I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.

— Robert M. Sapolsky

The most simplistic Robert M. Sapolsky quotes that are new and everybody is talking about

Most people who do a lot of exercise, particularly in the form of competitive athletics, have unneurotic, extraverted, optimistic personalities to begin with. (Marathon runners are exceptions to this.)

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Stress is not a state of mind... it's measurable and dangerous, and humans can't seem to find their off-switch.

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We live well enough to have the luxury to get ourselves sick with purely social, psychological stress.

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If I had to define a major depression in a single sentence, I would describe it as a "genetic/neurochemical disorder requiring a strong environmental trigger whose characteristic manifestation is an inability to appreciate sunsets.

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An open mind is a prerequisite to an open heart.

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Essentially, we humans live well enough and long enough, and are smart enough, to generate all sorts of stressful events purely in our heads.

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We all seek out stress. We hate the wrong kinds of stress but when it's the right kind, we love it - we pay good money to be stressed by a scary movie, a roller coaster ride, a challenging puzzle.

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What does the frontal cortex do? Gratification postponement, executive function, long-term planning, and impulse control. Basically, it makes you do the harder thing.

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If a rat is a good model for your emotional life, you're in big trouble.

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Genes are rarely about inevitability, especially when it comes to humans, the brain, or behavior. They're about vulnerability, propensities, tendencies.

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Perhaps most excitingly, we are uncovering the brain basis of our behaviors - normal, abnormal and in-between. We are mapping a neurobiology of what makes us us.

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Some Poor grad student pressing on the flanks of a hamster and out comes a doctorate on the other side

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About Robert M. Sapolsky

Quotes 58 sayings
Profession Neuroendocrinologist
Birthday October 16

To out-group-members, oxytocin makes you crappier - less cooperative and more preemptively aggressive. It's not the luv hormone. It's the in-group parochialism/xenophobia hormone.

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Almost always, genes are about potentials and vulnerabilities rather than about determinism.

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Get it wrong, and we call it a cult. Get it right, in the right time and the right place, and maybe, for the next few millennia, people won't have to go to work on your birthday.

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If you care about your longevity and health, be a socially affiliated baboon who is better than high-ranking ones at walking away from provocations.

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Oxytocin is lauded for how it promotes warmth, generosity, social bonding, cooperation, trust, and compassion.

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The problem isn't testosterone and aggression;

it's how often we reward aggression. And we do: We give medals to masters of the "right" kinds of aggression. We preferentially mate with them. We select them as our leaders.

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But often, it's easier to resist temptation with distraction, or to be so inculcated in doing the right thing that it's automatic, outside the frontal cortex's portfolio - Then it isn't the harder thing, it's the only thing you can do.

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The fascinating thing about our best and worst behaviors isn't the behavior itself - the brain tells the muscles to do something or other - big deal. It's the meaning of the behavior.

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As long as experiencing your optimal level of good stress doesn't damage others, it's hard to objectively define where normal enjoyment of stimulation becomes adrenaline junkiehood.

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Genes are important for understanding our behavior.

Incredibly important - after all, they code for every protein pertinent to brain function, endocrinology, etc.

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We're getting along so well; I trust you so much for this one second that I'm going to let you yank on me.

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Oxytocin is a Teflon hormone - bad news rolls off it.

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The gigantic challenge is the magnitude of the individual differences in the optimal set point for "good stress." For one person, it's doing something risky with your bishop in a chess game; for someone else, it's becoming a mercenary in Yemen.

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Brains distinguish between an Us and a Them in a fraction of a second.

Subliminal processing of a Them activates the amygdala and insular cortex, brain regions that are all about fear, anxiety, aggression, and disgust.

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Give lab rats oxytocin and, according to that meme, they get better at talking about their feelings and sing like Joan Baez.

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Most of us don't collapse into puddles of stress-related disease.

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...when doing science (or perhaps when doing anything at all in a society as judgmental as our own), be very careful and very certain before pronouncing something to be a norm - because at that instant, you have made it supremely difficult to ever again look objectively at an exception to that supposed norm.

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Naturally, things are more complicated - those groovy, pro-social effects of oxytocin apply to how we interact with in-group members.

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The most important point of [Susan] Fiske's work is that it provides a taxonomy for our differing feelings about different Thems - sometimes fear, sometimes ridicule, sometimes contemptuous pity, sometimes savagery.

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Digestion is quickly shut down during stress…The parasympathetic nervous system, perfect for all that calm, vegetative physiology, normally mediates the actions of digestion. Along comes stress: turn off parasympathetic, turn on the sympathetic, and forget about digestion.

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What happened during the minutes before? That's the realm of sensory stimuli of the nervous system.

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The frontal cortex is an incredibly interesting part of the brain - ours is proportionately bigger and/or more complex than in any other species.

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Hormones influencing the sensitivity of the person to environmental stimuli.

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Importantly, rather than promoting aggression, testosterone promotes whatever is needed to maintain status when challenged.

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We are just another primate but a very confused, malleable one.

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It's probably even the case that if you stoked up some Buddhist monks with tons of testosterone, they'd become wildly competitive as to who can do the most acts of random kindness.

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...I might continue to believe that there is no god even if it were proved that there is. A religious friend of mine once remarked that the concept of god is useful, because you can berate god during the bad times. But it is clear to me that I don't need to believe there is a god in order to berate him.

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I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up;

instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla.

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Pulling a gun's trigger can be an appalling act.

But if it is suicidal drawing fire to save someone, it has an utterly different meaning. Placing your hand on someone's arm can be an act of deep compassion or the first step of betrayal. The punch line? It's all about context, and the biology of context is vastly more complicated than the biology of the behavior itself.

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Depression is not generalized pessimism, but pessimism specific to the effects of one's own skilled action.

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We’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick.

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For example, most mammals are either monogamous or polygamous.

But as every poet or divorce attorney will tell you, humans are confused - After all, we have monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, celibacy, and so on. In terms of the most unique thing we do socially, my vote goes to something we invented alongside cities - we have lots of anonymous interactions and interactions with strangers. That has shaped us enormously.

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Finish this lecture, go outside, and unexpectedly get gored by an elephant, and you are going to secrete glucocorticoids. There's no way out of it. You cannot psychologically reframe your experience and decide you did not like the shirt, here's an excuse to throw it out - that sort of thing.

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What happened in the milliseconds before a behavior to cause it? That's in the neurobiological realm.

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The frontal cortex doesn't even fully develop until age 25, which is wild!

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The regulation of genes is often more interesting than the genes themselves, and it's the environment that regulates genes.

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On an incredibly simplistic level, you can think of depression as occurring when your cortex thinks an abstract thought and manages to convince the rest of the brain that this is as real as a physical stressor.

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