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.”

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