Author, neurobiologist, and MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient Robert Sapolsky will speak on “The Biology of Good and Evil” on Tuesday, March 21, in the Atherton Union Reilly Room as part of the J. James Woods Lectures in the Sciences and Mathematics.

Robert Sapolsky

Admission is free and open to the public without tickets.

Ultimately, we humans are just another primate, the collectivity of our neurons.  Given that, how do we make sense of our best and worst behaviors?

This talk considers a range of topics — what is the role of the most defining part of the human brain, the frontal cortex, in these behaviors?  What do genes and testosterone have to do with aggression?  Does the “love” hormone, oxytocin, really makes us more empathic?  Are we the only species that shows the rudiments of altruism and a sense of justice?  How could numerous species have evolved to cooperate, when there’s no incentive to be the first one to take that step?  And most importantly, how do we understand the biology of the context-dependency of all of this — how can it be that the identical behavior is appalling in one setting and magnificent in another?

Sapolsky is one of the world’s leading neuroscientists and a research associate with the Institute of Primate Research Museums of Kenya. He has been called “one of the best scientist-writers of our time” by Oliver Sacks and “one of the finest natural history writers around” by The New York Times. He is the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor and Professor of Neurology and of Neurosurgery at Stanford University.

This year’s Woods Series will conclude with Caltech Physicist Sean Carroll speaking about “The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time” on Wednesday, April 19, at 7:30 PM in the Atherton Union Reilly Room. Admission is free.

Sean Carroll

One of the most obvious facts about the universe is that the past is different from the future.  We can remember yesterday, but not tomorrow; we can turn an egg into an omelet, but can’t turn an omelet into an egg.  That’s the arrow of time, which is consistent throughout the observable universe.  The arrow can be explained by assuming that the very early universe was extremely orderly, and disorder has been increasing ever since.  But why did the universe start out so orderly?

Carroll will talk about the nature of time, the origin of entropy, and how what happened before the Big Bang may be responsible for the arrow of time we observe today.



Media contact:
Marc Allan