The Biology of Good and Evil

Speaker: Robert Sapolsky

Thursday, March 9, 2023 at 7:30PM


Hosted in partnership with:

Robert Sapolsky has spent 30 years as a primatologist studying baboons in the wild, as well as being a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University. He uses his unique perspective, insight and wit to examine human behavior.

”Why are we the most aggressive and also the most altruistic of all species?” He explores the origin of feelings such as love, empathy, and the desire for justice. How do our genetic inheritance and cultural experiences provide the context for our behavior? He will address these issues using concepts from his magisterial book, “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.


Speaker Biography

Robert Sapolsky is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, a professor of biology, neurology and neurosurgery at Stanford University, and a research associate at the National Museum of Kenya. His 2017 book, “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst” was a New York Times best seller and his other books, notably “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” have received critical acclaim.

Sapolsky’s 2008 National Geographic special on stress and his on-line lectures about human behavioral biology, delivered with wit and insight, have been viewed tens of millions of times. Even those averse to hard science find his lectures highly entertaining as well as informative. In 2008 Sapolsky was awarded Rockefeller University’s Lew Thomas Prize for Writing about Science. Articles he has authored have appeared in publications such as Discover, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

What fascinates Sapolsky about human behavior is a paradox – we are both the most violent species on earth as well as the most altruistic, cooperative and empathetic. His most recent book, “Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst,” examines how every act — heroic, appalling or in between – is caused by the neurobiology that occurred a second before, the environmental stimuli minutes before that triggered that neurobiology, hormonal influences during prior hours … all the way back to childhood and fetal experience sculpting our brains, and the effects of genes, culture, ecology and evolution.

Out of this comes a perspective that as biological organisms, we have far less free will than usually assumed. This is the focus of Sapolsky’s most recent work and the subject of his upcoming book, “Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will.