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.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.