Campus News

Robert Sapolsky Captivates at Common Ground Opener

“Within seconds of birth, culture shapes everything from what we view as the purpose of life, whether we are intrinsically beautiful or sinful, what happens after we die... to where our eyes track over the course of milliseconds.”

—Robert Sapolsky, PhD, Author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

At the season kick-off of the 2017-2018 Common Ground Speaker Series on September 27, Robert Sapolsky, a distinguished neuroscientist, author, and Stanford University professor, captivated a full gymnasium of attendees at Nueva’s Bay Meadows campus.

In October, the 2017 Innovative Learning Conference will welcome Robert as a presenter. Here, he gives us a preview of what he will talk about and why the ILC is an important event on his calendar.

Q: Without giving too much away, what do you plan to talk about at the ILC?

A: The biology of human behavior, particularly social behavior: specifically, behaviors that we count as appalling, as wondrously compassionate, and the vast majority, which fall ambiguously somewhere in between.

Q: The theme of this year’s ILC, Blurring Boundaries, focuses attention on how systems do, or should, connect. What connected systems are most important in education? 

A: From the standpoint of biology and behavior, the critical point is that there are no boundaries. To make sense of behavior, not only do you have to consider neurons, hormones, genes, early experience, prenatal environment, culture, ecological influences, and evolution, but it's artificial to separate these influences. 

For example, if you're thinking about the functioning of a part of a child's brain, by definition, you're also thinking about the hormones that influence that brain region, and about the prenatal environment during which that brain was first constructed, and the genes that code for some of the key proteins in that brain, and the evolution of those genes. There are no separate disciplinary boundaries.

Q: Your latest book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, champions the idea that we all need to be “behavioral biologists.” What does that look like in the preK–high school environment?

A: I think that being an effective "behavioral biologist," in that or any realm, pretty much consists of keeping three things in mind: One, that we're biological organisms, and nothing about our behavior makes sense outside of that context. Two — what do you know — the biology of our behavior is complicated. Thus, number three, it's incumbent upon us to be really cautious and humble when it comes to deciding we understand what causes some behavior to occur, particularly when it's a behavior we judge harshly.

Q: What do you get out of participating at the ILC and why should others attend?

A: It's just such an exciting environment — realizing the range of experience and insights that collectively come from everyone there. It's great.

For more information, and to join our waitlist, please visit the 2017 Innovative Learning Conference site.

 September 29, 2017

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