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HUMANS in NATURE
Biol 102
SPRING 2012

LECTURE by ROBERT SAPOLSKY
Stanford University

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Jun 13, 2009. "Robert Sapolsky noted that humans can no longer be considered the only tool-making animal, nor the only animal that kills members of its own species (though we are the only animal that kills member of its own species remotely), nor the only animal with a theory of mind (though we are the only animal with a "secondary theory of mind"), nor the only animal with an understanding of something like the Golden Rule (but we are the only animal that understands that there are circumstances when the might have a different understanding of what reciprocity involves), nor the only animal that shows elements of empathy (though we are unique in the range of empathy that we feel), nor the only animal in which dopamine release is involved in mechanisms of anticipation that are boosted by uncertain reward (but we are the only animal that has long lag times between stimulus and reward -- even unto death!), nor the only animal with cultural transmission of styles of behavior (but we are the only animal with our levels of cultural complexity). -- Where humans are truly unique: sexual behavior, complexity of language use, and, as Sapolsky puts it, "gaining the strength and will to do X from the irrefutable evidence that X cannot be," which Sapolsky calls "the most irrational, magnificent thing we are capable of as a species." -- That is, Sapolsky identifies making a moral imperative out of the impossible as the most human trait. -- BACKGROUND: Robert Sapolsky, 52, is a leading primatologist and neurologist specializing in stress and the author of many journal articles, technical books, and several popular books.
  • What makes us more-or-less unique as a species?
  • REPRODUCTIVE vs SEXUAL behavior [but what about Bonobos?]
      • e.g. female hamster ovulatory synchrony driven by social dominant (you can buy pig ovulatory chemical at farm store) BUT can be desynchronized by pheromones e.g. in humans: The Wellesley Effect.
  • TOOL-MAKING ?
  • AGGRESSION?
  • THEORY of MIND?
  • The GOLDEN RULE?
      • game theorists : Axelrod's 1970's: "tit-for-tat" optimization strategies
      • vampire bats .. [reciprocal altruism]
      • stickleback fish: sensitive to perceived "cheating"
  • EMPATHY
      • de Waal's chimps and the innocent bystander: If big guy beats up another one who provoked him, so be it; if he beats up an "innocent bystander", other chimps will groom the poor innocent guy much more after the fight ... comfort the victim.
      • we seem unique in ability to make connections that allow empathy by means of symbolism or metaphor or abstraction
  • PLEASURE in ANTICIPATION and DELAYED GRATIFICATION
      • Dopamine ... all sorts of pleasure ... but also released in problem solving. Doesn't simply signal reward ... dopamine released BEFORE reward ... anticipation
      • delayed gratification ... unique ability to hold on even to beliefs such as in an afterlife
  • CULTURE (non-genetic transmission to next generation ...
      • culture and "personality" very trendy in evolutionary perspective on behavior
      • group temperament: most aggressive male baboons killed; only the "nonaggressive baboons remained in the troop ... would even groom each other!
      • Language: MOST defining of HUMANS
      • having incompatible thought simultaneously, such as manifest in Sister Helen Prejean: 'the less forgivable the person, the more you must find the means to forgive them' [what does this do for an individual's stress levels?]

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