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Publisher's Summary

When are we responsible for our own actions, and when are we in the grip of biological forces beyond our control? What determines who we fall in love with? The intensity of our spiritual lives? The degree of our aggressive impulses?
These questions fall into the scientific province of behavioral biology, the field that explores interactions between the brain, mind, body, and environment that have a surprising influence on how we behave. In short, how our brains make us the individuals we are.
In this series of 24 fascinating lectures by a prominent neurobiologist, zoologist, and MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant recipient, you'll investigate how the human brain is sculpted by evolution, constrained or freed by genes, shaped by early experience, modulated by hormones, and otherwise influenced to produce a wide range of behaviors, some of them abnormal. And you'll learn how little can be explained by thinking about any of these factors alone, because some combination of influences is almost always at work.
Professor Sapolsky includes a provocative exploration of the implications of our emerging understanding of the origins of individual differences, considering such questions as: How much do these insights threaten our own sense of self and individuality? Where do we draw the line between the essence of the person and the biological abnormalities? What counts as being ill? Who is biologically impaired, and who is just different? As more and more subtle abnormalities of neurobiology are understood, how much should we worry about the temptation to label people as "abnormal"? And what happens when we each have a few of these labels?

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2005 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2005 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Douglas on 08-31-13

Perfect Follow Up

for the Great Courses lectures Philosophy Of Mind and The Secrets Of Perception. This lecture series by Robert Sapolsky really ties together the ideas presented in these two other courses by uniting the physiology of the brain and the mysteries of individuality and consciousness. It is wonderfully rich in scientific detail and yet is presented with dynamic metaphor and example so as to make it readily accessible to the layman. The one bad rating for this book is unfair, in that it faults the series for not including the lecture notes and guides. For one, this is clearly stated in the Audio description, and for another, anyone who wants to pay attention to this series will get along just fine without the guides. (Many of the references can be looked up on the internet on the fly, anyway.) This series of lectures will prepare one for the works of Ramachandran, Gazzaniga and Seung, all of which I heartily endorse for further, more in-depth neurological texts.

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29 of 31 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Becky Popenoe on 09-05-15

Important & beautifully conveyed

Sapolsky's stated approach of mixing "buckets" of knowledge - genetics, neurobiology, anthropology, ethology, etc. - works beautifully to create non-simplistic explanations of human behavior and to counter all sorts of popular science attempts to oversimplify why we act the we do and why we turn out the way we do.

The bottom line is that "it is both nurture and nature!" - but with sophistication and erudition about the exact mechanisms that are at play, and attention to the limits of how nurture can modify nature, and to the limits of nature's ability to fully determine anything. Perhaps it is more correct to say that, ultimately, Sapolsky really undoes the nature/nurture dichotomy altogether, because nature is never "un-nurtured", so it only takes expression in particular environments -- hormonal, environmental, social, etc. At the same time, there is always a biological substrate there that "nurture" has to work with. This is basic at one level, but Sapolsky explains beautifully the details of how this happens at different levels of brain chemistry and, as important, how we know this.

He does an especially good job of explaining the basics of neurons, neurochemistry, and brain anatomy -- not so easy without a blackboard, but he manages!

For me this course hit the sweet spot in terms of avoiding politicization of issues and letting the science and specific experiments speak, however "right" or "left" friendly the results.

It seems like I should try to come up with some criticisms so here goes: Since Sapolsky cites by name many important scientists, it seems he could have given Carol Gilligan her due for challenging the male-oriented Kohlberg theory of human development; which, incidentally still seemed to color his version of how kids mature (Kohlberg, not Gilligan). Also, some of his riffs on child-rearing talked as if punishment of children is a given feature of all childrearing, which in Sweden where I live it is not. No one in Sweden would recognize the form of childrearing with rewards and punishments he seemed to take for granted.

This course is not a lazy-day kind of listen. I listened while on long walks, and let's just say I didn't manage to notice much of the nature around me while listening. The course is intense, but fabulous!

Audible -- is there a way one could get the slides that go along with these lectures? They aren't 100 % necessary to following along, but would be nice to have.

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Ben on 03-20-15

very neuroscience

narrator talks fast and can be difficult to keep up with at times.
very interesting listen though.
a pre existing knowledge of neuroscience is essential.
very detailed and flows well.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Santiago on 10-04-16

Fascinating topic

Amazing course on tracing human behavior back through the insights of neurology, endocrinology, genetics and evolution.
A few lectures at the end apply this scheme to violent behavior. Here I missed some deeper connections from violent tendencies to other maybe not so destructive behaviors, i.e. going one level up towards psychology, but hey, the scope is already massive, and all the appropriate caveats were in place.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Anonymous User on 12-12-17

Sapolsky.<br />best bio teacher ever

loved it totally changed my core beliefs and understanding of the animal and human environments.

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5 out of 5 stars
By Anonymous User on 08-22-17

Thoroughly enjoyed this lecture.

Vivid explanation, amazing insight. Great teacher! I can't wait to ponder this new information with friends.

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