COLUMNS

You Were Always Going to Read This Column

But will it compel you to respond?

December 2023

Reading time min

Cartoon bubble that says "what do you have to say?

I was walking to check in for my 30th reunion when I found myself overhearing the conversation of the group of men behind me. They were talking about Robert Sapolsky’s new book on free will.

That in itself was interesting. Some 50 faculty members gave 34 talks during Reunion Homecoming, but Sapolsky, a popular lecturer and prolific writer, wasn’t among them. Three days after publication, Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will had hit the zeitgeist—or the Nerd Nation zeitgeist, at any rate.

Well, I thought, I guess we got the cover right.

The alums’ conversation, from what I could discern, was spirited. As you will read in our story, Sapolsky is a “hard determinist.” The professor of biology, of neurology, and of neurosurgery believes that once we take into account all the influences that have affected us to this point—everything from genes to hormones to what we had for breakfast—there’s no room for free will. 

This doesn’t necessarily go down easy. But, as one of the men behind me quipped, “even a moronic idea can be true.”

Oh, I thought, I hope he writes a letter to the editor

The rules of engagement are simple: Write a letter about a story that has appeared in the magazine.

Sapolsky’s thesis is precisely the type that enables rich intellectual debate. Here, youll find a survey form that makes it easy to submit your thoughts. 

Free will’s not your jam? Perhaps you’d like to comment on political science professor Beatriz Magaloni’s efforts to reform policing in Latin America. Or the insights about biology and life from physician-writer Siddhartha Mukherjee, ’93. Or the latest development in athletics, as the Cardinal prepares to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The rules of engagement are simple: Write a letter about a story that has appeared in the magazine. Ideally in the most recent issue or two. And keep it concise. We want to include as many points of view as possible and put them in dialogue with one another. Disagree with a letter? You can write in about that too. Together, we can create a section that showcases the wide-ranging, considered opinions of 242,223 alumni worldwide. 

Now, if you believe Sapolsky, whether you’ll write a letter to the editor is not up to you. But maybe reading this column has made it a smidge more likely.


Kathy Zonana, ’93, JD ’96, is the editor of Stanford. Email her at kathyz@stanford.edu.

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