Introduction to Human Behavioral Biology. 57 minute video lecture.

Interesting beginning to what I expect will be a fascinating course. Sapolsky begins with a real stumper: What is the surprising common connection among these four human conditions: 1) having your period, 2) having a brain tumor, 3) eating a lot of junk food, and 4) taking anabolic steroids (the ones to build muscle mass)? The answer is that each of these conditions has been successfully used in a court of law as a murder defense!

Saposky argues both sides of the coin: sometimes the stuff going on in your body can dramatically influence your behavior; and sometimes what's going on in your head will affect every single outpost in your body. He suggests that there is "a magnificent, fascinating, nuanced interaction between nature and nurture".

The course will examine human behavior and its complex of relationships with environmental stimuli, our anatomy, neurology, endocrinology (hormones), genetics, and evolutionary biology. There are no prerequisites because Sapolsky feels that this subject is so important that everyone in our society needs to understand the basics. The course will present the basics. Cool! I'm ready!!!

However, human social behavior is complicated. One of the most effective ways humans have for dealing with complexity is with categories. But there are three subtle yet profound difficulties with categories: 1) we overestimate differences across the boundary of a category, 2) we underestimate how different two facts are if they fall in the same category, and 3) when you pay too much attention to categories you don't see the big picture. As examples of how we have trouble telling how similar or different two things are that lie across a categorical boundary, Sapolsky mentions how different languages subdivide the color spectrum differently; different sounds are more or less important in different languages: bear vs. pear in Finnish; and 64 vs. 65 are close but 64 is fail and 65 is pass.

Sapolsky cites three biologists who were so blinded by their categories that they uttered ignorant, incorrect, and sometimes horrific ideas: John B. Watson (1878-1958), a pioneer of behaviorism, Egas Moniz (1874-1955), developer of frontal lobotomy, and Konrad Lorentz, (1903-1989), Nobel Prize winner and Nazis propagandist.

Sapolsky identifies three types of human behaviors: 1) those where humans are just "off the shelf" animals (e.g., the Wellesley effect or Menstrual synchrony which is common in all mammals including humans), 2) those where humans take ordinary animal physiology and use it in ways that no animal could (e.g., the stress response exhibited by chess grandmasters, our ability to sympathize with fictional characters or people in distress on the other side of the planet), and 3) where human behavior is off the charts different from that of most other animals (e.g., our penchant for unreproductive sex). Each of these categories will challenge us especially as Sapolsky argues that we need to think without an excessive hardening of the categories.

The main point of the course he suggests is how our behavior is affected by our biology while resisting the pull of categories to bias our thinking. Let's go! Anyone else want to take the course with me? I plan to watch one (1) video every 4 or 5 days. Since many of the lecture run to an hour and a half, I may need to slow that down. We'll see how it goes (especially since I have some trips coming up).