Dopamine Jackpot! Robert Sapolsky on the Science of Pleasure

Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biology at Stanford University, famously focuses his research on stress above all else. (Don’t miss his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.) The video above features Sapolsky presenting the Pritzker Lecture at the California Academy of Sciences on February 15, 2011. The full lecture can be seen on Fora TV. In this excerpt, Sapolsky amusingly tells the audience how monkeys and humans commonly generate the highest levels of dopamine when pleasure is anticipated, not when pleasure is actually experienced. But humans, as opposed to monkeys, can “keep those dopamine levels up for decades and decades waiting for the reward.” And for some, Sapolsky adds, that perceived reward lies beyond this life – in the afterlife. (Sapolsky was raised in an orthodox Jewish family, but is an atheist now.) The Stanford professor talks about similar issues (what separates us from primates) in another captivating talk, “What makes us human?

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

The Uniqueness of Humans

Robert Sapolsky  — one of the world’s leading neurobiologists, a MacArthur Fellow, Stanford professor, and author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers — breaks down an intriguing question. Precisely in what ways are we (humans) different from other animals inhabiting our world? The differences are fewer than we think. But there are some, and they’ll make you sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes a little more confident in humanity, and sometimes motivated to change the world, even in these cynical times. The inspiration happens during the last minute. So stay with this engaging talk until the very last.

via TED’s Best of the Web

Richard Dawkins on the Awe of Life & Science

Here’s some vintage Richard Dawkins. Back in 1991, the Oxford University biologist presented a series of lectures for the Royal Institution. In the very first lecture (presented above), Dawkins forces his audience to confront some big questions. (What’s the origin of life? Where do we fall in the scheme of life on planet Earth? What’s our role in the larger universe? etc.) And he reminds us that we’re extremely privileged to have the brains and tools (namely, reason and science) to make sense of the awesome wonders that surround us. We’ve evolved and grown up, he says. We don’t need superstition and the supernatural to explain it all. We just need ourselves and our faith in science and its methods. It’s classic Dawkins.

The 55-minute talk is now added to our YouTube favorites, and we’ve also added Dawkins’ YouTube Channel to our collection of Intelligent YouTube Channels.

via TED

Sapolsky Breaks Down Depression

Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford biologist, is currently one of the most publicly accessible science writers in the country, perhaps best known for his book on stress, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. In the lecture above, Sapolsky takes a hard look at depression. The topic is a little heavy. I’ll grant that. But, it’s also important. As Sapolsky is quick to point out, depression is pervasive and getting worse. Currently, it’s the 4th greatest cause of disability worldwide, and it will soon become the 2nd. For Sapolsky, depression is deeply biological; it is rooted in biology, just like, say, diabetes. Here, you will see how depression changes the body. When depressed, our brains function differently while sleeping, our stress response goes way up 24/7, our biochemistry levels change, etc. Given the pervasiveness of depression, this video is well worth a watch.

Also don’t miss Sapolsky’s amazing Stanford course, Introduction to Human Biology. It’s equally worth your time. It’s housed in our collection of 750 Free Courses Online.

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.