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Waking Up with Sam Harris #91 – The Biology of Good and Evil (with Robert Sapolsky)


In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robert Sapolsky about his work with baboons, the opposition between reason and emotion, doubt, the evolution of the brain, the civilizing role of the frontal cortex, the illusion of free will, justice and vengeance, brain-machine interface, religion, drugs, and other topics.

Robert Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. He is the author of A Primate’s Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

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  1. This is the kind of stuff I run to Sam for. It was interesting hearing them talk about living life with their thoughts about freewill at around the 40:00 mark. I find that poetic naturalism (A term coined by Sean Carroll) is a great concept in bridging feelings about freewill and everyday life. His book "The Big Picture" is a great read for those who are interested.

  2. Great conversation 👍 I think I understand the logic behind the argument against freewill. In essence, everything results from a cosmic deterministic domino effect. It seems that people fear that the acceptance of this could be used as an excuse to justify harmful behavior or a sense of helplessness… I'm curious how legitimate this concern is.

    It seems to be related to perceived internal vs external locus of control. Could a scientific deterministic outlook encourage the latter to negative effect?

  3. i love the conversational nature of this podcast. they both enhance, elucidate, and advance these ideas about "free will."


    and this understanding of the mechanical/mathematical nature of nature, creates a deepening of experience. experience consciousness (as one's sense of self) separately from nature and the mind. enlightenment. cosmic consciousness.

  4. Timothy Snyder, he is not. However, Robert has an interesting "job." Not every day you hear about blow darting a Baboon in the ass and characterize it as scientific research.

  5. "Purely rational being…."

    Yeah and here is where rationality can be in some senses arbitrary.

    If I must kill an innocent member of my tribe to save the lives of 5 innocents from a different tribe with no further context, I'm preserving my tribe.

    The problem is that the dilemma itself lacks meaningful context to qualify any conclusion to be itself a consistent one.

    Its just one of those freshman exercises to initiate a discussion with infinite questions of 'what if,' when what if isn't a rational standard.

    The dilemma itself is incoherent.