neurobiologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky ...
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neurobiologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky ...
10-11-2017, 10:38 AM
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Lightbulb neurobiologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky ...
* nigh standard caveat: posted in this thread mostly because the threads/titles in the Science section suck *

#theratrace #empathy #isthereawe? #control? #chroniccontrol #nonyouity #mainstreammedia #symbiosis

Gabrielle deGroot Redford Wrote:When Your Brain Has A Mind Of Its Own

Ever done something not at all like you and not at all good--such as lashing out in anger over a small irritation? After the dust settles and the damage is done, it can sometimes be hard to recall why you acted so badly.

According to Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, our most impulsive actions aren't always determined by the moments when they happen. In his new book, Behave: The Biology of Humans At Our Best And Worst, Sapolsky argues that rash decisions result not only from temperament and upbringing but from what happens to a person's body in the moments, hours, weeks, months and even years beforehand, going all the way back to childhood and perhaps even further, to our genetic makeup and the culture into which we were born. Sapolsky talked with AARP Magazine...

Q. More than 20 years ago, you wrote a best-seller, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, about how chronic stress makes us sick. In Behave, you say that chronic stress also makes us behave badly. How so?

A. Chronic stress does lousy things to people's frontal cortices. We make ridiculous, stupid decisions during times of stress that seem brilliant at the time, and then we regret these for decades after. Judgement, impulse control and emotional regulation go out the tubes during times of stress because of the effect on the prefrontal cortex. If you're chronically stressed, it becomes easier for you to learn to be afraid. You're also not going to be at your sharpest cognitively. But probably the most recent finding is that when we're stressed, we become less empathetic, less compassionate, less capable of taking somebody else's perspective. It's really good for people to get stress under control because there will be fewer cases of hypertension or diabetes. But ultimately, the most important reason is because people will be nicer to one another.

Q. Why do some people feel more stress than others?

A. We now have a huge body of literature that shows you're more likely to subjectively feel stress if you feel that you have no control over what's going on, and if you have no predictive information about when it's coming, how bad it's going to be and how long it's going to last. It's even worse when you lack outlets for the frustration caused by the stressor and you lack social support. If you could manipulate any one of those variables--control, predictability, social support, outlets for frustration--far and away the most powerful one is social support.

Q. So we need a lot of friends?

A. We spend an awful lot of time mistaking acquaintances for friends, and in times of crisis, we're often deeply disappointed when acquaintances turn out to be just acquaintances. People who do best are those who have become more selective about whom they affiliate with. They've gotten rid of those acquaintances. They've gotten rid of the co-workers who turned out to have zero lasting power. You don't need a lot of friends; you just need a few very good ones.

Q. How do you connect the dots between current behavior and what happened in the moments, months and years before?

A. Let's say someone has made a comment that could be interpreted as threatening. The neurobiological question is: Is the amygdala--the part of your brain that plays a central role in aggression--going to leap into action? And that depends on how excitable those neurons were in the seconds before the comment was made.

If you're in pain, for instance, you're more likely to interpret an ambiguous face as a threatening one. Your hormone levels in the days before also influence how sensitive you are to sensory stimuli. Over the course of weeks to months, everything about the brain changes. Spend those previous months learning how to juggle, and parts of your motor cortex will be completely remapped and expanded. Spend those prior months in a traumatic situation, and your amygdala will be more excitable. If you go back to adolescence and then back to your genetic makeup, there are certain genetic profiles where individuals are more likely to interpret a cellphone as being a handgun, for instance.

Q. Are you saying that we cannot truly control our behavior?

A. If you're a neuroscientist who studies behavior, it becomes mighty hard to find a space in there for the notion of free will. If there is free will, it's in all the uninteresting places, like whether i choose to wear my new shirt.

Q. What sorts of behavior do you believe are within our control?

A. How we raise our children, how we assess our moral system, how we accommodate the stressors in our lives.

Speaking of "how we raise our children", how stressful is that i.e. Government=Public Schooling, Discipline practices, currently for children--children building their profiles? And stress via lack of control --day in and day out (children & in general)?

And how stress-based is the present pop-cultural obtainment of "our moral system"? "legal" = "moral"?

Regarding Sapolsky, there's another convo with him over at's
HIT & RUN BLOG, titled:
Why We Fight and Punish: A Q&A With Robert Sapolsky
The author of Behave talks about why people so often don't.

The intro to that:
Quote:The current state of the country and the current state of political and intellectual conversation depresses me in a way that it never has before," the libertarian economist Russ Roberts wrote in a recent essay. "I know there's a lot of hatred in the human heart. It's nothing new. But what appears to be new at least in America in my experience¹ a willingness to vocalize that hatred and to act on it."

