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Peter Sterling – “What Is Health? Allostasis and the Evolution of Human Design”

January 28 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Join us for an exciting talk by Dr. Peter Sterling as he discusses his newest book, “What Is Health? Allostasis and the Evolution of Human Design”.

Thursday, January 28, 2021, 3:00 – 4:00 pm

Register in advance for this meeting.Register

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Peter Sterling
Associate Professor, Author
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
Department of Neuroscience

“What is Health? Allostasis and the Evolution of Human Design”

Human design is constrained by natural selection to maximize performance for a given energy cost. The brain predicts what will be needed and controls metabolism, physiology, and behavior to deliver just enough, just in time. Preventing errors (allostasis), rather than correcting them (homeostasis), saves energy.

Our ancestors survived in challenging environments by learning across the lifespan. Our brain guides learning with an optimal rule that rewards each positive surprise with a pulse of dopamine, which we experience as a pulse of satisfaction. But we now obtain food and comfort without surprise and are thus deprived of frequent dopamine pulses. Lacking them, we grow restless and are driven to seek new sources. One route is through consumption: more food and drugs that produce great surges of dopamine. But the surprise that follows more can only be still more. Moreover, our systems adapt to more by reducing their sensitivities, which drives them into damaging spirals.

Standard medicine promotes drugs to treat addictions by blocking the reward circuit. But strategies, to prevent satisfaction, cannot work. Standard economics promotes “growth” for more “jobs”. But “jobs” devoid of long-term challenge are what now drive us to despair. To restore mental and bodily health, we must re-expand opportunities for small satisfactions via challenging activities and thereby rescue the reward system from its pathological regime.

“…It is a very important book because it does indeed seek, and largely succeeds, to provide a scientific justification for top-down approaches to health…There are other smaller details one could quibble with as one reads, but these pale in comparison with the originality, ambition, scholarliness, and sheer heart of the book.” –John Krakauer, book review in Current Biology (December 2020)

Dr. Peter Sterling is an Associate Professor of neuroscience at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He earned his Ph.D at Western Reserve University and received postdoctoral fellowships in both neurophysiology and anatomy at Harvard Medical School. He has taught an impressive range of  courses from anatomy to neuroscience to physiology as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and currently at University of Pennsylvania. In 2004 he was awarded the Boycott Prize at the FASEB meeting on Retinal Neurobiology and in 2012 received the Proctor Medal from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology. He was most recently awarded the American Publishers Award in Biomedicine and Neuroscience and the Prose Award for Excellence in Biological and Life Sciences in 2016, both for Principles of Neuroscience. 



January 28
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
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Paul Katz