Why do we do the things we do?
Over a decade in the making, this game-changing book is Robert Sapolsky's genre-shattering attempt to answer that question 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 genetic inheritance.
And so the first category of explanation is the neurobiological one. What goes on in a person's brain a second before the behavior happens? Then he pulls out to a slightly larger field of vision, a little earlier in time: What sight, sound, or smell triggers the nervous system to produce that behavior? And then, what hormones act hours to days earlier to change how responsive that individual is to the stimuli which trigger 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--next to what features of the environment affected that person's brain, and then back to the childhood of the individual, and then to their genetic makeup. Finally, he expands the view to encompass factors larger than that one individual. How culture has shaped that individual's group, what ecological factors helped shape that culture, and on and on, back to evolutionary factors thousands and even millions of years old.
The result is one of the most dazzling tours de 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 do...for good and for ill. Sapolsky builds on this understanding to wrestle with some of our deepest and thorniest questions 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.
Sapolsky (Monkeyluv), professor of biology at Stanford, looks at human behavior from myriad interrelated perspectives, endeavoring to explain humans strange and often contradictory behavior. He predominantly focuses on exploring the biology of violence, aggression, and competition through the lenses of neuroscience, anthropology, psychology, genetics, evolutionary biology, political science, and communication theory. Sapolsky takes complex ideas from the scientific literature, including his own research, and attempts to balance the pros and cons of every conclusion. He weaves science storytelling with humor to keep readers engaged while advancing his main point about the complexity and interconnectedness of all aspects of behavior. For Sapolsky, context is everything. For example, in discussing genetics he urges readers to repeat the mantra: don t ask what a gene does; ask what it does in a particular context. Understanding such complexity can potentially lead toward a more just and peaceful society, Sapolsky says. He recognizes that this ambition may seem hopeless but argues that it is essential. Finally, he contends and demonstrates that you don t have to choose between being scientific and being compassionate. Sapolsky s big ideas deserve a wide audience and will likely shape thinking for some time.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Well written journey through the human mind
Loved the organizing principal for describing the latest research on the brain
You’ll learn something totally new ... and enjoy it!
This book is written engagingly well and you will have learned at least 1000 new factoids after finishing the book. The concepts can get complex and a little challenging - perfect if you’re looking to learn something new. It’s a really thoughtful piece with scientific terminology and the implications of recent findings about the brain. Look the words up, take notes, and enjoy with a cup of (tea).