Professor Robert Sapolsky Thinking In Categories

This is a theoretical piece.

The article discusses how humans tend to think in categories in order to simplify complex issues but also highlights the dangers of doing so, such as underestimating the differences between two facts that fall in the same category and overestimating the differences between those that fall in different categories. The main point of the article is to emphasize the importance of resisting the temptation to think categorically when trying to understand the biology of human social behavior.

Main topic: Biology of human social behavior; Secondary topics: Thinking in categories, dangers of thinking categorically.

Understanding Human Social Behavior

In bio 150, the goal is to understand human behavior, especially human social behavior, including abnormal behavior. This is a complex and messy process, but thinking in categories can help simplify things. However, there are dangers to thinking categorically, such as underestimating the differences between two facts in the same category or overemphasizing the differences if a boundary is drawn between them. Categories can also make it difficult to see the big picture.

The Benefits and Limitations of Thinking in Categories

Thinking in categories can be useful, such as dividing the continuous spectrum of colors into categories to make it easier to remember and store information. It can also help with evaluation, such as distinguishing between similar shapes with different category labels. However, thinking categorically can lead to errors in perception, such as mistaking differences for sameness or overemphasizing boundaries between categories. Categories can also limit our ability to see the complexity and interconnectedness of the world.

Resisting the Pull to Think Categorically

In the class, the focus is on understanding the biology of behavior without falling into the trap of thinking categorically. This involves examining how body processes influence behavior, emotions, and memories while resisting the temptation to rely on simplistic explanations, such as genetic or traumatic causes. By regularly challenging categorical thinking, students can develop a deeper understanding of the complex and multidimensional nature of human social behavior.