Do you think that, of your own free will, you chose to become a Quaker? If so, you’re wrong. Your becoming a Friend was pre-determined long before you even knew that Quakers existed. At least, that’s the argument of Robert Sapolsky, distinguished professor of neurological studies at Stanford University. Here’s a quote from Chapter One of Sapolsky’s latest book, Determined:
Once you work with the notion that every aspect of behavior has deterministic, prior causes, you observe a behavior and can answer why it occurred; as just noted, because of the action of neurons in this or that part of your brain in the preceding second. And in the seconds to minutes before, those neurons were activated by a thought, a memory, an emotion, or sensory stimuli. And in the hours to days before that behavior occurred, the hormones in your circulation shaped those thoughts, memories, and emotions and altered how sensitive your brain was to particular environmental stimuli. And in the preceding months to years, experience and environment changed how those neurons function, causing some to sprout new connections and become more excitable, and causing the opposite in others.
And from there, we hurtle back decades in identifying antecedent causes. Explaining why that behavior occurred requires recognizing how during your adolescence a key brain region was still being constructed, shaped by socialization and acculturation. Further back, there’s childhood experience shaping the construction of your brain, with the same then applying to your fetal environment. Moving further back, we have to factor in the genes you inherited and their effects on behavior.
But we’re not done yet. That’s because everything in your childhood, starting with how you were mothered within minutes of birth, was influenced by culture, which means as well by the centuries of ecological factors that influenced what kind of culture your ancestors invented, and by the evolutionary pressures that molded the species you belong to. Why did that behavior occur? Because of biological and environmental interactions….
(and)…those are all variables that you had little or no control over. You cannot decide all the sensory stimuli in your environment, your hormone levels this morning, whether something traumatic happened to you in the past, the socioeconomic status of your parents, your fetal environment, your genes, whether your ancestors were farmers or herders…. we are nothing more or less than the cumulative biological and environmental luck, over which we had no control, that has brought us to any moment.
~ submitted by Richard Russell
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