Thursday, 27 May 2021

Sapolsky, Robert M. "Behave"

Sapolsky, Robert M. "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst" - 2017

This was probably the toughest book I ever read even compared to "Ulysses" or "The Odyssey" and some other heavy and long classics). I guess anyone who read this and can repeat all of that deserves at least a master's degree.

I was never good at any science subject in school. Mainly because I wasn't interested in it. My teachers did not succeed in getting me enthusiastic about the subjects. If I had had a teacher like Robert Sapolsky, that might have been a different matter.

It still doesn't mean that I'd ever become an expert. There was far too much to-ing and fro-ing to my liking. That was just above my head.

The author says it himself in one of his last chapters:
"If you had to boil this book down to a single phrase, it would be 'It's complicated.' Indeed it is. But it is a complicated subject and I'm glad I read the book."

And one final quote:
"The opposite of hate is not love, its opposite is indifference." Elie Wiesel whose book "Night" is a publication everyone should read.

This was our extra book club read in May 2021.

Some comments:

  • The book is massive and we agreed, that it lacks structure. Or at least, none of us found a helpful structure.
  • Indeed, this was a tough read. The author could have taken more care about structure. I took 14 pages of hand written notes and I think, I needed them.
  • Sapolsky organizes a huge amount of technical neuroscience into a logical and memorable structure, so that the context and significance of all that info is clear. He emphasizes the interplay of various factors. Then he discusses the personal, social, political and legal consequences of that information, forming a coherent view of humanity. Brilliant! 717 pages
  • The chapter outline indicates the structure of the book and that helped me to maintain my orientation while reading.
  • We plan to set up another meeting and discuss parts of the book to make up for the missing structure. If we discuss the whole book in just one hour with several people it may get a bit chaotic.
  • We might then post questions for maybe one chapter at a time.

From the back cover:

"Why do human beings behave as they do?

We are capable of savage acts of violence but also spectacular feats of kindness: is one side of our nature destined to win out over the other?

Every act of human behaviour has multiple layers of causation, spiralling back seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, even centuries, right back to the dawn of time and the origins of our species.

In the epic sweep of history, how does our biology affect the arc of war and peace, justice and persecution? How have our brains evolved alongside our cultures?

This is the exhilarating story of human morality and the science underpinning the biggest question of all: what makes us human?
"

For those of you who think, this might be a little too heavy but are still interested in "science for beginners", start with one of these:

Bryson, Bill "A Short History of Nearly Everything" - 2003
- "The Body. A Guide for Occupants" - 2019

Harari, Yuval Noah "Sapiens. A Brief History of Mankind" (Hebrew: קיצור תולדות האנושות/Ḳizur Toldot Ha-Enoshut) - 2014
- Noah "Homo Deus. A Brief History of Tomorrow"- 2016

9 comments:

  1. If it is over your head, I'm sure it would be way over mine. I never was a science-y person in school either. But now I'm making up for lost time.

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  2. Same here, Deb. I have learned a lot from books. If you are interested in this kind of science, I have just added a few books that might be interesting for anyone who doesn't want to start with something too challenging.

    Thanks for that comment.

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  3. Sapolsky organizes a huge amount of technical neuroscience into a logical and memorable structure, so that the context and significance of all that info is clear. He emphasizes the interplay of various factors. Then he discusses the personal, social, political and legal consequences of that information, forming a coherent view of humanity. Brilliant! 717 pages

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    1. above comment from me, Beth Breen, Canada

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    2. Thank you so much for those comments, Beth. I have added them to the post itself for other readers to know that it's not like that for everyone, always the plus of any book club.

      It looks like you have a better scientific mind so that it was easier for you to understand. But I'm nevertheless glad I read it.

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  4. Teachers can really make a difference.

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    Replies
    1. Definitely, Greg. Unfortunately, my sons were not much better off with their science teachers, so none in our family amounted to much in that respect.

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  5. I am curious about this one and will keep it in mind. I thought Harari's book was such a bore. I am not sure how I would like this one, but human behavior is utterly fascinating.

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    Replies
    1. That's what I liked about it. I must say, these kind of books are not really my cup of tea since I'm not a very scientific person. But I feel it is important and therefore read books about it from time to time.

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