by Robert M. Sapolsky
See this book on Amazon.com
my take: (style influenced by the breathlessly wondrous Sapolsky)
Yes, it's all about the zebras, their lack of affinity for ulcers.
Yes, the book is a truly amazing (amusing, exhausting) chronicle of social- / neuro- biology, what we have learned / surmised / imagined about the nervous system, its basic anatomy / physiology and the way stress affects it (as well as the rest of the body, social group, culture, world) both short and long term (talk about consequences!); the related manipulative / corrective strategies of pharma, physicians, general and psycho-neurologists, clinical psychologists, arm-chair psychologists, alpha-baboons (executives), sociologists, artists, partners, healers, rumor-mongers, and general purveyors of social capital; the sociology, changing views, solutions. Genetics: questions of cause / effect, relationships, heritability, the future re medicine / sociology / profits to made, heading off disasters of exuberant approach. Principles ("Homeostasis is about tinkering with this valve or that gizmo. Allostasis is about the brain coordinating body-wide changes, often including changes in behavior"). How all this resonates, from/through microscopic to footed-creatures, with a special fixation on humans. All that. Important, wonderful and often course-correcting stuff. (Source, myth, questions of how and why things get mangled.) Politics, geopolitics, (Biopolitics?) .... the idea (quaint, being that of one mid 19 C physician Rudolph Virchow) that "Medicine is social science, and politics nothing but medicine on a large scale... Physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor." The factors / considerations about how poverty might affect all this, and the important (spun, remembered, neglected) corollaries of how attitude, social and personal, might (rich, poor) be surprisingly / cynically relative.
All this. Delivered with humor and humility, questions ever begetting questions. ("Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it.")
Sapolsky really is one of my heroes.
But what I really learned from this book is exactly (especially the last paragraph) what I need to learn and apply. To ME. From his conclusion:
Sometimes, coping with stress consists of blowing down walls. But sometimes it consists of being a blade of grass, buffeted and bent by the wind but still standing when the wind is long gone. Stress is not everywhere. Every twinge of dysfunction in our bodies is not a manifestation of stress-related disease. It is true that the real world is full of bad things that we can finesse away by altering our outlook and psychological makeup, but it is also full of awful things that cannot be eliminated by a change in attitude, no matter how heroically, fervently, complexly, or ritualistically we may wish. Once we are actually sick with the illness, the fantasy of which keeps us anxiously awake at two in the morning, the things that will save us have little to do with the content of this book. Once we have that cardiac arrest, once a tumor has metastasized, once our brain has been badly deprived of oxygen, little about our psychological outlook is likely to help. We have entered the realm where someone else—a highly trained physician—must use the most high-tech of appropriate medical interventions.
These caveats must be emphasized repeatedly in teaching what cures to seek and what attributions to make when confronted with many diseases. But amid this caution, there remains a whole realm of health and disease that is sensitive to the quality of our minds—our thoughts and emotions and behaviors. And sometimes whether or not we become sick with the diseases that frighten us at two in the morning will reflect this realm of the mind. It is here that we must turn from the physicians and their ability to clean up the mess afterward and recognize our own capacity to prevent some of these problems beforehand in the small steps with which we live our everyday lives.
Perhaps I’m beginning to sound like your grandmother, advising you to be happy and not to worry so much. This advice may sound platitudinous, trivial, or both. But change the way even a rat perceives its world, and you dramatically alter the likelihood of its getting a disease. These ideas are no mere truisms. They are powerful, potentially liberating forces to be harnessed. As a physiologist who has studied stress for many years, I clearly see that the physiology of the system is often no more decisive than the psychology. We return to the catalogue at the beginning of the first chapter, the things we all find stressful—traffic jams, money worries, overwork, the anxieties of relationships. Few of them are “real” in the sense that that zebra or that lion would understand. In our privileged lives, we are uniquely smart enough to have invented these stressors and uniquely foolish enough to have let them, too often, dominate our lives. Surely we have the potential to be uniquely wise enough to banish their stressful hold.+++++++++
It's the wisdom of Sophocles: Bend, not break.
Yes -- he's on youtube and Ted:
This is the last lecture -- if you get time, watch it, even if just from 38 minutes on. The whole great wisdom of perspective and tolerance:
The original baboon stress doc:
Shared Notes & Highlights
Shared Notes & Highlights