My name is Charles Lyell and I’m not a scientist. That doesn’t mean the information on this site is wrong. Instead, it means I’m free to extend what is known about dopamine to areas that established researchers dare not explore. (See: You Don’t Have to Be a Scientist to Understand How Dopamine Works.)
I‘ve spent over 40 years trying to figure out how a species with so much potential could end up in the predicament we’re in. My quest began with a suspicion about something being seriously wrong with Homo sapiens. The symptoms that started me considering the possibility of widespread insanity included child abuse, human trafficking, slavery, bigotry, wars, destruction, pollution, lying, cheating, stealing, and venal leaders selling out the human race. To my way of thinking, sane humans wouldn’t flirt with self-annihilation.
I set out to answer two questions:
I was convinced that there had to be a book, teacher, teaching, discipline, something offering a plausible explanation.
Collecting information that confirmed my suspicions was easy. Finding a comprehensive theory that wasn’t just another rehash of the symptoms, not so much.
Fear, greed, ignorance, stupidity, and depravity didn’t explain the glut of highly intelligent, self-deceptive hypocrites. Placing the blame on a primitive past left me asking why humans, capable of rational thinking, weren’t able to stop behaving like irrational animals. Reading that people are unconscious, unaware, self-deceptive, asleep, automatons, zombies, sheep, (and worse) reminded me I was on the right track, but words and metaphors aren’t answers.
Answering my questions turned into a hobby/obsession that introduced me to a wide range of subjects and sent me hunting down scores of false leads.
Something was keeping Homo sapiens behaving more like chimpanzees than conscious, reasoning, humane beings.
Finally, in 2009 I switched to working part time and followed a hunch — that a congenital brain disease was somehow responsible for the widespread self-deceptions about irrational and inhumane behaviors. It took more than a year to realize that looking for an exotic brain disease was pointless because a common disease was staring everyone in the face the whole time — addiction.
Addiction explained the irrational and inhumane behavior. Addiction’s symptoms (self-deception and denial) explained why humans find it so easy to ignore and deny irrational and inhumane behavior.
My aha moment came in 2010 while reading a ground-breaking study.
Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute found that laboratory rats given the opportunity to consume foods that are normally considered highly palatable yet extremely unhealthy (i.e., high-calorie, high-fat junk foods) will overeat. This overeating forces a neuroadaptive change in their dopamine circuits that is similar to the changes in brains of people suffering from drug addiction. As the brain’s pathways grow accustomed to being overstimulated a pathological cycle begins where addicts require a constant flow of dopamine to avoid entering a state of withdrawal.
The study supported related research linking dopamine to other addictions.
Using brain scanning equipment, researchers were confirming that there is only one addiction and it’s to dopamine. Heroin, alcohol, nicotine, sex, gambling, and junk foods turned out to be different dopamine triggers.
The realization that addictions held the answer to my questions raised new questions — What else might we be addicted to? What was everyone missing?
Knowing that food and sex were two of Abraham Maslow’s level one deficiency need (D-need) I started looking into the possibility that humans were addicted to Maslow’s other D-needs for safety (power), acceptance (peer approval, attention), and esteem (status).
Frans de Waal’s books helped me connect Maslow’s D-needs to the survival needs our species share with chimpanzees.
After confirming that the survival needs humans share with chimpanzees are dopamine-induced, I hypothesized that our ancestors turned Maslow’s deficiency needs into addictions.
40 years of information, questions, clues, and puzzle pieces fell into place.
Certain that real scientists were reporting similar findings I combed the internet. When nothing turned up I contacted dopamine experts and asked about researchers looking into the connection between dopamine and all of Maslow’s D-needs.
The responses were perplexing. Instead of being dismissed or set straight, I was told how “interesting,” “intriguing,” or “insightful” my question was. Then the researchers and science writers would tell me they didn’t know about anyone looking into the connections — and that was usually that. On a few occasions I was given leads that turned out to be more compliments, can’t help, goodbye.
The one science writer who was willing to check out this blog (after first dismissing me as a crank on a soapbox) ended up writing an excellent article about dopamine.
David Bradley, the author of the article, included a link to this site.
This article was inspired by a question addressed to me via Twitter from the owner of a site called the Dopamine Project, who wanted to know why medical science was not inclined to investigate the role of dopamine in humanity’s addiction to money, power, fear, approval, and self-esteem.
As of 1/18/15 the article was viewed 11,946 times and received one comment.
Granted, in a world where puff pieces about reality TV stars collect millions of hits overnight, twelve thousand views in three years isn’t exactly impressive. But these were researchers, scientists, and inquisitive types who were at least interested in learning about dopamine. Yet not one of them contacted me. Not one.
That’s when it finally dawned on me that the puzzle was there for the solving because even the experts don’t want to know.
Without realizing it, the scientists essentially verified how widespread and powerful the dopamine-induced aversion to learning about addictions to safety, acceptance, and esteem really is.
So now I’m sitting on one of the most significant breakthroughs of the century, as well as a straightforward explanation (dopamine-induced aversive behavior) as to why nobody wants to know. And I can’t give the information away.
But that hasn’t kept me from trying.