Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Trouble with Testosterone


.. And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament
--Robert.M. Sapolsky

I have a confession to make. In addition to liking all these novels that i read from around the world, i secretly like books that deal with neuro-science...and actually anything related to human biology..(phew! its finally out!)..:) I guess having a masters degree in Biological Sciences does point toward that predilection of mine..

One of my good friends, who also happens to be a professor of psychology feeds my interest with awesome books that totally enthrall me.. One book that I totally enjoyed reading and re-reading was this book by Robert Sapolsky. Robert Sapolsky is a professor of Biological Sciences and a Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University and he writes books!(So, I guess in a way, I was predestined to like anything he wrote!).

A small technical interlude in case there is a kindred soul who likes Biological Sciences and loves reading books enough to visit my blog - Sapolsky's main work focuses on Stress and Neuron Degeneration (and on a related note - gene therapy mechanisms to protect susceptible neurons). When he's not in the lab in Stanford, I guess he likes "vacationing" in Kenya annually where he studies a population of wild baboons to identify patterns of relationship between personalities and stress among these animals. He's written some other books along the same lines and you know it as well as I do - I am definitely going to read them!

Did you know???

- In August of 1992, an article published in the prestigious Science journal, finally demonstrated a biological difference between homosexual and heterosexual men. Homosexual men tend to have a smaller "third interstitial nucleus" in the hypothalamus ( the part of the brain that is central to sexual behavior) when compared to heterosexual men.. can you even imagine the implications of this discovery?? I guess that would be a whole post in itself. Of course, it is yet to be determined if the small "Third interstitial nucleus" is the cause of effect of being homosexual..

- A researcher of Chimps in Tanzania discovered a strange eating pattern among the Chimps. On waking, some of the chimps ate the leaves of the Aspilia plant..well, they didn't actually eat it but just kept it under their tongues for a few minutes before swallowing it whole. The strange thing was that these leaves weren't even tasty and the primates grimaced as they ate it.. Why would they want to put themselves through such an ordeal?? Well, looks like the leaves are rich in an antibacterial substance that helps in cleaning the digestive tracts of unwanted bacteria! I guess they have thir own little primate pharmacies with prescriptions as well!:))

- All primates tend to live in groups. One interesting phenomenon observed in these groups is the mechanism of adolescent emigration (i.e., adolescent primates moving permanently from one group to another). I guess that is nature's way of preventing inbreeding among the primate population. The coming together of two groups and the emigration of an adolescent from one group to another seems random but it sure isn't.

Well, i guess you get the general hang of the book from this. I loved reading all the essays in this book and I got too carried away by the subject matter to actually analyze and see how a lay person (with absolutely no biology background whatsoever) would understand and like the book. If you are looking for a different kind of a read, i would totally recommend this book to you.

If you have already read it, i would love to hear your views on this one.

11 comments:

Fyrefly said...

I've heard Sapolsky speak about his baboon work a few times, and he's a fantastic speaker: very funny, very engaging. I haven't read any of his books, but I imagine that they're much the same. I'll have to check them out.

I'd be careful interpreting too much into the INAH-3 homo/heterosexual study, though... a lot of work has been done on that since 1992, criticizing the methodology and trying to replicate the findings.

Ramya said...

isn't he the best??:) i totally adore him!:)

i have been trying to follow up on papers in this regard and it is amazing to see how much work actually goes into verifying this paper's claim!:)

nice to know that i have a fellow science person in the blogging world!:)

Trish said...

This sounds fascinating!! And I have to laugh at your confession--that wasn't so horrible was it? :) What do you do with your degree or are you still in school?

Ramya said...

hey trish! you should give it a shot sometime.. it is a different kind of a read.. well, i went to get another masters in public health and now i work for the american cancer society.. in their research dept..:)that's my life in two lines!:)

Fyrefly said...

Yay, science!

If you haven't read them already, I bet you'd also like Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson or Bonk! by Mary Roach. The first is not human-centered, but very funny and well-written, and the second is human-centered, but very funny and well-written!

Also, more in line with the neuroscience angle, I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard Cytowic ever since I first read it in high school... it's about synaesthesia, which I think is just about the coolest neurological condition there is, and it's probably slightly out of date by now, but I remember it being very, very interesting.

Ramya said...

@fyrefly!! OMG!! i just finished reading "The Man who tasted shapes"..i was debating about whether to review it or not since it wouldn't up eveyone's alley.. but i am soo amazed you mentioned it.. it was such an interesting book!! read it!!:))

i haven't read either of the books you've mentioned.. but it has already gone on my list!! so thanks!!

Fyrefly said...

Ramya - Ha! That's too funny! I think you should definitely review it... it might not be up everyone's alley, but I think it should be understandable even for non-science people, and if it gets someone who might not otherwise read pop-sci books interested, then it's worth it.

Nymeth said...

This sounds so interesting! And completely different from what I normally read, but it's always nice to try something different every now and again. Thanks for the review.

Ramya said...

@fyrefly - you know what? you totally inspired me.. i think i am going to review "The man who tasted shapes"..:) will let you know once i am done with it..:)

@nymeth - i know! i guess that is one reason i decided to put up the review. it is not the kinda book that is talked about a lot in the blogging circles.. but it is pretty interesting in a way.. you should give it a shot!:)

Anna said...

I love the cover. Mighty Mouse was a cool cartoon!

TMF said...

Very nice review. Thanks for the posting.

From your review and noticing your interest in psychology and neurosciences, I seem to think you will like certain titles that I liked very much (mostly less technical popular science).

If I may, I would like to recommend the following titles if you have not tried them before -

1) Phantoms in the Brain - Vilayanur Ramachandran

2) Predictably Irrational - Dan Ariely

3) On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not - Robert Burton

I also like certain titles that deal with the subject of happiness (which seems to be difficult to find in the increasingly complex world)

4) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

5) The conquest of happiness - Bertrand Russell

I have read all of the above at various points in my life, and they are my favourites.

Happy reading, and thanks once again for the reviews and sharing your collection with fellow readers