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.

Neuroscience and Free Will

We have free will. We make our own decisions. We have long taken these basic assumptions for granted. But what does neuroscience make of this? In this excerpt from the BBC Horizon special, “The Secret You,” Marcus Du Sautoy (Oxford University) participates in a brain imaging experiment conducted by John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist based in Berlin. And the results? Well, they force us to rethink things a bit. Goodbye Descartes. Goodbye mind before matter. Goodbye to consciousness and free will, as we traditionally like to think about them. And welcome to the world of neurons, to brain activity that makes your decisions before your conscious self is even aware of them. To delve deeper into all of this, you can watch Haynes give a 90 minute lecture here called “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain.”

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.