Join 3,564 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


So an atheist baboon expert walks up to a mic...
September 25, 2011 9:58 AM   Subscribe

“If you spend enough time around something like baboons, you start to look at humans differently. For example, you find yourself paying a whole lot of attention to other guys and how big their canines are, thinking comparatively, or you look at somebody’s rump and you wonder how hard it would be to anesthetize them with a blowgun dart there.” Please allow me to introduce you to Robert Sapolsky, primatologist, neurobiologist, writer, teacher, world-renowned expert on stress and friend to baboons.

Even if you think you don't care about baboons, or stress, or toxoplasmosis or neurobiology, you might be surprised by how much you can learn from MacArthur Fellowship genius grant recipient Robert Sapolsky, who delivers his hard-earned scientific knowledge with wit, insight and wild hair.

* A treasure-trove of lectures on Biology and Human Behavior
* YT: On Depression in U.S.
* Edge.org: A BOZO OF A BABOON: A Talk with Robert Sapolsky
* Edge.org: TOXO -- "If you're ever pregnant, if you're ever around anyone who's pregnant, you know you immediately get skittish about cat feces, cat bedding, cat everything, because it could carry Toxo. And you do not want to get Toxoplasma into a fetal nervous system. It's a disaster."
* Google Video: 'Stress, Neurodegeneration and Individual Differences'
* From NIMH: "Stress in the Animal Kingdom: What We Can Learn"
* PBS/National Geographic: Killer Stress (check your library; more here and two free podcasts--"Stress and Coping: What Baboons Can Teach Us" and "Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers"--here.)
* "Biology and Belief": "An excerpt of the "Emperor Has No Clothes Award" acceptance speech delivered at the 25th annual Freedom From Religion Foundation convention." Related podcast: "Robert Sapolsky - "Hellbound Atheist" & Scientist" (interview begins at 13:00)

If you'd prefer to sit down and read, try "A Primate's Memoir" (delightful, funny, sad, well-written; joyous, outrage-inducing); "The Trouble With Testosterone and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament"; "Monkeyluv"; and "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: A Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases and Coping."

(Previously: Primate Peace; The Neurobiology of Primate Sexuality; the uniqueness of humans; and What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit? [Sapolsky's answer here])
posted by MonkeyToes (29 comments total) 107 users marked this as a favorite

 
After picking up "A Primate's Memoir" on a whim, I wanted to know more about Sapolsky and his research. He is as delightful a lecturer as he is a writer, and I hope you'll enjoy delving into his work and his thinking.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:01 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


you look at somebody’s rump and you wonder how hard it would be to anesthetize them with a blowgun dart there.

Now we've all thought about this from time to time, usually whilst standing in line for fast food.
posted by saturday_morning at 10:05 AM on September 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I read A Primate's Memoir after a mention of Sapolsky somewhere on here on Metafilter, I don't remember the specific post or comment though, and thought it was great. Must find some more of his writings (I find a switch off watching videos online for some reason)
posted by Fence at 10:07 AM on September 25, 2011


I won't threadsit, but as an aside--someone asked why he should listen to a guy who wrote a book with a silly name, and I remember thinking no, no, no, Sapolsky's really good, and then ran across "monkeyluv" and "A Primate's Memoir" a few weeks later and loved them both. "A Primate's Memoir," in particular, was the kind of book where once a chapter, I would stop and turn to my husband and read something to him, just because I loved it so much and wanted to share it. Fence, see if you can find "monkeyluv," which is a collection of essays on a variety of topics. I'm hoping that others will add links that I haven't found.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:16 AM on September 25, 2011


Reading or listening to Sapolsky is at once exciting, revelatory and often hilarious. He gave me an appreciation and interest in science that I never had in school. A personal hero.
posted by gallois at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thank you thank you for this post! I ADORE Sapolsky. Everyone should read A Primate's Memoir, everyone. That, taking an improv class, and flossing are my three must-dos for everyone everywhere.
posted by sweetkid at 10:46 AM on September 25, 2011


I reviewed "A Primate's Memoir" for a book review publication years ago. It was fascination, and everything else the FPP describes. Great post.
posted by Gelatin at 11:52 AM on September 25, 2011


Just watched the youtube video. It was absolutely fantastic and so interesting. Thank you for posting this.
posted by prefpara at 11:58 AM on September 25, 2011


you look at somebody’s rump and you wonder how hard it would be to anesthetize them with a blowgun dart there.

Now we've all thought about this from time to time, usually whilst standing in line for fast food.

by saturday_morning...

"Freeze-ray! Freeze-ray! Freeze-ray!"
posted by IAmBroom at 12:24 PM on September 25, 2011


or you look at somebody’s rump and you wonder how hard it would be to anesthetize them with a blowgun dart there

Girlfriend, we've all been there.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:26 PM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


“If you spend enough time around something like baboons...”

And lord knows I do.
posted by koeselitz at 12:36 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


you find yourself paying a whole lot of attention to other guys and how big their canines are,
nudge nudge, wink wink, ya know what I mean?
posted by stormpooper at 1:02 PM on September 25, 2011


...you look at somebody’s rump and you wonder how hard it would be to anesthetize them with a blowgun dart there.

