Dopamine Games: Straw Man Arguments

by Charles Lyell on May 14, 2013

"It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into."    – Jonathan Swift

Straw Man Arguments is a popular dopamine game that employs a clever ploy —  misrepresenting what was said. The objective is to “win” disputes by questioning, disproving, dismissing, trivializing, mocking, being offended by, and/or objecting to what wasn’t said.

Gamesters never figure out that dopamine games are illogical, irrational, and/or dishonest because dopamine games are never about logic, reason, or honesty, and always about triggering dopamine and/or protecting dopamine flow against the threats posed by logic, reason, and honesty.

Straw Man Arguments is one reason face-to-face communication is the only way to help most people understand how dopamine is doing their thinking for them. That’s because transparent arguments that work for readers, who find it easy to fool themselves when playing alone, backfire when challenged. As arguments are exposed for what they are, i.e. attempts to protect dopamine flow, skeptics get to witness dopamine-induced aversive behavior in action. (Dopamine in motivational control: rewarding, aversive, and alerting)

Since it’s not possible to meet everyone interested in raising their dopamine awareness, I’m including my responses to a few favorite straw man arguments.

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Straw Man Argument: Dopamine occurs naturally. How can you be against something that’s natural?

Charles Lyell: I’m not anti-dopamine. Dopamine is like salt. A little fosters survival. Too much threatens survival. What I am against is dishonesty and dopamine is responsible for all dishonesty. People lie for one reason — to protect and trigger dopamine flow.

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SMA: You can’t stop people from being addicted to what you call dopamine triggers, such as drugs, food, sex, or any of the other deficiency needs identified by Abraham Maslow.

CL: I don’t want to stop anyone from doing anything. My goal is to help raise dopamine awareness so people understand that food, sex, safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and esteem/status addicts are slaves to the same dopamine-induced cravings that keep heroin addicts lying, cheating, stealing, and scrambling for the next dopamine-triggering fix. Learning how to make logical, rational, mindful decisions, instead of letting a mindless brain chemical do our thinking for us, can increase happiness and decrease misery. 

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SMA: Since you’re saying that money and power addicts are destroying environments to score the same dopamine junkies trigger with heroin, you must think money and power addicts should be arrested too.

CL: I don’t think, and have never said, anyone should be arrested for triggering dopamine. I do believe that all addicts should be held accountable for hurting others. And I believe it’s time to stop looking up to money and power addicts and stop looking down on junkies for being addicted to the same neurotransmitter.

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SMA: But dopamine isn’t the only neurotransmitter responsible for behavior.

CL: Granted, but it doesn’t matter if free will is usurped by a single brain chemical or a combination of chemicals. What matters is that the chemicals that continue to help dumb animals survive are threatening our species’ survival. I decided, early on, to focus on dopamine in order to streamline explanations. Referring to neurotransmitters or brain chemicals, or matching behaviors and neurotransmitters gets unnecessarily complicated and confusing. Confusion = dopamine repel. To reduce dopamine repel I zeroed in on dopamine as a simple, straightforward, and effective (but still relevant and reasonably accurate) meme. In an upcoming post I’ll discuss what dopa-meme means to me.

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SMA: You’re making too much about the lack of research involving Maslow’s deficiency needs. Grants are hard to come by and researchers can’t investigate every harebrained theory.

CL: Scientists are using brain scanning equipment to crank out almost two papers an hour. They’ve linked dopamine to autism, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases, success, failure, food, sex, video games, social media, celebrity worship, aversive behavior, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and beer. I find it suspicious that there aren’t any studies looking into the connections between dopamine-induced addictions to ALL of Abraham Maslow’s deficiency needs, especially the emotional needs for safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and esteem/status. And I’m convinced that the same dopamine-induced aversion, that kept Galileo’s attackers arrogantly refusing to look through the astronomer’s telescope, is keeping today’s researchers from looking into the possibility that they’re addicted to dopamine-triggering emotions associated with safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and/or esteem/status addicts

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SMA: Turning out opposing views doesn't make an idea correct.

CL: I’m not offering an opposing view. I’m extending what it already known and accepted about neurotransmitters to areas that researchers do not seem interested in exploring. 

According to Scripps Research Associate Professor Paul J. Kenny, “What happens in addiction is lethally simple. The reward pathways in the brain have been so overstimulated that the system basically turns on itself, adapting to the new reality of addiction, whether its cocaine or cupcakes.” (Compulsive Eating Shares Same Addictive Biochemical Mechanism with Cocaine, Heroin Abuse)

If cupcakes can short circuit the brain’s reward pathways, why can’t dopamine-triggering emotions overstimulate the dopaminergic system until it basically turns on itself, adapting to the new reality of emotional addictions?

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SMA: Claiming that scientists don't know because they are fooled by dopamine is a clever way of dismissing anyone who disagrees with you.

CL: True, but suggesting that an explanation might be a clever gambit doesn’t invalidate a valid explanation. What if dopamine is so incredibly powerful that in addition to being responsible for worldwide obesity and drug epidemics, autism, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Diseases, it’s capable of getting dopamine experts to fool themselves? Would it be possible to explain how dopamine manipulates behavior without the explanation sounding like a contrivance to dismiss anyone who disagrees?

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SMA: If what you say is true, doesn’t that mean that your obsession with dopamine is all about you triggering dopamine?

CL: Of course. To be honest, I’m never sure why so many people bring this up. If anything, the question provides an example of the questioner’s attempt to protect dopamine flow and my answer acknowledges a need to trigger dopamine. (I’d like to believe it’s a dopamine-induced need to figure things out but admit it might be to elevate my esteem. Based on the negative feedback, it’s definitely not to ensure safety or garner approval/acceptance.)

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Discussion

4 Responses to “Dopamine Games: Straw Man Arguments”

  1. If you are addicted, then apparently you are not addicted to the substances and activities you crave, nor to the nicotine of cigarette smoke, the thrill of the roulette wheel, the gratification of sex, nor to the feelings of power. You are, in fact, addicted to the dopamine and its effects. From this notion, it seems obvious that one could imagine addiction in every single walk of life, not just the common addictions with which so many people are familiar: alcohol, nicotine, heroin, gambling, sex, even chocolate , to recap from an earlier issue of the magazine. But, also to those behaviors that give their actors the dopamine reward, whether that’s the quest for ever greater riches way beyond any individual’s personal needs, political and other forms of power, religious ardor even, and the global problems they have wrought throughout the centuries. They all come back to that rewarding neurotransmitter. In some sense, it all reduces to that small molecule, that dopamine.

    Posted by Gary O. Jackson | June 5, 2013, 4:12 pm
  2. LOVE your paper here. LOVE the hypocrisy in the straw man arguments. LOVE the vicious circle fallacy inferred in both the arguments and the actual dopamine chase. LOVE how people want to defend their dopamine addictions. Just watch a youtube video of Sam Harris on free will – his argument against free will could go hand and hand with your ideas here. LOVE IT! Mankind will defend his right to pleasure no matter how much pain he must suffer … just to release that dopamine! lol

    Posted by Rhonda | July 16, 2013, 12:13 pm

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