Friday, October 20, 2006

A Natural History of Peace

Robert Sapolsky, neuroscientist and primatologist extraordinaire, wrote A Natural History of Peace a while back for Foreign Affairs. I just discovered it today. It's long so I'm archiving the link here so I'll be able to retrieve it easily later.

Sapolsky is a fantastically funny writer and is razor sharp. I've read his Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers tome about how stress affects the immune system and brain. He's known for his discovery that the hippocampus (for memory) shrinks over time from chronic stress. If you are at all interested in stress and health, I very much recommend it.

The Trouble With Testosterone, his collection of short essays reprinted from pop science magazines, is also very good. "Curious George's Medicine Cabinet" is my favorite essay from the collection. It's what introduced me to zoopharmacognosy, the study of animal self-medication with plants and other substances. It inspired me to include a unit on that topic in my primate class. Did you know that chimps travel out of their way to eat a particular kind of leaf with spines that removes their intestinal parasites when swallowed whole? How about the habit of clay eating that spider monkeys and other primates indulge in when they need a little natural Kaopectate? Or lemurs that rip open certain millipedes and rub the juices over their fur to repel insects? All are examples of animal self-medication.

For a hilarious read on what it's really like to be a field primatologist, check out A Primate's Memoir. His stories about drinking the local beer are worth the read alone.

Sapolsky is one scientist I would be very, very excited to meet. If you ever get a chance to hear him give a lecture, GO!!

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