Robert Sapolsky is a great science communicator. If you read any of the titles some of his scientific papers you might scratch your head about “Biphasic cytochrome c release after transient global ischemia and its inhibition by hypothermia.” But when talking to a more general audience, he is very straight-forward and enlightening. He even makes being a baboon sound cool
“We’ve found that baboons have diseases that other social mammals generally don’t have,” Sapolsky said. “If you’re a gazelle, you don’t have a very complex emotional life, despite being a social species. But primates are just smart enough that they can think their bodies into working differently. It’s not until you get to primates that you get things that look like depression.”
The same may be true for elephants, whales and other highly intelligent mammals that have complex emotional lives, he added.
“The reason baboons are such good models is, like us, they don’t have real stressors,” he said. “If you live in a baboon troop in the Serengeti, you only have to work three hours a day for your calories, and predators don’t mess with you much. What that means is you’ve got nine hours of free time every day to devote to generating psychological stress toward other animals in your troop. So the baboon is a wonderful model for living well enough and long enough to pay the price for all the social-stressor nonsense that they create for each other. They’re just like us: They’re not getting done in by predators and famines, they’re getting done in by each other.”
“..religiosity in and of itself is good for your health in some ways, although less than some of its advocates would have you believe,” Sapolsky said. “It infuriates me, because I’m an atheist, so it makes me absolutely crazy, but it makes perfect sense. If you have come up with a system that not only tells you why things are but is capped off with certain knowledge that some thing or things respond preferentially to you, you’re filling a whole lot of pieces there–gaining some predictability, attribution, social support and control over the scariest realms of our lives.”