When are we responsible for our own actions, and when are we in the grip of biological forces beyond our control? What determines who we fall in love with? The intensity of our spiritual lives? The degree of our aggressive impulses?
These questions fall into the scientific province of behavioral biology, the field that explores interactions between the brain, mind, body, and environment that have a surprising influence on how we behave. In short, how our brains make us the individuals we are.
In this series of 24 fascinating lectures by a prominent neurobiologist, zoologist, and MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant recipient, you'll investigate how the human brain is sculpted by evolution, constrained or freed by genes, shaped by early experience, modulated by hormones, and otherwise influenced to produce a wide range of behaviors, some of them abnormal. And you'll learn how little can be explained by thinking about any of these factors alone, because some combination of influences is almost always at work.
Professor Sapolsky includes a provocative exploration of the implications of our emerging understanding of the origins of individual differences, considering such questions as: How much do these insights threaten our own sense of self and individuality? Where do we draw the line between the essence of the person and the biological abnormalities? What counts as being ill? Who is biologically impaired, and who is just different? As more and more subtle abnormalities of neurobiology are understood, how much should we worry about the temptation to label people as "abnormal"? And what happens when we each have a few of these labels?
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©2005 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2005 The Great Courses
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
for the Great Courses lectures Philosophy Of Mind and The Secrets Of Perception. This lecture series by Robert Sapolsky really ties together the ideas presented in these two other courses by uniting the physiology of the brain and the mysteries of individuality and consciousness. It is wonderfully rich in scientific detail and yet is presented with dynamic metaphor and example so as to make it readily accessible to the layman. The one bad rating for this book is unfair, in that it faults the series for not including the lecture notes and guides. For one, this is clearly stated in the Audio description, and for another, anyone who wants to pay attention to this series will get along just fine without the guides. (Many of the references can be looked up on the internet on the fly, anyway.) This series of lectures will prepare one for the works of Ramachandran, Gazzaniga and Seung, all of which I heartily endorse for further, more in-depth neurological texts.
I first attended Prof. Sapolsky's seminar on "Aging" in Santa Rosa California, almost 20 years ago. I was so fascinated by his story telling that I spent the next 20 years trying to learn as much as I could on neuroscience and human behavior, even though it's not related to my profession. I read all his books, and I enjoyed all his audio lectures. This is what a great teacher can do, inspiring audience to explore a new subject with passion and interest. This audio book, "Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality", is by far the best one, synthesizing nuggets of knowledge from his many other lectures, beautifully.
Say something about yourself!
Sapolsky's stated approach of mixing "buckets" of knowledge - genetics, neurobiology, anthropology, ethology, etc. - works beautifully to create non-simplistic explanations of human behavior and to counter all sorts of popular science attempts to oversimplify why we act the we do and why we turn out the way we do.
The bottom line is that "it is both nurture and nature!" - but with sophistication and erudition about the exact mechanisms that are at play, and attention to the limits of how nurture can modify nature, and to the limits of nature's ability to fully determine anything. Perhaps it is more correct to say that, ultimately, Sapolsky really undoes the nature/nurture dichotomy altogether, because nature is never "un-nurtured", so it only takes expression in particular environments -- hormonal, environmental, social, etc. At the same time, there is always a biological substrate there that "nurture" has to work with. This is basic at one level, but Sapolsky explains beautifully the details of how this happens at different levels of brain chemistry and, as important, how we know this.
He does an especially good job of explaining the basics of neurons, neurochemistry, and brain anatomy -- not so easy without a blackboard, but he manages!
For me this course hit the sweet spot in terms of avoiding politicization of issues and letting the science and specific experiments speak, however "right" or "left" friendly the results.
It seems like I should try to come up with some criticisms so here goes: Since Sapolsky cites by name many important scientists, it seems he could have given Carol Gilligan her due for challenging the male-oriented Kohlberg theory of human development; which, incidentally still seemed to color his version of how kids mature (Kohlberg, not Gilligan). Also, some of his riffs on child-rearing talked as if punishment of children is a given feature of all childrearing, which in Sweden where I live it is not. No one in Sweden would recognize the form of childrearing with rewards and punishments he seemed to take for granted.
This course is not a lazy-day kind of listen. I listened while on long walks, and let's just say I didn't manage to notice much of the nature around me while listening. The course is intense, but fabulous!
Audible -- is there a way one could get the slides that go along with these lectures? They aren't 100 % necessary to following along, but would be nice to have.
Yes, the information presented in the course is accessible and fascinating, but there is simply so much of it...
Professor Sapolsky did not perform any "characters," as would be expected in a course like this. But his tone was always engaging and sometimes humorous. This book was never dry and always informative.
One small caveat: He spends a large section toward the end of the book focusing on the biology of aggression. I do wish he had devoted more time to other topics more--certain mental disorders, the neurobiology of mood in a resting state, etc. But there are only so many hours in a day, I realize.
All in all, this series is just wonderful.
I'm not sure why another reviewer gave this series a low rating because some supplemental/print materials are not present with the course. There's a disclaimer in bold right beneath the publisher's summary.
I didn't feel that my experience of the series was lessened in the slightest by not having these "extra" materials, and I started listening with only some (very) basic familiarity with neuroscience.
The only thing I see being a potential snag is visualizing a nerve cell, but that's easy to google.
Helps to illustrate how easily we attribute behavior as a result of a singular cause or from just a biological basis. The complexity of humans and the illusiveness of our ability to control negative behavior is explained from the cellular level on up.
Does this lecturer even breathe? He is funny, brilliant and chock full of info. Great understanding and did I mention brilliant?!?
There should be enough new material here for any layman (the author uses some of his research as examples). I encountered several new concepts for me, like 'tournament species', 'genetic destiny', and he covers epigenetics without using the term.
The author does trip-up on some animal analogies in the beginning (one example, stating that no animal has sex for fun - apparently unaware of dolphin research), even though the author did animal research himself - so perhaps it was a focus issue.
A large segment of the books gets into the various physiologies that affect brain function (and hence cognition and behavior).
The book's overall stance is that genetics only predisposes, not predetermines (so no 'genetic destiny') - that environment often trumps genetics, which is significant, for even recently I've heard psychologists claim that humans have no free-will (which is absurd) their notions being derived from genetic destiny, and driven by intellectual fashion, no doubt. So that was the one of the most valuable aspects of the book for me.
Why did I read it? In order to develop (now 'refine' since it is largely developed) a new adequate life-guiding philosophy (there currently are none based on the vast body of verified knowledge that we know have), for it is my philosophy about philosophy that the 'ideal' philosophy will have considered 'all' verified knowledge, and since that is impossible, then an 'adequate' amount of verified knowledge (hence my saying an 'adequate' philosophy), which will reassess itself in the face of new verified knowledge. Hence my reading (or listening, while multitasking) to this book. (Tentative title for my new philosophy: "The Philosophy of Survival and Objective Ethics for Higher Consciousness and the Space Age").
I have no words to describe this book. I will probably end up listening this book again at least 5 times. What an amazing resource for anyone who want to know how we work. And the author/narrator... WOW!
So many thought provoking discussions, I'm impressed. The narrator presents material in a playful and intriguing form with countless real life examples.
narrator talks fast and can be difficult to keep up with at times.
very interesting listen though.
a pre existing knowledge of neuroscience is essential.
very detailed and flows well.
Amazing course on tracing human behavior back through the insights of neurology, endocrinology, genetics and evolution.
A few lectures at the end apply this scheme to violent behavior. Here I missed some deeper connections from violent tendencies to other maybe not so destructive behaviors, i.e. going one level up towards psychology, but hey, the scope is already massive, and all the appropriate caveats were in place.
With clarity, great insight and humour, some groundbreaking and powerful ideas are communicated. I will be listening to the whole series again
"Great - but only if you don't get it from Audible"
In this lecture course Sapolsky uses lots of diagrams, charts, graphs, etc.
These are not included if one purchases this course through Audible, and the lectures do not work half as well without access to these diagrams (because repeated reference is made to them).
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