Sunday, November 15, 2020

Review of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M. Sapolsky

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Science

Elaborate Description

Some behavior is predictable. Other behaviors are less than predictable. Dispelling many behavioral characterization myths is central to this book. Sapolsky analysis behavior using various viewpoints from neuron reactions to cultural evolution over the course of few millennia. The various viewpoints facilitate an understanding of the whole behavioral process rather than a particularly fascinating idea from an arbitrary boundary. Factors influence continuously as they are a product of what came before and will influence forthcoming factors.

Context shapes much of behavior. Aggression in a particular context can be seen as admirable, while in another context as shameful. Genes only make sense inside the context of the environment. Genes do not determine as much as normally considered and they do not command biological events. It is not hormones that influence aggression, it is a culture which rewards aggression. Hormones act mostly within the context of the individual’s environment. The brain will respond differently even with the same amount of hormonal activity depending on how it is set up.

There are no brain regions dedicated to particular behaviors or emotions. The frontal cortex is the last to mature and is the most shaped by experience. This makes human a very social species, as if the frontal cortex is meant to provide freedom from genes. Emotion and cognition may seem at times in conflict, but they are rarely in opposition. Normal function requires collaboration with them being synchronized if tasks require both components.

Self-control takes a lot of energy. When the frontal cortex works hard, it thereby uses a lot of energy, performance on forthcoming tasks declines. The brain is continuously making predictions about what is about to happen, and sometimes it obtains sensory information that goes straight to a certain behavior. The amygdala can sometimes see an object before the visual context can confirm it, as in, there are situations when the amygdala acts before processing certain information.

The book does a wonderful job at expressing prevailing myths and misunderstandings of behavior. More importantly, rather than expressing a simple version of behavior, Sapolsky expresses the complexity of identifying the meaning of the behavior. Complexity makes the book very useful to read, but many times, the way in which the author writes about the topics reduces the ability to understand the topic. Too many disjointed examples which at times include sarcasm makes it difficult to understand what the author actually wants to express. Although there are many parts which provide summaries for topics, the summaries are not sufficient in putting what has been learned together.

After identifying the neurons, genes, hormones, and cultural history which facilitate particular types of behavior, the author proceeds to show how people treat in groups and others (Us vs Them), and many other topics such as responses to authority and war. Each topic is expressed in its complexity and the various ways it is understood. Behavior still has a long way to go before it becomes more predictable.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780735222786
Pages to read:   617
Publication:     2017
1st Edition:      2017
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability     4
Content           3
Overall           4