Dopamine Dialogues: Do Scientists Lack Curiosity and Imagination?

July 1, 2013

The following is the first of a series of dialogues between Charles Lyell and visitors to this site. Anyone interested in joining the discussion is invited to send suggestions, comments, and questions to Charles@DopamineProject.org. Please include “Dopamine Dialogues” in the subject box.

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Re: The Difference Between Dopamine Appeal and Dopamine Repel

Dear DopamineProject.org,

You may be onto something here.

This one is especially powerful: “[We indulge] in unhealthy behaviors for the sole purpose of triggering gratuitous dopamine.”

I wouldn’t be as quick as you to say that these views are dopamine repellent information though. I don’t think the reason why they aren’t more discussed is because they threaten scientists, maybe they just haven’t been looked at in the scientific community yet.

Could you give some specific reasons why scientists would be reluctant to work on this, or in other words, why it would threaten their dopamine flow?

Florent

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Florent,

Thanks for taking the time to write and for the kind words.

Re: I wouldn’t be as quick as you to say that these views are dopamine repellent information though.

It’s easy to distinguish dopamine repellent from dopamine appealing information by popularity. If the ideas on this site were dopamine appealing, the information could be patently false and it would still be available on hundreds, if not thousands, of other sites as well.

Re: Could you give some specific reasons why scientists would be reluctant to work on this, or in other words, why it would threaten their dopamine flow?

The answer is both simple and hard to accept (because it’s so dopamine repellent). Few concepts are more threatening to dopamine flow than information that links addiction to Abraham Maslow’s psychological deficiency needs for safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status. As a result, the professionals responsible for exploring the links between dopamine and psychological needs are not interested in looking into the possibility that they’re addicted to the same neurotransmitter that drug addicts trigger with expectations of scoring heroin, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and prescription medications.

Addiction is all about self-deception and denial. Drug, gambling, and food addicts generally refuse to admit to addictions until they absolutely have to. The same is true for psychological addicts whose dopamine flow is threatened by information that threatens their safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and esteem/status.

Neuroscientists are cranking out two papers an hour. I find the dearth of research into the connections between dopamine and psychological needs more than a little suspicious. Especially since (I believe) all man-made problems can be traced to addictions to safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status, and money. (Money is especially addictive because it can be converted into the dopamine triggered by expectations associated with drugs, gambling, food, sex, safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status, and making more money.)

Thanks again for writing,

Charles

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Hey Charles,

I understand your conclusions and I agree that your ideas are not as dopamine appealing as Kim Kardashian’s booty. My question is whether or not they are really dopamine repellent. My reasoning is that just because they are not dopamine appealing doesn’t mean they are necessarily dopamine repellent, but indeed it may be the case. You have more experience than me on this subject, so I’m curious: when you talk about this to scientists, do you feel that they have a negative emotional reaction to this, or do they react like they just never thought of this idea? I may be wrong, but it seems to me that what you explain by emotional reasons can be simply explained by a lack of curiosity and imagination. Unlike the addicted gambler or alcoholic, there really isn’t much to be ashamed of in the case of safety or peer approval actions since everybody else is also “afflicted”; that wouldn’t be the first time scientists point out a flaw of human behaviours.

What do you think?

Florent

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Florent,

I appreciate your feedback and questions because they help me understand how others interpret and respond to what I’m writing.

There’s generally a big difference between talking with scientists in person and communicating via the internet.

In person, it’s relatively easy to get my points across because I can use peoples’ reactions to demonstrate how dopamine is influencing their thinking. Slowly but surely, scientists and laymen tend to come around. The conversations are usually more effective if there are two or more skeptics because one is likely to notice what’s going on, either by observing his behavior or watching a peer try to deny the undeniable. (I recently had an over-achieving MD go a little crazy when his wife did a quick flip and started agreeing with me / disagreeing with him after witnessing the husband’s suspicious defensiveness.)

When it comes to writing, things get complicated because debates are seldom about truth and usually about protecting and triggering dopamine flow. With experts, who give me at least a little credit for understanding their field, I’m usually successful. With experts, who are convinced that I’m just another crank espousing junk science, it’s hard to make a dent (via Email). One difference is because the straw man arguments (that backfire in person) “work” for dopamine game players playing with themselves.

I’d like to point out that not everything that is dopamine repellent is highly offensive.

Most dopamine repellent threats are simply ignored and/or unconsciously avoided. I find oysters repellent but seldom give them a second thought, except when esteem addicts go on and on about how much they love them.

Moreover, denial and dopamine-induced ignorance kick in with dopamine repellent situations. Many intellectually challenged types are threatened by, dislike, and sometimes hate intellectual superiors yet few are capable of admitting it’s because they’re insecure. Fewer still understand how their reactions can be traced to dopamine flow being threatened when their safety and esteem are threatened.

Back to scientists, I don’t think any of them hate or are incensed by what I’m writing about. Instead, they’re simply not interested. Since I’m a layman they’re free to protect their dopamine flow by ignoring what I’m saying or dismissing it as pseudo science.

When my ideas start attracting attention they’ll find plenty of reasons to go on the attack.

I understand your point about a lack of curiosity and imagination, but isn’t that just as insulting (to a profession that prides itself on innovation) as suggesting that their lack of interest can be traced to addictions?

I’m not talking about emotions, I’m talking about addictions. It doesn’t matter if the addictions are to heroin, food, sex, gambling, or psychological deficiency needs.

Dopamine turns addicts into dopamine zombies. I’ve seen the eyes of geniuses and dolts glaze over when dopamine is being discussed.

I’m regularly surprised at how quickly people forget what they learn about dopamine’s addictive and manipulative powers. Even the few who are initially fascinated somehow lose interest. If patients who learned they had cancerous growths forgot or lost interest, their responses would be considered bizarre.

Understanding how powerful dopamine is changes everything. We wouldn’t let out-of-control junkies destroy the environment but it’s fine for money/power/esteem addict to wreak havoc to score the same dopamine that junkies trigger with heroin. Even crack addicts understand that it’s insane to destroy their lives for a drug they can’t resist yet countless millions piss their lives away mindlessly chasing a brain chemical triggered by expectations of increasing safety, power, acceptance, approval, attention, status, and money.

I suspect you’re making the mistake of projecting your open-mindedness and lack of fear onto scientists (which is admirable). Dopamine is about expectation and it appears there’s a dearth of scientists willing to risk the anticipated backlash of research that exposes their peers’ addictions. First off, I doubt that a study looking into the possibility that the individuals approving the funding are addicted to dopamine-induced psychological needs would find funding. And, if a brave researcher did persevere, it’s a sure thing that any results that threatened dopamine flow would either be ignored or attacked from inside and outside the scientific establishment.

Feedback welcomed.

Charles

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