I get where Roberts is coming from. To anyone who shares such feelings, I recommend Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, a book by the neuroendicronologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky.

Published in May [2017], Behave is a colorful and intellectually rigorous tour of everything we know about the constellation of phenomena that shape our actions. Sapolsky is a materialist, and his observations (of which there are many) and prescriptions (of which there are few) reflect his conviction that human beings are the products of inputs they mostly didn't choose. Seeing the worst human behaviors as a result of bad programming—rather than the influence of a malovelent diety or a conscious choice to suck—has helped me feel compassion for people who irritate and/or scare me. But it will not leave readers with a sense that all is well, or that everything ultimately will be well.

I recently had the chance to talk to Sapolsky about a few of the topics his book tackles, from myths about hormones to the way we treat victimhood.

Reason: You set the stage for Behave by stating that no one discipline can fully explain human behavior. It's genes, but not just genes. Neuroendocrinology, but not just that. Half a dozen disciplines have something to contribute to our understanding of why we do the things we do. After putting together an encyclopedic guide to all the factors that influence behavior, does the idea of intentionally changing behavior for the better seem impossible?

Robert Sapolsky: Fortunately, no. That's where, against my better nature, some optimism crept into the final section of the book. We've learned a lot about the incredible malleability of who counts as an "us" versus a "them," about all the hierarchies we hold in our heads at once and how we can shift their priority instantly, about the historical and psychological evidence that killing is a psychologically aversive things for humans to do and the inhibitions that can be exploited to avoid it.

I'm also endlessly impressed by studies showing just how powerfully—including at a neurobiological level—things like perspective-taking can be. Individuating people—seeing a "you" instead of a them—is just incredibly powerful.

In terms of a roadmap for how to do something useful, I tried to drive home in Behave just how little classic cognitive processes are relevant to this discussion. Over and over, what we see is that you can't reason someone out of a thing they weren't reasoned into in the first place. The emotional level, the implicit level, is really what the target should be.

Reason: And this is good news if you see advanced cognitive tools as being less effective for some people.

Sapolsky: Yes, though it's a double-edged sword. This research also gives us more insight into how to make people crummier to each other. The same knowledge that allows you to do pseudo-kinship allows you to do pseudo-speciation.

Reason: You focus a lot on adolescence, when humans are the most malleable. Adults seem to instinctively know this, and so they both fear teenagers and fear for them. But you also point out that malleability can be positive. It allows us to introduce younger humans to incredible things at a time when they're most open to new experiences.

Sapolsky: Yes, but again, like everything else, that malleability is double-edged. Adolescence is the perfect time to introduce someone to a horrific ideology that will, if they are lucky enough to escape it, take years to get out of. They can be turned on to violence and oppression. It's an age that just sops up social influences.
...cont'd/entirety here

[Image: forum%20smiley%20parrot.gif]
Bonus/closer snippet:
Quote:Reason: Last question. In the fields in which you work—neurobiology and primatology—what are you excited for? What are you optimistic about?

Sapolsky: From a primatology standpoint, I'm pretty damn pessimistic. I don't think I know a single field primatologist who's not seeing their animals or their ecosystem in some way menaced. So I'm not coming up with a lot of optimism there.

But something I'm kind of optimistic about is social media, which is just turning out to be so powerful. It's a way to subliminally reach people and get them to adopt completely different mindsets about "us"es and "them"s. For instance, we have the technological capacity for you to get up in the morning and watch a family, anywhere on this planet, eating breakfast, and subliminally, all you would get out of it is, "Wow, they're just like me."

The potential for that kind of thing has me slightly optimistic, even if what we've mostly seen is all the ways in which online communication is used to polarize people.

Reason: I've used social media for a long time, and these days mostly feel sad when I use it. But I love the idea that it could be a platform for helping humans see how similar they are.

Sapolsky: If the internet can be used, 24/7, to get you to buy—and buy into—all sorts of crap, it could certainly be used to sell prosocialty.

#provoluntarysociety! Two Thumbs Up

1. regarding Russ Roberts' "appears to be new experience", how connected is that to new exposure (to "America") --see also saturation? (and subsequent stress/stressors?)

Is it voluntary? (because if it isn't, what inherently is it?)
And can it be voluntary, if there's indoctrination, intimidation, coercion, threats & initiation of violence?
[not to be confused with asking: can it be said to be "voluntary" even when such is present.?]
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