Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Uniqueness Of Humans

Stanford professor of neurology, Dr. Robert Sopolsky, spoke to Stanford's 2009 graduating class about the uniqueness, and the not-so-uniqueness, of humans. Topics included aggression, theory of mind, the golden rule (tit-for-tat), and pleasure. His speech begins at 4:55 minutes:

An excerpt:
"You have two humans, and they are taking part in some human ritual. They are sitting there silently at a table. They make no eye contact; they’re still, except every now and then one of them does nothing more taxing than lifting an arm and pushing a little piece of wood. And if it’s the right wood and the right chess grand masters in the middle of a tournament, they are going through 6,000 to 7,000 calories a day thinking, turning on a massive physiological stress response simply with thought and doing the same thing with their bodies as if they were some baboon who has just ripped open the stomach of their worst rival, and it’s all with thought, and memories and emotions. And suddenly we’re in the realm of taking just plain old nuts and bolts physiology and using it in ways that are unrecognizable."


Steve Parker, M.D. said...

Now THAT'S an interesting excerpt. Gotta admit I'm skeptical about the huge amount of calories burned.

During by 12-hour shifts treating hospitalized patients, I'm constantly solving problems that involve life and death and health. I'm using only 1850 calories a day.

I readily admit I've never walked a mile in the shoes of a chese grand master, and never will.


Bix said...

It is absolutely true that individuals process calories from food differently. Harris-Benedict take heed.

Considering that ... it is also true that a food may supply more or fewer calories depending on how it's processed, that we derive more or fewer calories depending on when we consume it, and that the number of "calories" with which a food is labeled is, when it comes down to it, a gross approximation ... it is almost comical how we apply these calorie rules outside of a clinical setting.

You have to teach behaviors - cooking methods, lifestyle changes - for effective weight management.

Bix said...

This man is a fantastic speaker. Another part of this talk I found interesting was the dopamine/reward concept - that we don't feel the effects of dopamine (pleasure) when we achieve the reward, but before. That it is the dopamine that drives us to work to achieve the reward, and this ... that when the reward is only a maybe, only a 50% sure thing, we release more dopamine and work harder.

Bix said...

Sopolsky has a taped lecture on depression that is also fantastic:

Mental health is a topic that doesn't get discussed, doesn't get funded, but is as tangible and biologically rooted as diabetes or Addison's or other metabolic conditions - and often occurs in concert with them.

And ... Depression is on the rise.

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening. Watched his depression video, too. Shame & stigma are alive and well.

Bix said...

Enke's is a sad story. I heard about it on BBC yesterday. They talked about what a shock it was. I wondered if it would be as shocking had he suffered from another serious illness for 6 years, say cancer. I can only imagine the level of despair, and associated pain, that would end a life this way.