A recent South Park episode featured the Prince of Temptation delivering a wicked discourse on dopamine.
As the demon tells Stan Marsh, “It’s not fuckin’ rocket science, this stuff.”
He’s right, it isn’t rocket science. But if dopamine is so easy to understand a couple of cartoonists get it, why can’t scientists?
Granted, young Mr. Marsh overstated the ramifications, but not by much. In fact, it’s possible to get addicted to many, many things because there’s only one addiction and it’s to the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Addicts only seem different because dopamine is triggered by so many substances, behaviors, and cravings, including prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, gambling, video games, social media, tanning, money, belief systems, plus Abraham Maslow’s physiological deficiency needs (d-needs) for food/sex and psychological d-needs for safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status.
Since there’s only one addiction, drug, money, power, status, and other addicts exhibit similar symptoms: self-deception, denial, an unwillingness to admit to addictions, an inability to assume responsibility (and disregard) for the damage they cause, an intransigent commitment to continue indulging addictive behaviors, and an uncanny ability to ignore, dislike, dismiss, or attack individuals and information capable of exposing or interfering with addictive behaviors.
Dopamine makes us do it
All behavior can be linked to maintaining dopamine flow. Nothing else matters. The reason this isn’t common knowledge is because considering, studying, and especially understanding how the brain chemical manipulates behavior poses major threats to dopamine flow.
The neurotransmitter is especially effective because it’s triggered by expectations. If just a few researchers were enticed by dopamine-inducing expectations of accolades, grants, awards, and riches for proving that addictions are the root cause of all man-made problems, the information on this site would be old news and South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker wouldn’t have wasted the Prince of Temptation’s time.
Unfortunately for humankind, few expectations are more threatening to scientists’ safety, approval, esteem, and dopamine flow than first admitting to money, power, acceptance, and/or status addictions and then risking certain rejection, vilification, repudiation, loss of funding, positions, and reputations for outing colleagues, bosses, and esteemed experts.
History books are filled with reminders of how vindictive scientists can be when their power, positions, status, finances, and dopamine flow are threatened by colleagues who make the mistake of thinking outside the institutions.
In their book, Think Like A Freak authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner write about Dr. Barry Marshall. Dr. Marshall suspected bacteria, and not stress, caused ulcers. Until Marshall proved himself right, he was “variously ridiculed, pilloried, and ignored” by peers and the $8 billion ulcer industry whose profits/dopamine flow he threatened. That was only a decade ago. We’ll never know how many scientific breakthroughs were ignored, overlooked, discouraged, delayed, and/or squashed by members of a profession who are more interested in triggering dopamine by convincing one another they’re the arbiters of scientific inquiry than actually being what they only pretend to be.
So there you have it
The difference between South Park’s creators and scientists has little to do with intelligence and much to do with why different personality types gravitate to different professions.
To their credit, Parker and Stone couldn’t care less about pissing people off, including their bosses. After years of success they aren’t worried about being fired for threatening superiors’ dopamine flow. And if they do get canned, they can rely on experience, reputations, backers, contacts, and balls to help them repeat past successes.
To their discredit, researchers are preoccupied with placating peers’, superiors’, and Kahunas’ dopamine flow. They know if they upset enough colleagues and/or the wrong big shots they’ll be challenged, disgraced, mocked, and banished. One disastrous move and decades of education, loans, acquiescence, hard work, job security, reputations, contacts, and careers are out the window.
In other words, Parker and Stone could never be scientists because they seldom, whereas researchers constantly, protect dopamine flow by kissing ass.
When it comes to triggering dopamine, South Park’s dynamic duo score the neurotransmitter by having fun, making lots of dough, entertaining and pissing people off. Researchers trigger the same dopamine with esteem inflating delusions about being members of an elite group responsible for making bold breakthroughs and earth shattering discoveries.
And that’s why a couple of cartoonists (with little to lose and everything to gain) get how dopamine works while scientists (with everything to lose and little to gain) aren’t interested in getting it.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask the Prince of Temptation.