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Robert Sapolsky Bio, Life, and Career:
Robert M. Sapolsky had a recurring fantasy of really inhabiting the African dioramas that are on display at the Natural History Museum in New York. By the time he was twenty-one years old, he had made it to Africa and was living with a group of baboons. Even if the opportunity to “get the heck out of Brooklyn” was one of the reasons he was interested in becoming a naturalist, he never abandoned the people he had known. In point of fact, he made the decision to live with the baboons because he believes they provide the ideal environment for studying the effects of stress and illness on people.
According to Dr. Sapolsky’s writing, baboons, like their human counterparts, live in big, complicated social groupings with lots of spare time “to dedicate to being rotten to one other.” “Stress,” whether experienced by a baboon or a person, is seldom about avoiding being eaten by a lion. On the contrary, the majority of the psychological strain you’re under comes from people of your own species. In his book “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” Dr. Sapolsky notes that this is the exact moment when stress-related diseases begin to manifest themselves.
Baboons, much like humans, make for interesting subjects for storytelling. Because of his talent for storytelling, The New York Times said that “if you crossed Jane Goodall with a borscht-belt comedian, she may have written a book like A Primate’s Memoir,” which is the title of Dr. Sapolsky’s account of his years spent working as a field scientist. The more than thirty years that Sapolsky has spent working in the field as a primatologist and in the laboratory as a neuroscientist has provided him with a unique perspective on the human condition.
As a consequence of this, he is able to seamlessly go from describing pecking hierarchies in primate groups (both human and baboon), to explaining the neurochemistry of stress, in a manner that even those who are afraid of science can easily comprehend. What intrigues Dr. Sapolsky the most about human behavior is a paradox: we are the most violent species on earth, yet we are also the most altruistic, cooperative, and empathetic. This contradiction is what attracts him the most.
In his most recent book, titled Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, he examines how every act, whether it be heroic, appalling, or anything in between, is caused by the neurobiology that occurred a second before, the environmental stimuli minutes before that triggered that neurobiology, hormonal influences during the prior hours…all the way back to childhood and fetal experience sculpting our brains, as well as the effects of genes, culture, ecology, and evolution
Dr. Sapolsky’s most recent work focuses on how to think about this, whether you are analyzing the conduct of a murderer or the behaviors for which you are lauded. This viewpoint suggests that as biological beings, we have far less free will than is often supposed. This synthesis will serve as the foundation for his next book, which is titled Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will.
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst has been hailed as a greatest-seller by the New York Times, named the best book of 2017 by the Washington Post, and was awarded the book prize by the Los Angeles Times. Sapolsky is the author of many other books, including Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, The Trouble with Testosterone, Monkeyluv and Other Essays on our Lives as Animals, and A Primate’s Memoir, which was the winner of the 2001 Bay Area Book Reviewers Award in the nonfiction category. The Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing on Science was bestowed to Dr. Sapolsky by Rockefeller University in the year 2008.
His writings have been published in a variety of newspapers and magazines, including Discover, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In addition to his roles as a professor of biology, neurology, and neurosurgery at Stanford University and a research associate at the National Museum of Kenya, Dr. Sapolsky is a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. Both his online lectures on human behavioral biology and his National Geographic special from 2008 about stress have been seen tens of millions of times each.
Dr. Sapolsky is an interesting speaker because of the sense of humor and compassion he brings to topics that might be serious at times. The biology of our individuality, the biology of religious belief, depression, memory, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease are just some of the subjects he frequently discusses in his numerous public lectures. Other topics he has covered include stress and diseases related to stress, biology and the debate over free will, the biology of our individuality, and the biology of free will. Robert Sapolsky, Ph.D. is a professor at Stanford University, where he has the titles of John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of Biological Sciences and Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences.
Sapolsky, who specializes in neuroendocrinology, has focused his study on the problems of stress and neuron degeneration, as well as the prospects of gene therapy procedures that might assist in preserving neurons that are vulnerable to illness. For example, Sapolsky examines how prolonged stress can cause or contribute to damaging mental and physical afflictions in his well-known book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases and Coping (Freeman 1994, second edition 1998), which was published in 1998. In this book, Sapolsky discusses how stress can cause or contribute to conditions such as ulcers.
His research group was one of the first to demonstrate that chronic stress may cause damage to the neurons that make up the hippocampus. Glucocorticoids are known to have a debilitating impact on neurons, which is why he is presently researching methods to strengthen neurons via gene transfer. Sapolsky’s contributions to the field of neuroscience have earned him a number of accolades and prizes, including the coveted MacArthur Fellowship, an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and the Klingenstein Fellowship in Neuroscience, amongst others.
He was honored with the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, as well as the Young Investigator of the Year Awards from the Society for Neuroscience, the Biological Psychiatry Society, and the International Society for Psychoneuroses-Endocrinology. In addition to being the author of a large number of scientific publications, he serves on the editorial boards of a number of scientific journals, including the Journal of Neuroscience, Psych neuroendocrinology, and Stress, and he is also a contributing editor for The Sciences.
He makes the argument that scientists who write too much for popular audiences get “Saganized,” named after Carl Sagan, which means that their reputation in the scientific world begins to suffer as a result. Despite this, he is considered to be one of the most accomplished scientific writers in the nation. During this session, he discusses the process by which he comes up with the concepts that he uses for his articles.
Who would have thought that People magazine could be such an important resource? He outlines the process by which he turns his obsessions and worries into tales, the manner in which he has these conversations with his wife and others, and the manner in which he crafts novels on a more expansive scale. He gives his writing a lot of thought, but above all else, it is a delight for him, something that he takes pleasure in doing, and he lets us in on the enjoyment by showing us where it comes from.
Robert Sapolsky Profile-
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