Reading Time: 2 minutes By Dean Hochman from Overland Park, Kansas, U.S. (arrows) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 2 minutes
A friend of mine recently sent this to me; I thought it would be good for stimulus, summing up some of Robert Sapolsky’s writing. I would love to find time to read Behave – it sounds a tour de force.
The Causes of Human Behavior — Good and Bad
Extracted from Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s. BEHAVE (pages 6 and 7)
Sapolsky is a neuroscientist at Stanford University
Julian W. Haydon
1.       A behavior occurs — good or bad. Why?
2.       A second before — what went on in his brain neurologically?
3.       Before that: what sight, sound or smell triggered the nervous system to produce that behavior?
4.       Before: what hormones acted hours to days earlier to change how responsive that person was to 3? By now, you have increased your field of vision to be thinking about neurobiology and the sensory world of our environment and short-term endocrinology in trying to explain what happened.
5.       What features of the environment in the prior weeks to years changed the structure and function of that person’s brain and thus changed how it responded to those hormones and environmental stimuli?
6.       Back further to his fetal environment.
7.       Then to his genetic makeup.
8.       Further back to how culture has shaped the behavior of people living in that individual’s group.
9.       What ecological factors helped shape that culture?
10.    Expanding and expanding until considering events that happened umpteen millions of years ago and the evolution of that behavior.
Any given explanation is the end product of the influences which preceded it. It has to work this way.
If you say the behavior occurred because of the release of neuro-chemical Y in the brain, you’re also saying, “The behavior occurred because the heavy secretion of hormone X this morning increased the level of neurochemical Y.”
You are saying, The behavior occurred because the environment in which that person was raised made his brain more likely to release neurochemical Y.
And you are also saying “because of the gene that codes for  the particular version of neurochemical Y.”
And because of the millenia of factors that shaped the evolution of that particular gene.
And so on.
A Famous Rhyme On A Chain of Causation
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...