Virtual Event: Robert M. Sapolsky


Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will 

in conversation with JOSHUA D. GREENE


May 2, 2024
6:00 PM ET




$0.00 (Free RSVP Required)

Harvard Book Store, the Harvard University Division of Science, and the Harvard Library welcome ROBERT M. SAPOLSKY—recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant”, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, and author of Behave, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, and A Primate's Memoir—for a discussion of his new book Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will. He will be joined in conversation by experimental psychologist, neuroscientist, and philosopher JOSHUA GREENE—professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.  


Click here to RSVP this free virtual event on Zoom. 

About Determined

Robert Sapolsky’s Behave, his now classic account of why humans do good and why they do bad, pointed toward an unsettling conclusion: We may not grasp the precise marriage of nature and nurture that creates the physics and chemistry at the base of human behavior, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Now, in Determined, Sapolsky takes his argument all the way, mounting a brilliant (and in his inimitable way, delightful) full-frontal assault on the pleasant fantasy that there is some separate self telling our biology what to do.

Determined offers a marvelous synthesis of what we know about how consciousness works—the tight weave between reason and emotion and between stimulus and response in the moment and over a life. One by one, Sapolsky tackles all the major arguments for free will and takes them out, cutting a path through the thickets of chaos and complexity science and quantum physics, as well as touching ground on some of the wilder shores of philosophy. He shows us that the history of medicine is in no small part the history of learning that fewer and fewer things are somebody’s “fault”; for example, for centuries we thought seizures were a sign of demonic possession. Yet, as he acknowledges, it’s very hard, and at times impossible, to uncouple from our zeal to judge others and to judge ourselves. Sapolsky applies the new understanding of life beyond free will to some of our most essential questions around punishment, morality, and living well together. By the end, Sapolsky argues that while living our daily lives recognizing that we have no free will is going to be monumentally difficult, doing so is not going to result in anarchy, pointlessness, and existential malaise. Instead, it will make for a much more humane world.

Praise for Determined

“Sapolsky’s decades of experience studying the effects of the interplay of genes and the environment on behavior shine brightly...He provides compelling examples that bad luck compounds...convincingly argues against claims that chaos theory, emergent phenomena, or the indeterminism offered by quantum mechanics provide the gap required for free will to exist.” —Science

“The behavioural scientist engagingly lays out the reasons why our every action is predetermined—and why we shouldn’t despair about it...Determined is a bravura performance, well worth reading for the pleasure of Sapolsky’s deeply informed company . . . Absorbing and compassionate.” —The Guardian

“Few people understand the human brain as well as renowned neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Joshua D. Greene
Joshua D. Greene

Joshua D. Greene

Joshua D. Greene is Professor of Psychology and a member of the Center for Brain Science faculty at Harvard University. Originally trained as a philosopher, Greene began his scientific career with behavioral and neuroscientific research on moral judgment, focusing on the interplay between emotion and reason in moral dilemmas. His current social scientific research examines strategies for improved social decision-making, reducing intergroup/political animosity, and boosting the impact of charitable giving. His current neuroscientific research aims to understand the “language of thought”, how the brain combines concepts to form complex ideas. He is the author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them and the co-creator of

Photo Credit: Stephanie Mitchell
Robert M. Sapolsky
Robert M. Sapolsky

Robert M. Sapolsky

Robert M. Sapolsky is the author of several works of nonfiction, including A Primate’s Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, and Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. His most recent book, Behave, was a New York Times bestseller and named a best book of the year by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. He is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” He and his wife live in San Francisco.

Event Series: Harvard Science Book Talks

The Harvard Science Book Talks series is a collaboration between the Harvard University Division of Science, the Harvard Library, and Harvard Book Store. The series features talks by the authors of recently published books on a variety of science-related topics and is open to both the Harvard community and to the general public. Typically, lectures are followed by a book signing with the author and refreshments. Learn more and watch recordings of past talks here

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