I call this "date night."
posted by Splunge at 1:18 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this! I read a Primate's Memoir many years ago, mainly because I was interested in primate sociology, but honestly, his insider's view (ok, insider compared to sheltered me) of Africa was also fascinating. An environment in which rules are malleable and everyone is hustling for advantage, if not survival. I can't wait to listen to the talks.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 1:21 PM on September 25, 2011


I was sort of aware of this guy and always found my exposures to him in the past were interesting. I had never seen him on video before. Today I learned he has spent time in Kenya for 25 straight years studying the same group of baboons.

My mind is boggled.
posted by bukvich at 2:00 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the excellent links provided, which I will try not to consume too quickly. I occasionally listen to lectures at work while I'm engaged in tasks with low mental effort required, and he's one of my favorites. He's brilliant, funny and compassionate, my favorite combination. blah, blah, gushing fan-rant.

Listen to the talks, and read Primate's Memoir , one of my favorite books, and one that genuinely changed how I think.
posted by theora55 at 2:34 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read A Primate's Memoir for the first time just after I finished my first Primate Biology class. I reread it when I got back from my first time in "the field" doing paleontology, and brought it with me to do fieldwork in Peru studying monkeys. I'm getting ready to start a pilot study for my dissertation studying monkeys in Cote d'Ivoire, and I know A Primate's Memoir will be there with me again.

Dr. Sapolsky is a great companion to the Jane Goodall parts of primatology. His work is not glamorous; he finds sad things and interesting things, obscure things and things that are immediately and obviously relevant to human interests. He communicates it in interesting ways, and gets folks who are not primatologists or neurobiologists to have vested interest in the stresses of baboon-hood! Something for all of us to aspire too ...
posted by ChuraChura at 2:37 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


you look at somebody’s rump and you wonder how hard it would be to anesthetize them with a blowgun dart there.

This is the first time I have literally laughed out loud while reading a FPP.

This looks like great stuff. I'm going to make a big bowl of popcorn and dive into these links.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:35 PM on September 25, 2011


I heart Sapolsky. His lectures are truly wonderful. I think he's the Jacques Cousteau of human behaviour (it's been around for a long time, but Sapolsky seems like he's the first one to put on the scuba gear and dive in.)
posted by sneebler at 4:33 PM on September 25, 2011


Tons of good stuff in there, and I've only clicked three links so far. Thanks MonkeyToes.
posted by nangar at 5:02 PM on September 25, 2011


I clicked the link to the talk on depression, saw it was 50 minutes, and was all, "PSH, no way I'm watching a 50 minute talk!" But then I listened for three minutes, and I was hooked.

That was fantastic. And extraordinarily valuable to me.
posted by meese at 5:40 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This one is probably included in one of the collections above: A Natural History of Peace. I was struck by the fact that a baboon group/troop/tribe's social organization changed after many alpha males died of tuberculosis. And the change endured over successive generations. I read it years ago, it gave me hope for peace on earth.
posted by mareli at 5:43 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sapolsky>neurobiology, behavior

Feynman>physics, quantum mechanics

<3 both.
posted by Splunge at 6:42 PM on September 25, 2011


I haven't hit the links yet, but Sapolsky's name was familiar. I saw him on a documentary on PBS once (perhaps one of the very links above) and collected this quote from him:

"For ninety-nine percent of the beasts on this planet, stressful situations include about three minutes of screaming terror, after which the threat is over or you are over. Humans turn on the exact same stress response thinking about thirty-year mortgages."
posted by bryon at 7:31 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think he's the guy I heard on radiolab say something like, "You can't put a bunch of apes on a bus or plane the same way you can with humans; they'll kill each other." A quote which I have thought about a lot lately. Anyway, the New Normal show he's featured on is one of my favorites.

Radiolab shows featuring Robert Sapolsky
posted by wobh at 7:33 PM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Strange coincidence I Just watched him last night on a hour long National Geographic special he did entitled Stress: Portrait of a Killer.(It's listed above) It's on Netflix, and follows him in Africa and how he studies these baboons, and how the baboons stress is related to us humans. I found it fascinating. I highly suggest it.
posted by highgene at 10:28 PM on September 25, 2011


I've spent the past few months watching Sapolsky's Stanford videos on Human Behavior Biology. It has been absolutely fascinating and I recommend them to anyone who wants to understand this species, the one we interact with CONSTANTLY, with a higher awareness. Personally, they have changed my life.
posted by PixieS at 10:16 AM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Started wading through your suggested reading material today on the Kindle. Thanks for the tip -- he's a very engaging writer. Primate's Memoir is thus far proving to be one of the most engaging science books I've ever read (sorry, Oliver Sacks).
posted by Lame_username at 11:01 AM on September 26, 2011


This post is perfectly timed. I ran into a Primate's Memoir recommendation here on Metafilter and devoured the book about a week ago. I didn't know the Zebra book was his, it's going onto my reading list together with Monkeyluv.

My mind was blown by the toxo article. It made me re-question humanity and behavior, and think again just how much of a biological machines we are. It's like we're living in a science fiction conspiracy, and not the usual post-energy-crisis dystopia, for a change. We're misinformed.
posted by ye#ara at 12:36 PM on September 27, 2011


« Older Bears Love Pumpkins...  |  A Liberal Decalogue... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments