(2017) by Robert Sapolsky





this is a central point of this book – we don’t hate violence..t

we hate and fear the wrong kind of violence, violence in the wrong context. because violence in the right context is different..t

it is the ambiguity of violence, that we can pull a trigger as an act of hideous aggression or of self sacrificing love, that is so challenging.. as a result – violence will always be a part of the human experience that is profoundly hard to understand..


this book explores the biology of violence, aggression and competition – the behaviors and the impulses behind them.. it is a book about the ways in which humans harm one another.. but also about ways in which people do the opposite..


if you pay lots of attention to where boundaries are, you pay less attention to complete pictures.. t

zoom dance ness


most important idea in the book: when you explain a behavior w one of these disciplines, you are implicitly invoking all the disciplines – any given type of explanation is the end product of the influences that preceded it..t

thus.. it is impossible to conclude that a behavior is caused by a gene, a hormone, a childhood trauma, because the second you invoke on type of explanation, you are de facto invoking them all..

one – the behavior

two – one second before


what happened one second before the behavior that cause it to occur? this puts us in the realm of neurobiology, of understanding the brain that commanded those muscles..


the amygdala is central to mediating aggression

it (amygdala) consumes extra oxygen or glucose or synthesizes certain activity related proteins, during aggression.. damaged amygdala is impaired in detecting angry facial expressions – while fine at recognizing other motional states


crucially, the brain region most involved in feeling afraid and anxious is most involved in generating aggression


the amygdala also helps mediate both innate and learned fear. the core of innate fear (aka a phobia) is that you don’t have to learn by trial and error that something is aversive..


when we stop fearing something  it isn’t because some amygdaloid neurons have lost their excitability.. we don’t passively forget that something is scary. we actively learn that it isn’t anymore

amygdala also plays logical role in social/emotional decision making..

decision making

these findings suggest that the amygdala injects implicit distrust and vigilance into social decision making. all thanks to learning..  in other words,

the default state is to trust, and what the amygdala does is learn vigilance and distrust..t

trust ness

amygdala plays role in sexual motivation in male but not female


studies like these clarify that the amygdala isn’t about the pleasure of experiencing pleasure. it’s about the uncertain, unsettled yearning for potential pleasure


the amygdala receives news of that reliable trigger of fear/aggression, namely pain


typically the amygdala learns fear and the hippocampus leans detached, dispassionate facts. but at time of extreme fear, the amygdala pulls the hippocampus into a type of fear learning


your heart does roughly the same thing whether you are in a murderous rage or having an orgasm. again, the opposite of love is not’s indifference...


fear typically increases aggression only in those already prone to it

fear and violence are not always connected at the hip.. but a connection is likely when the aggression evoked is reactive, frenzied, and flecked w spittle. in a world in which no amygdaloid neuron need be afraid and instead can sit under its vine and fig tree, the world is very likely to be a more peaceful place


frontal cortex.. most interesting part of brain.. working memory, org/strat ing, long term planning.. reigning in impulsivity

the frontal cortex makes you do the harder thing when it’s the right thing to do

fc is last brain region to fully mature.. not full till mid twenties


pfc is essential for categorical thinking, for organizing and thinking about bits of info w diff labels..


increase cognitive load on the frontal cortex, and afterward subjects become less prosocial – less charitable or helpful, more likely to lie


during rem sleep, when dreaming occurs, the frontal cortex goes off line.. and dream scriptwriters run wild..


dopaminergic system – reward system of brain – via release/depletion of dopamine

release comes from: drugs, sex, food

depletion: chronic stress/pain.. producing depression ‘anhedonia’.. the inability to feel pleasure67

the dopamine system gives insights into jealousy, resentment,


humans .. invent pleasures far more intense than anything offered by the natural world


what was an unexpected pleasure yesterday is what we feel entitled to today, and what won’t be enough tomorrow

learned.. no?

once reward contingencies are learned, dopamine is less about reward than about its anticipation..

all ie’s have to do w money/reward.. so hard to tell if natural


if you know your appetite will be sated, pleasure is more about the appetite than about the sating.. this is hugely important

anticipation requires learning..

this explains context dependent craving in addcition


dopamine is not about the happiness of reward. it’s about the happiness of pursuit of reward that has a decent chance of occurring.. this is central to understanding the nature of motivation..


humans work for delayed rewards.. even for rewards after we are dead

1979 study showed serotonin plays role in levels of human aggression.. low serotonin predicted impulsive aggression as well as cognitive impulsivity.. impulsive suicide..


it shouldn’t require neuroscience to validate someone’s internal state.. and neuroscience can’t explain it


while neurobiology is mighty impressive, the brain is not where a behavior ‘begins’.. it’s merely the final common pathway by which all the factors in the chapters to come converge and create behavior

three – seconds to minutes before


you must think like the animal to learn what is happening.. this pertains to the field of ethology, the science of interviewing an animal in its own language..t

let’s do that everyday.. idio-jargon/self-talk as data.. via 2 convers as infra and tech as it could be..



in contrast w behaviorism’s obsession w uniformity and universality of behavior, ethologists loved behavioral variety.. they’d emphasize how every species evolves unique behavior in respond to unique demands, and how one had to open-mindedly observed animals in their natural habitats to understand them (‘studying rat social behavior in a cage is like studying dolphin swimming behavior in a bathtub’ is an ethology adage)..t

and like studying whales in sea world (aka: studying people immersed in the supposed to’s.. of school/work)


(and then rest of book is heavy on studying those whales.. ie: assuming school, iq scores, et al – dang.. not ethology)


most important point of this chapter: in the moments just before we decide upon some of our most consequential acts, we are less rational and autonomous decision makers than we like to think

decision making et al

four – hours to days before

hormones tied to aggressions.. namely testosterone.. far less relevant to aggression than usually assumed.. correlative rather than causal


being aggressive stimulates testosterone secretion; no wonder more aggressive individuals had higher levels.. such studies couldn’t disentangle chickens and eggs

aggression is typically more about social learning than about testosterone..

when looking at faces expressing strong emotions we tend to make micro expressions that mimic them; testosterone decreases such empathic mimicry.. testosterone makes people less adept at identifying emotions by looking at peoples’ eyes

testosterone increases confidence.. and increases with successes/winnings.. increases impulsivity and risk taking.. and promotes pro sociality in the right setting


testosterone makes us  more willing to do wha it takes to attain and maintain status

in our world.. the problem isn’t that testosterone can increase levels of aggression. the problem is the frequency w which we reward aggression

rather.. that we reward anything


oxytocin is central to female mammals nursing, wanting to nurse their child, and remembering which one is their child..

vasopressin plays a role in paternal behavior..


sex releases oxytocin and vasopressin in the nucleus accumbens of female and male voles, .. obvious theory: prairie voles release more of the stuff during sex than do polygamous voles, causing a more rewarding buzz, encouraging the individuals to stick w their partner


oxytocin.. suppresses fear and anxiety and activates the ‘calm, vegetative’ para sympathetic nervous system..


so oxytocin elicits prosocial behavior and is released when we experience prosocial behavior .. in other words, a warm and fuzzy positive feedback loop..

obviously oxytocin and vasopressin are the grooviest hormones in the universe.. pour them into the water supply.. and..


oxytocin decreases aggression in rodent females.. except for aggression in defense of one’s pups..


oxytocin makes us more prosocial to us and worse to everyone else..  that’s ethnocentrism and xenophobia..  depend dramatically on context..


(on good and bad stress).. stress makes it harder to unlearn fear.. impairs risk assessment

unwanted and wanted stress


stress biases us toward selfishness..


hormones don’t determine, command, cause, or invent behaviors. instead they make us more sensitive to the social triggers of emotional laden behaviors and exaggerate our preexisting tendencies in those domains..

following chapters on where those preexisting tendencies come from

five – days to months before


this is the essence of learning. the lecturer says something, and it goes in one ear and out the other. the factoid is repeated; same thing. it’s repeated enough time s and ‘aha- the light bulb goes on and suddenly you get it.. but may not remember it in an hour or on the exam

wtf? essence?

sinclair perpetuation law

six – adolescence; or dude, where’s my frontal cortex


if by adolescence..limbic, autonomic and endocrine systems are going full blast while the frontal cortex is still working out the assembly instructions.. we’ve just explained why adolescents are so .. whatever.. it’s the time of life of maximal risk taking, novelty seeking, and affiliation w peers..

however.. much of what we know is clouded by the fact that most kids in that age bracket have been immersed/coerced/trapped/maintained/intoxicated.. in the ie: supposed to’s.. of school/work.. so we really have no idea what a natural young person would be like..


maybe ‘adolescence’ is just a cultural construct.. as we;ll see, neurobiology suggests that adolescence is for real.. that the adolescent brain is not merely a half cooked adult brain or a child’s brain left unrefrigerated for too long.. most cultures do recognize it as distinct.. nonetheless.. what the west invented is the longest period of adolescence..

what does seem, a construct of individualistic cultures is adolescence as a period of intergenerational conflict; youth of collectivist cultures seem less prone toward eye rolling at the dorkiness of adults, starting w parents.. moreover, even w/in individualistic cultures adolescence is not universally a time of acne of the psyche, .. most of us get thru it just fine

wow.. only because everyone else is going thru it.. ie: supposed to’s.. of school/work..  that doesn’t mean that any of us are just fine.. (some of evidences are iq tests..?)

seven – back to the crib, back to the womb


childhood is obviously about increasing complexity in ver realm of behavior, though and emotion

really? i don’t know.. i don’t think so.. i think the supposed to’s.. of school/work.. homogenize.. reductionize us.. i’d say the not yet scrambled ness of youth is much more complex.. ie: the complexity of an undisturbed ecosystem


(after section on stages of development and marshmallow test): 5 yr old champs at marshmallow patience averaged higher sat scores in high school..


ethology ethology ethology

(ie of baboon mothers teaching daughters who ranks above who)



so varied types of childhood adversity converge in producing similar adult problems. nonetheless, two types of adversity should be considered separately 1\observing violence  2\ bullying


as noted, an infant baboon learns her place in the hierarchy from her mother. a human child’s lessons about status are more complex – there is implicit cuing, subtle language cues,


eight – back to when you were just a fertilized egg


genes don’t make sense outside the context of environ


the more genomically complex the organism, the large the percentage of the genome devoted to gene regulation by the environ


in other words.. genes don’t determine much..


for our purposes.. genes aren’t about inevitability. instead they’re about context dependent tendencies, propensities, potentials, and vulnerabilities.. all embedded in the fabric of the other factors, biological and otherwise, that fill these pages..

nine – centuries to millennia before


a remarkably consistent finding, starting w elementary school students, is that males are better at math than females



collectivist (harmony, interdependence, conformity) vs individualist (autonomy, achievement, uniqueness, rights of individual) cultures.. produce diff moral systems..


the core retribution for honor violations was, of course, violence…


where do these westernized cultures of honor come form? violence between the crips and the bloods in las is not readily traced to combatants’ mind sets form growing up herding yak..  nonetheless, pastoralist roots have been suggested to explain the southern culture of honor..


culture of honor violence is not just about outside threat – which raises the issue of honor killings.. someone does something considered to tarnish the reputation of the family. a family member then kills the despoiler, often publicly, thereby regaining face. mind boggling.. their most common crimes: refusing an arranged marriage; seeking a divorce; seeking education; not covering head; interacting w unapproved male; infidelity; religious conversion.. in other words, a woman resisting being the property of her male relatives..  and also stunningly, staggeringly , a frequent cause of hon killings is being raped.. for men.. most typical cause is homosexuality..

Deeyah‘s Banaz et al


why have stratified cultures dominated the planet, generally replacing more egalitarian ones? for population biologist peter turchin, the answer is that stratified cultures are ideally suited to being conquerors – they come w chains of command.. also.. survive resource shortages – by killing off the poor


put simply, cultures w more income ineq have less social capital. *trust requires reciprocity and reciprocity requires equality, whereas hierarchy is about domination and asymmetry

*trust doesn’t require anything.. least of the tit for tat ness of reciprocity..

**reciprocity may require equality.. ? i don’t know.. but equality has little to do w equity.. which is what our souls crave.. ie: everyone getting a go everyday

marked ineq makes people crummier to one another.. make people less kind.. less healthy..  more crime


not poverty but ineq


keeley (and pinker) – on systematic underreporting of violence by contemporary anthropologists intent on pacifying living relics of the past (ie: how pinker shows we’re better off today)



like keeley, pinker concludes that warfare is nearly ubiquitous in traditional cultures.. pinker estimates rates of death due to violence.. grim..


that’s because all these study subjects are pastoralists, agriculturalists, or horticulturalists, lifestyle that emerged only the last 10 000- 14 000 yrs.. after the domestication of plants/animals…  for most of history humans have been hunter gatherers.. a whole diff kettle of fish..

hunter gatherers.. human history


the arc of human history is readily equated w a n arc of progress, and key to he latter is the view that agriculture was the best thing humans ever invented.. a cornerstone of the agri lobby is the idea that primordial hg’s were half starved. in reality, hg’s typically work fewer hours for their daily bread than do traditional farmers and are longer lived and healthier.. in the words of anthropologist marshall sahlins, hg’s were the original affluent society

affluence w/o abundance et al


(on criticisms – ie: all kinds of hg – nomadic et al) which bring us to agri.. i won’t pull any punches – i think that its invention was one of the all time human blunders..  agri makes people dependent on a few domesticated crops and animals in stead of hundreds of wild food sources, creating vulnerability to droughts and blights and zoonotic diseases.. agri makes for sedentary living, leading humans to do something that no primate w a concern for hygiene and public health would ever do, namely living in close proximity to their feces.. agri makes for surplus and this almost inevitably the unequal distribution of surplus, generating socio econ states differences that reward anything that other primates dodo up w their hierarchies

agri surplus.. testart storage law.. et al


over last half millennium people have arguably gotten a lot less awful to one another

ten – the evolution of behavior


genotype: someones genetic makeup.. phenotype: the traits observable to the outside world produced by that genotype

geno pheno gap..


we’ve just finished first part of book. a behavior has occurred; what happened in everything form a second to a million years earlier that helps explain why it happened?.. instead of causes, biology is repeatedly about propensities, potentials, vulnerabilities, pre dispositions..

and thus we transition to the second part, synthesizing this material in order to look at realms of behavior where this matters the most

eleven – us vs them

us & them ness


we feel positive association s w people who share the most meaningless traits w us..


the strength of us/them-ing is show by its emergence in kids. by age 3-4 kids already group people by race and gender, have more negative views of such thems, and percieve other race faces as being angrier than same race faces

that’s not from/by emergence.. it’s from poor modeling.. training/brain-washing ..scrambling..


making hierarchies stepper/overt worsens them ing..


stress can be bad for you.. we no longer die of smallpox or the plague and instead die of stress related disease of lifestyle.. like heart disease or diabetes, where damage slowly accumulates over time

and/or ie: suicide.. suffocating from the day\s of unwanted stress

twelve – hierarchy, obedience and resistance


hierarchy heads in diff directions from us/them-ing, and in uniquely human ways: like other hierarchical species, we have alpha individuals, but unlike most others, we occasionally get to choose them.. moreover , they often are not merely highest ranking but also ‘lead’ attempting to max this thing called the common good

i think that’s mistaken thinking.. i think we’re missing out.. and it’s not common ing .. if it’s not all of us (aka: everyone) .. everyday..

furthermore individuals vie for leadership w differing visions of how best to attain that common good – political ideologies. and finally, we express obedience both to an authority an to the idea of authority

zinn obedience law

a hierarchy is a ranking system that foramlized unequal access to limited resources..

we don’t have unlimited/inequitable resources.. if we act as one.. ie: undisturbed ecosystem.. the only reason we think we have unlimited/inequitable resources.. is because most/all of us are not us.. so we think we need more/different than we do

hierarchies establish a status quo by ritualizing ineq’s


why have ranking systems?

(on getting and maintaining rank – and basing things on intelligence et al)



obedience is closely intertwined w conformity, a concept central to the previous chapter but considered here. both consist of going along; the former w authority, the latter w the group. and for us the commonalities are what matter..

? really..?

moreover the opposites – disobedience and nonconformity – are also intertwined and range from the independence of marching to a diff drummer to the intentionality and mirrored determinism of anticonformity..

importantly, these are value free terms..


conformity can be great  ti’s helpful if everyone in a culture agrees on whether shaking your head up and down means yews or no..


conforming is necessary for the benefits of the wisdom of the crowd

i don’t know

and it can bey truly comforting. but obviously conformity can be horrendous – *joining in on bullying, oppressing, shunning, expelling, killing, just because everyone else is on board

*and.. ranking; voluntary compliance ing; thinking it’s illegal to think for self..

obedience can be swell too, ranging form everyone stopping at stop signs

?.. naked streets ness

to my kids listening when my wife an i say it’s bedtime

yeah.. we’ve messed that up too..

and malign obedience obviously underlies ‘just following orders’ – from goosestepping to jonestown’s wretched obeying the command to kill their children

we’re doing that now.. just not as visible.. ie: supposed to’s.. of school/work .. to the death of us


the deeply ingrained nature of human conformity and obedience in humans is shown by the ages when they are apparent..

voluntary compliance

the influential ‘social identity theory’ posits that our concept of who we are is heavily shaped by social context – by the groups we do or don’t id with.. in that view conformity and obedience, while certainly about avoiding punishment, are at least as much about the positives of fitting in

most people are other people.. and that’s cancer – positives of fitting in? i don’t think so..


when we imitate someone’s actions, our mesolimbic dopamine system activates.. when we choose incorrectly in a task, the dopaminergic decline is less if we made the decision as part of a group than if we did so as an individual ..belonging is safety

that’s not (healthy) belonging..  that’s addiction.. marsh label law belonging

god .. i should have known by the title.. behave


what is the neurobiology of obedience to authority, when you’re being ordered to do something wrong?

like.. ie: supposed to’s.. of school/work ..? like obey..? conform..? fit in..?

thirteen – morality and doing the right thing, once you’ve figure out what that is

a story about people grokking what matters


the primacy of reasoning in moral decision making is anchored in child development

which we’ve screwed up.. ie: supposed to’s.. of school/work .. to the point that today.. we spend all our time talking about assumed decision making that needs to be done.. when .. most.. if not all of them.. are irrelevant to human being.. [ie: most if not all your human ie’s revolve around school/work.. no?]

so much research told in this book based on whales in sea world – ethological?

fourteen – feeling/understanding/alleviating someone’s pain

we have no idea.. seems it would be better to just quit causing it..


the key is neither a good (limbic) heart nor a frontal cortex that can reason you to he point of action. instead it’s the case of things that have long since become implicit and automatic – being potty trained; riding a bike; telling the truth; helping someone in need

helping others is already always in each one of us.. it’s not something we need to learn.. it’s something we need to be quiet enough to hear..

holmgren et al

fifteen – metaphors we kill by


some human behaviors stand alone, w/o precedent in another species. one of the most important realms of human uniqueness comes down to one simple fact, namely that this is not a horse (horse on cave wall).. it’s a great picture of a horse.. the shaky nature of imagery..  the distance been an object and its’s symbol


the clearest human mastery of symbolism comes w our use of language..

language pries apart a message form tis meaning.. advantages accrued.. we became capable of representing past and future emotions, as well as message unrelated to emotion..

the height of the symbolic features of language is our use of metaphor..


this chapter explores the neurobiology of some of the most interesting outposts of symbolic and metaphorical thinking. it makes a key point: these capacities evolved so recently that our brains are, if you will, *winging it and improving it on the fly when dealing w metaphor.. as a result, we are actually pretty lousy at distinguishing between the metaphorical and literal

i think our brains were made to *wing it.. to improv.. we mess with our undisturbed ecosystem when we try to make things more intellectual.. predictable..


in 1994 many westerners became aware of the existence of the nation of rwanda for the first time.. by the time it was don, approx 75% of tutsis – 80 0000 to 1 000 000 people – and around 100 000 hutut had been killed. roughly 1 in 7 rwandans.. this translated into 5x rate of killing during the nazi holocaust.. it as mostly ignored by the west..


5x rate.. w no tanks/airplanes/bombs.. et al.. instead hutu.. were bludgeoned by their tusi neighbors, friends, spouses, … tusis were beaten w sticks until they were dead.. w machetes after being gang raped.. sexually mutilated.. burned to ground .. an avg of around10 000 a day

how could this have happened..? many components to the answer.. populace had long tradition of unquestioning obedience to authority...  the anti tutsi propaganda was ceaselessly dehumanizing.. – ie: tutsis referred to as ‘cockroaches’..

zinn obedience law

brooks contemp law


dehumanization, pseudospectiation. the tools of the propagandists of hate.. ‘thems as disgusting..rodents.. cancer..


our confusion of the literal and the metaphorical, our granting of life threatening sanctity to the symbolic, can be use to bring about the best of our behaviors..

sixteen – biology, the criminal justice system and (why not) free will 


you can’t be less controversial than stating that the criminal justice system needs reform and that this should involve more science and less pseudoscience in the courtroom


here’s how i’ve always mitigated free will: there’s the brain – neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters, receptors, brain  specific transcription factors, epigenetic effects, gene transpositions during neurogenesis. aspects of brain function can be influenced by someone’s prenatal environ, genes, and hormones, whether their parents were authoritative or their culture egalitarian, whether they witnessed violence in childhood, when they had breakfast. it’s the who shebang, all of this book..

and then.. separate form that, in a concrete bunker tucked away in the brain, sits a little man (or woman, or gendered individual), a homunculus (very small human) at a control panel. the homunculus is made of a mix of nanochips, old vacuum tubes, crinkly ancient parchment, stalactites of our mother’s admonishing voice, streaks of brimstone, rivets made out of gumption. in other words, not squishy biological brain yuck..

and the homunculus sits there controlling behavior. there are something outside its purview, seizures blow the homunculus’s fuses, requiring it to reboot the system and check for damaged files. same with alcohol, alzheimer’s, a severed spinal cord, hypoglycemic shock.

there are domains where the homunculus and that brain bio stuff have worked out a détente – for ie: biology is usually automatically regulating your respiration, unless you must take a deep breath before singing an aria, in which cast eh homunculus briefly overrides the auto pilot

but other than that, the homunculus makes decisions. sure, it takes careful not of all the inputs and info from the brain, checks your hormone levels, skims the neurobio journals, takes it all under advisement, and then, after reflecting and deliberation, decides what you do. a homunculus in your brain, but not of it, operating independently of the material rules of the universe that constitutes modern science

that’s what mitigate free will is about.

krishnamurti free will et al


ie’s of court cases based on age-related boundaries on free will – everyone’s homunculus was once too young to have its adult powers.. needs to be considered during legal judgments.. and.. amid differing opinions about where a line should be drawn, believers in mitigated free will agree that massive amounts of brain damage overwhelm a homunculus, while it should be expected to handle at least some damage.. or in a mitigated free will framework, rapid fire, impulsive behaviors can occur while the homunculus has gone to he bathroom


some proponents of mitigated free will distinguish between the concepts of ‘causation’ and ‘compulsion’.. in a way that feels a bit nebulous, the former involves every behavior having been caused by something, of course, but the latter reflects only a subset of behaviors being really, really caused by something..


pedophiles have atypically high rates of brain injuries during childhood..  there’s evidence of endocrine abnormalities during fetal life..  being a child molester is as much a product of biology as is being a pedophile..


stephen morse: ‘brains don’t kill people.. people kill people’.. morse epitomizes the skepticism about bringing neuroscience in to the courtroom.. he viscerally cringes at how much of a fad ‘neurolaw’ and neurocriminology’ have become.. a wonderfully sardonic writes he has announced the discovery of the disorder ‘brain overclaim syndrome’.. whose sufferers have gotten carried away w the importance of neuroscience because they’ve been ‘infected and inflamed by stunning advanced in our understanding of the brain’.. causing them to ‘make moral and legal claims that the new neuroscience does not entail and cannot sustain’

on valid criticism: that juries will give undue weight to neuroimaging data just because of how impressive the images are.. .. another.. that findings in neuroscience usually merely descriptive

this is a point i’ve mad throughout the book, that description and correlation are nice, but actual causal data are the gold standard


the problem is that, even amid all these biological insights that allow us to be snitty about those silly homunculi, we still can’t predict much about behavior..  perhaps at the statistical level of groups, but not when it comes to individuals

as it should be.. and when in groups.. it’s just because of unnatural pressure to conform.. human beings.. not predictable.. we need to let go of behavior ness

explaining lots and predicting little.. if a person’s leg is fractured, how predictable is it that they will have trouble walking? i think it would be safe to predict something close to 100%.. if brain is fractured.. 100%.. let’s incorporate behavior..  75%.. more behaviors.. 50%

although ie’s include iq scores.. ugh


it’s not that there’s ‘less’ biology in those circumstances related to social behavior. it’s that it’s qualitatively diff bio

the biology of the behaviors that interest us is, in all cases, multifactorial – that is the thesis of this book


our behaviors are constantly shaped by an array of subterranean forces.. most of these forces involve bio that, not long ago, we didn’t know existed..

so what do we do w minsky’s defn of free ill needing to be amended to ‘internal forces i do not understand yet’ .. ?


in meantime (on trying to get criminal trials more just) 3 things: 1\ (easy) if you reject free will.. you do nothing w criminals  2\ (challenging to implement) rehabilitate people if you can.. island of misfit toys forever if you can’t  3\ (nearly impossible) – the one that changes everything.. the issue of punishment.. to balance the scales of justice.. because punishment fosters cooperation..  it is in the fabric of the evolution of sociality.. it can feel good to punish.. to be part of a righteous and self righteous crowd at a public hanging.. knowing that justice is being served..


it makes sense that we’ve evolved such that it is limbic froth that is at eh center of punishing, and that a pleasurable dopaminergic surge rewards doing so.. punishment is effortful and costly.. that rush of self righteous pleasure is what drives us to shoulder the costs..  thus.. the nearly impossible task to overcome that.. sure.. punishment would still be used in an instrumental fashion, to acutely shape behavior. but there is imply no place for the idea that punishment is a virtue… our dopaminergic pathways will have to find their stimulation elsewhere. i sure don’t know *how best to achieve that mind set.. but crucially, i sure do know we can do it – because we have before.. (ie of changes in views of dealing w epileptics).. we’ve successfully banished the notion of punishment in that realm. it may take centuries, but we can do the same in all our current arenas of punishment

it doesn’t have to take that long.. if we just free everyone up to do the thing they can’t not do (ie: gershenfeld something else law).. people will do less ‘criminal activity’ and if some do.. .we will care more about restoring them/ecosystem.. than punishing

seventeen – war and peace


let’s review some facts. the amygdala typically activates when seeing a face of another race. if you’re poor by the time you’re five your frontal cortical development probably lags behind avg.. oxytocin makes us crappy to strangers..

? facts?

final chapter goals: evidence that things have improved; examine ways to improve further; derive emotional supports


nonetheless, worldwide, things have improved.. the definitive account of this is pinker’s monumental the better angels ..why violence has declined.. it’s a scholarly work that’s gut wrenchingly effective in documenting just how bad thins once were..


better angels has provoked 3 controversies:

1\ why were people so awful then? – pinker: people had always been so awful

2\ why have people gotten less awful? – pinker: ‘civilizing process’.. couple w spread of commerce/trade (which fostered self restraint ie: better to have person you’re trading with alive)

3\ have people really gotten lees awful? – pinker: living in most peaceful era..


but pinker failed to take things one logical step further – accounting for durations of events

books suggests (things that helped us get better): trading; religion; contact; burning/unburning bridges; cooperation; punishment; choosing your partner; reconciliation (forgiveness, apology, reparation..); recognizing irrationalities; our incompetence at and aversion to killing; ..


the possibilities.. give baboon ie – tb dying out of males.. to where troop’s social culture was transmitted.. most likely explanation involved resident females..

ie’s of one person making a diff.. both popular and lesser knowns


thus we have one person impulsively changing history in 20 countries, another who overcame decades of hatred to catalyze reconciliation, other who overcame every reflex of their training to do the right thing..

on more last singular persons, one who inspires me enormously.. john newton.. 1725.. best known for composing ‘amazing grace’.. at a young age.. newton had captained a slave ship..

newton, son so ship captain goes to sea w his father at age 11. at 18 he is pressed into service in navy , tries to desert, and is flogged. manages to escape and works on a w african slave ship.. works on slave ship and is apparently so detested by everyone they dump him in sierra leone .. later rescued.. ship caught in horrific storm.. newton calls out to god.. ship doesn’t sink.. and he has a spiritual conversion.. signs up to work on another slave ship.. he’s found god.. just been a slave himself, and is posed to suddenly recognize the horror that was the slave trade.. nope..

he professes some sympathy for slaves..eventually becomes captain.. works another 6 yrs.. at last he’s seen his actions for what they are.. not that either.. it’s because his health was declining.. works as tax collector..  applies to become priest.. invests his money in slave trading..  becomes popular preacher.. composes hymns.. speaks for poor/downtrodden.. presumably somewhere along way stops investing in slavery..  still not a word about slavery.. finally he publishes a pamphlet denouncing it.. 34 yrs after stopping being a slaver.. that’s a lot of time spent as a blind wretch.. newton’s is a rare voice among abolitionists, someone who has witnessed those horrors, let alone inflicted them. he becomes the major abolitionist voice in england and lives to see england band the slave trade in 1807..

no way i could ever be (the other ie’s he gave).. i’m not brave.. but newton, newton is different; newton is familiar.. he takes convenient comfort from the bible’s embrace of slavery, spends decades resisting the possibility of his personal morality moving past its conventions

yeah.. we need/time and space to listen to that.. rather than anything handed down to us.. what we need is already on each heart..

he shows great empathy but applies it selectively. he expands his circle of who counts as us abut only so far..  there’s hope for us, w our foibles and inconsistencies and frailties, as we watch newton slowly lurch his way toward being a moral titan


why did the 1914 (christmas at war) truce work? the unique static nature of trench warfare meant that soldiers faced each other day after day.. this prompted often friendly taunting across the line since the period preceding christmas.. establishing a vague sense of connections.. also see shadow of future.. also most judeo christian.. knew each other’s language.. same race..  truce aided by top down approval..


we recognize the modified tit for tat in dealing w truce violation.. w its propensity toward cooperation, punishment for violations, mechs for forgiveness, and clear rules..

so. horray, just like social bacteria, we can evolve cooperation. but one thing ta ta cooperative bacterium lacks is a psyche..

ashworth thoughtfully explored the psychology of how live and let live participant began to view the enemy: 1\ don’t want to hurt self  2\ they want dinner as much as us  3\ creeping sense of camaraderie.. .. ashworth observed.. further from the front/trenches.. the more hostility..


when thinking of christmas truce i always have same fantasy – what would have happened if there had been two additional inventions during ww1 – 1\ modern mass communications – texting, twitter, fb.. 2\ mindset from ww1 survivors.. the cynicism of modernity.. this is bs

imagine all the men getting texts.. ‘this is bs.. none of us want to fight anymore and we’ve figured out a way to stop’.. they could have ended it

pluralistic ignaornace


key point of the previous ch was that those in future will look back on us and be appalled at what we did amid our scientific ignorance.. key challenge in this ch is to recognize how likely we are to eventually look back at our current hatreds and find them mysterious..


review of book and 2 final points..

as the single most important of them, virtually every scientific fact presented in this book concerns the average of what’s being measured.. this is always variation, and it’s often the most interesting thing about a fact.  not every person activates the amygdala when seeing the face of a them.. et al

oh good..


good start.. learned word: ethology.. then mostly frustrating.. in my mind – not ethological.. but rather.. looking at whales in sea world