” see A lot of the debate about biological foundations of lethal violence in humans centers around studies of contemporary hunter gatherer societies and anthropological evidence from ancient human remains Popular books by people like Jared Diamond and Stephen Pinker interpret such data to indicate that prehistoric humans were always perpetrators of war Sapolsky spends significant time on the criticisms from various sources on the veracity of the data from hunter gatherer societies and argues that the advent of agriculture and fixed settlements made warfare deadly because conflict resolution by moving to a new territory became a less feasible option The thesis in Pinker’s recent book “Better Angels of Our Nature” that the death rate from war has declined substantially over the historical period does not really figure into considerations of the prehistoric hunter gatherer origins of our species Nevertheless Sapolsky criticizes his use of data on death estimates from some historical genocidal events without taking into account their long duration eg centuries for the black slave trade and colonial annihilation of Native Americans After taking duration as well as population density into account wars and genocides of the 20th century account for half of the top 10 events of megadeath from violence in known history surprisingly the Rwandan genocide makes the list under this framework due to its 700K deaths over only 100 daysMuch food for thought can be found in this important book If you want to learn a bit about Sapolsky the man and his fascinating field work on baboons I highly recommend his A Primate’s Memoir A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons This book was provided by the publisher for review through the Netgalley program


  5. says:

    I finished this yesterday but I had to stop first and catch my breath before writing a review This was a whirlwind a high speed ride exercising my amygdala mightily No book I’ve read at least this year has challenged me the way this one has And not just the science which I will largely forget in its details soon enough More so the intellectual challenge was in uestioning almost everything I believe Why do we behave the way we do? You’ll get no biology primer from me Let’s plunge right in In the fall of 1990 Ira invaded Kuwait and in the run up to the Gulf War Americans were sickened by a story that emerged On October 10 1990 a fifteen year old refugee from Kuwait appeared before a congressional Human Rights CaucusThe girl—she would only give her first name Nayirah—had volunteered in a hospital in Kuwait City She tearfully testified that Irai soldiers had stolen incubators to ship home as plunder leaving over three hundred premature infants to dieOur collective breath was taken away The testimony was seen on the news by approximately 45 million Americans was cited by seven senators when justifying their support of war a resolution that passed by five votes and was cited than ten times by George H W Bush in arguing for US military involvement And we went to war with a 92 percent approval rating of the president’s decision In the words of Representative John Porter R Illinois who chaired the committee “we have never heard in all this time in all circumstances a record of inhumanity and brutality and sadism as the ones that Nayirah had given us today”Much later it emerged that the incubator story was a pseudospeciating lie The refugee was no refugee She was Nayirah al Sabah the fifteen year old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States The incubator story was fabricated by the public relations firm Hill Knowlton hired by the Kuwaiti government with the help of Porter and cochair Representative Tom Lantos D California Research by the firm indicated that people would be particularly responsive to stories about atrocities against babies ya think? so the incubator story was concocted the witness coached The story was disavowed by human rights groups and the media and the testimony was withdrawn from the Congressional Record—long after the warBe careful when our enemies are made to remind us of maggots and cancer and shit But also beware when it is our empathic intuitions rather than hateful ones that are manipulated by those who use us for their own goals In the 1990s crime rates plummeted nationwide Liberals cited the thriving economy Conservatives credited policing expanded prisons and three strike sentencing laws Neither says our author Demographics showed that crime rates dropped in areas where abortions became legally readily available This was highly controversial but it makes perfect depressing sense to me our author writes What majorly predicts a life of crime? Being born to a mother who if she could would have chosen that you not be Drone pilots who sit somewhere far removed from battle but can blow up a group of men sitting around a campfire just by pushing a button and watch the whole thing you know body parts on their computer screen have the same rate of Post Traumatic Stress as soldiers in the field in a study of than 1100 judicial rulings prisoners were granted parole at about a 60 percent rate when judges had recently eaten and at essentially a 0 percent rate just before judges ate Justice may be blind but she’s sure sensitive to her stomach gurgling Okay enough examples from the book; I’ll spare you the pages and pages of notes I read this book because Sapolsky’s book A Primate’s Memoir is an all time favorite And this is his life work here He didn’t lose me with the long biology lesson at the beginning of the book Indeed he sorta said just read through this enough will stick to understand what follows But then he resorted to essentially sociological surveys to support his positions Academic things I’ve been on the answering end of such surveys and understand just how pre ordained and un scientific they can be And as smart as he is very and much smarter than me he doesn’t get that sometimes when he was talking about bias he kind of exposed his own biases He repeatedly confessed to being a Liberal then stated as scientific fact that Liberals are intelligent than Conservatives Which brings up another point Before plunging into a discussion of Politics he notes that there are lot of hands raised in that terrain between Liberal and Conservative My rough guess is that perhaps a majority of people join me in that middle ground But Sapolsky says never mind let’s just consider Liberals and Conservatives Well no you can’t; and even if you could it sure as hell wouldn’t be science And oh he’s glib with repeated stay tuned and all that is cool but; and he even reduces himself to making fun of someone’s nameSo yes some things he wrote got my amygdala all agitated But then my frontal cortex took over which I now know it will do and let me analyze what he is saying as objectively as I couldWe are learning from science every day Like that that frontal cortex the decider isn’t fully online until our twenties So what responsibility does a 14 year old murderer own? We once burned epileptics as witches owned slaves and thought those acts appropriate justified biblically sanctioned Now we wonder how we could have done that What will we think of how we behave now in 100 years 500 years?Notwithstanding some annoyances which I stated above this really is a remarkable book and highly recommended by me It takes a while and is not easy in spots Maybe first check out some lectures by Sapolsky readily available on YouTube You will get a sense of his depth humor and manic energy all of which fuel this book Here’s one about the topic in uestion and here’s one on how religion is a mental illnessThis book changed me of that I’m sure Imagine that Now excuse me I have to do some chipmunk experiments


  6. says:

    What a wonderful book It is a comprehensive look at all types of behavior from the magnanimous to the hideous It is filled with stories that heighten the reader's level of engagement The book is long yes But not overly long Sapolsky's subtle humor and little bits of light hearted sarcasm fill the book and make it fun to readSo what is the cause of behavior? The answer in this book stated so clearly is it's complicated There is no single cause The structure of neurons and architecture of the brain is one contributing factor Our collections of genes is another factor One's upbringing certainly plays a role as well as one's peers One's environment is a major contributor Hormones such as testosterone may play a role at times although its influence seems to be over rated Whether or not you are hungry when you make a decision is another factor And it is clear that an adolescent's yet undeveloped brain has a big influence on lack of impulse control So yes it is complicatedVarious genes have been attributed to behavior patterns But even this is complicated The so called warrior gene is not really a significant factor except in a very limited set of circumstances No single gene is responsible for a behavior pattern but only in large collections do genes play some role in behavior The book does get technical at times; lots of discussion about the role of certain hormones and the structure of neurons and the architecture of the brain You can skip over these sections if you like But it is 100% fascinating and the narrative is written for a lay person in mindI didn't read this book; I listened to the audiobook skillfully narrated by Michael Goldstrom The audiobook helped me to relieve boredom during a long solo drive I looked forward to every session with it


  7. says:

    In the shortest possible summary let me start by saying that Behave is a stupendous book and among the best science books I have read While it is a book of science and very detailed in parts at that – it is still highly recommended reading for everybody After all who is not curious about why we behave the way we do This book is certainly a tribute to the remarkable progress science has made in understanding our brain and our behaviours However be warned that it is a big book which has a lot of detail and you might be in for a slower read than many other booksRobert Sapolsky invokes interest and curiosity right from the start talking about how we are very conflicted in our beliefs – especially we condemn many acts of violence but do support others I have to admit I have many conflicts I am unable to resolve myself – such as the fact that I find very impressive the progress that science has made as detailed in this book and yet I am very pained that much of this has come with cruel experiments on animals The organisation of the book is very logical – it traces an action from when it happens to moments before monthsyears before and potentially several years earlier in cases Experiments show that there are several markers in our brain which light up before we take any action So the big uestion which the book Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari explores as well – do we really have free will? Do we have the ability to stop when the natural instinct kicks in? As it turns out much of how we act is a result of a multitude of factors – events which have happened at any time previously sometimes well in the past our genes environment and many others some of it still to be determined This has extremely important implications for law enforcement as wellThere are excellent examples eg when you compliment a child on good work telling them they are clever vs telling them they are hardworking invokes very different responses While we appreciate empathy – the ability to step into and feel the others experience empathy stalls action Compassion is effective The discussion around how the brain responds to meditation are alluded to – though I think it deserved far coverage There are also other interesting lessons around how judges and juries decide punishment based on a number of factors which logic says should have no bearing The issues of “Us” vs “Them” is discussed in detail and deservedly so Our brain instantly associates some faces as “Us” and some others as “Them” We develop this categorisation over time and this association is very strong in adulthood and near impossible to get over While this is true even in animals our behaviours are complex The “Us” categorisation could be based on country language religion colour and others The natural tendency is to think in terms of aggregate labels rather than as individuals accounting for much of our biasesThis is a big book and one for which I should have taken notes But I did not Since there is a wealth of important information I expect I will have to revisit the book again – when I feel I am forgetting its contentsThe Appendix has information on Brain Genes Hormones which is worth taking a look at This is an exceptional book though certainly not light reading Since it packs great amount of detail it is a difficult read than for instance “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari However I very strongly recommend this – for reading at the earliest possible


  8. says:

    Sapolsky is a gem of a researcher professor and deep thinker He has done very well since receiving his MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” Here he covers neuroscience cognitive science and philosophy The basic theme is that humanity and we who comprise it are capable of great good and great harm There is a lot that underlies human thoughts decision making and actions that Sapolsky uncovers for us Some of you may like me become a little uneasy reading this if your mind wanders into uestions of friendship race religion anger love passion and the arc of civilization I felt while reading this book that I was less than successfully punching above my weight class If I had a bit book learning I am sure it would have been easier This isn’t because Sapolsky discusses the issues using fancy terms to impress his audience In fact he is very good a bringing in a metaphor or anecdote to illustrate his point He even includes toward the back of the book a very helpful section on terms and functions No it’s because using the precise terms is very important and it takes time to become comfortable and conversant with them I asked for Behave for my birthday I don’t regret it and I am sure I will be coming back to various sections as time goes by This book has raised my level of awareness and I am going to find additional ways to explore many of the topics presented


  9. says:

    I have tremendous respect for Mr Sapolsky since I first watched one of his lecture series from The Teaching Company He has my eternal gratitude for introducing me to the term Glucocorticoids which I then tried to use a few times a day every day for an entire year An experiment that was cut tragically short after a fateful dinner encounter in which my father who had been a mopey navel gazer for some time due to a complicated business decision confided in me his troubles to which I replied with as much gravitas as I could summon; “It could be your Glucocorticoids”Anyway since Sapolsky has played such a pivotal role in my intellectual development I’ve made the decision to steer away from my usual review format I’m going to avoid constructing it as a loose collection of darkly humorous anecdotes with a tiny bit of substance somewhere in the middle which you could glean just from reading the summaryThis is a very granular look at all the proximate and distal causes of human behavior So granular in fact that it reminds me of a time when I was racing my bike up and down our gravel driveway with criminal glee My papaw upon noticing this distilled his wisdom into a pithy omen as was his gift and offered “Gonna bust ye ass if ye don’t slow down lil lady” And as was my gift I pretended not to hear him Some time later as foretold I flew over my handle bars cut an ugly trench through the drive in the rough shape of gangly idiot and embedded uite a few gravels in my forearm According to eyewitness accounts after the dust had settled I rolled onto my back took a deep breath and said “I think I need to go to the hospital”This book is a bit like that except without the stitches And a lot of high uality information on the individual components that go into creating the complex biochemical package which is capable of instantiating behavioral algorithms foolish enough to ignore the advice of their elders Yes it’s a dense book and if you’re not paying attention you might need to beat yourself with a belt in order to properly marshal your attentional resources Luckily Sapolsky is one of the smartest most interesting people on the planet so his witty anecdotes manage to guard the gutters pretty well —even if you’re like me who while under the intense scrutiny of your family during your first attempt at bowling uttered a silent prayer stormed ahead with that damnable cannonball and managed to granny toss that sumbitch into a completely different lane and skin your knees at the same time Not an easy feat I still maintain — rather than deflect from his inability to cogently explain why this book is so damn goodIt’s a fissile warhead containing enriched insights strapped to a precision ballistic missile that’s waiting to explode your facile understanding of human decision making and leave you screaming amid the burning wreckage of your considerable ignorance “WHY CAN’T ANYTHING BE SIMPLE”Immolate your overly simplistic notions of human behavior with this book


  10. says:

    Sapolsky might become one of my new favorite authors In this work he surveys the literature on Brains Genetics Culture and puts together a detailed picture of what makes us tick He takes in a large chunk of the human condition and lays out much of the known science around it Be it gender race politics development violence of all sorts personality deviance and conformity Social Dominance and Authoritarianism Hierarchy Ethnicity differences between liberals and conservatives Sexuality Sapolsky is encyclopedic in his study of humans and their behaviors and thoughts and down to earth in his presentation Reminds of Pinker in the presentation A good scientist and a good writer5122018 On the second reading of Sapolsky's book I come away with a better idea of how his picture hangs together The format in general is to look at proximal causes of our behavior starting with immediate causes like the firing of neurons and progressively going farther back in time to cover causes distant from the present Sapolsky goes from stuff in our neurons and brains that happened a few seconds or minutes ago to things like hormones and endocrine stuff that could have bubbled up in the last few hours or days to frontal cortex development in adolescence and the environment back to the early childhood and the womb to the genes and zygote to culture of the past few decades centuries and millennia to our deep evolutionary past At each of these levels a part of our ordinary and extraordinary behavior is sculpted This complex and layered picture starts to do justice to our extraordinary species and its multifaceted behavior Much than most pop explanations which focus on one aspect only of this long time seuence Sapolsky covers much material and ranges widely but ultimately comes back to practical issues like human development war and peace violence stress and solving problems very serious problems we as people face recommended