Robert Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. He is the author of A Primate’s Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.
Of all the culturally conditioned behaviors we’ve mindlessly adopted, alcoholism is one of the most curious. We know it is highly detrimental to personal health and that it directly contributes to myriad societal problems including violence and drunk driving. We also know that the alcohol industry is exceptionally lucrative while at the same time the police state uses this addiction to extend their authority.
Some argue that alcoholism is a spiritual disease, and that the consumption of ‘spirits’ is a means of giving the self up to our inner demons. Dr. Gabor Maté sees alcoholism as a means of covering up personal trauma and emotional pain, yet even without getting too deep into this it’s easy to see that abstaining from booze has some pretty incredible benefits for those seeking better health and greater awareness in life.
But what do dedicated social drinkers and outright alcoholics see when they give up ‘spirits,’ as they are called, and what can the observations from newly sober people tell us about the sicknesses running rampant in our society?
How can humans be so compassionate and altruistic — and also so brutal and violent? To understand why we do what we do, neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky looks at extreme context, examining actions on timescales from seconds to millions of years before they occurred. In this fascinating talk, he shares his cutting edge research into the biology that drives our worst and best behaviors.