This half-hour lecture, on what makes humans unique, was delivered as Stanford's Class Day Lecture in 2009 by Professor Robert Sapolsky on Jun. 13, 2009. -- Sapolsky noted that humans can no longer be considered the only tool-making animal, nor the only animal that kills members of its own species (though we are the only animal that kills member of its own species remotely), nor the only animal with a theory of mind (though we are the only animal with a "secondary theory of mind"), nor the only animal with an understanding of something like the Golden Rule (but we are the only animal that understands that there are circumstances when the might have a different understanding of what reciprocity involves), nor the only animal that shows elements of empathy (though we are unique in the range of empathy that we feel), nor the only animal in which dopamine release is involved in mechanisms of anticipation that are boosted by uncertain reward (but we are the only animal that has long lag times between stimulus and reward -- even unto death!), nor the only animal with cultural transmission of styles of behavior (but we are the only animal with our levels of cultural complexity). -- Where humans are truly unique: sexual behavior, complexity of language use, and, as Sapolsky puts it, "gaining the strength and will to do X from the irrefutable evidence that X cannot be," which Sapolsky calls "the most irrational, magnificent thing we are capable of as a species." -- That is, Sapolsky identifies making a moral imperative out of the impossible as the most human trait. -- BACKGROUND: Robert Sapolsky, 52, is a leading primatologist and neurologist and the author of several books, including Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers (1994), The Trouble with Testosterone (1997), Junk Food Monkeys (19997), A Primate's Memoir (2002), and Monkeyluv (2005). -- He is well-known as an expert on stress and a superb teacher....
THE UNIQUENESS OF HUMANS
By Robert Sapolsky, introduced by John Etchemendy
** Class Day 2009 Lecture **
June 17, 2009
On June 13, 2009, Robert Sapolsky, world renowned professor of neurology, neurological sciences, neurosurgery and biological sciences gave the class day lecture in association with commencement weekend 2009. Having been selected to talk by the Stanford University graduating class, Sapolsky spoke about the uniqueness of humans in relation to the rest of the animal world. A few of the topics he spoke on include aggression, theory of mind, the golden rule, and pleasure.