Guest Editorial: Blaise Pascal Shares His Thoughts on Dopamine

by Blaise Pascal on July 6, 2011

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and philosopher. In 1669, seven years after his death, a collection of Pascal’s notes and  ideas were published in a book titled Pensées (literally, “thoughts”). As you will see, Pascal was yet another brilliant historical figure who had no way of comprehending that he was identifying signs and symptoms that revealed the existence of a debilitating  disorder. It would take hundreds of years before we would have the technology required to understand that Pascal was discussing, describing, dissecting, and diagnosing dopamine addiction.

Though extremely busy being dead, Mr. Pascal agreed to come back to life long enough share his insights with our readers.

Excerpts from Pascal’s Pensées:

When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad adventures and so forth, I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.

But on further consideration, when, after finding the cause of all our ills, I have sought to discover the reason of it, I have found that there is one very real reason, namely, the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely.

Hence it comes that play and the society of women, war and high posts are so sought after. Not that there is in fact any happiness in them, or that men imagine true bliss to consist in money won at play, or in the hare which they hunt; we would not take these as a gift, We do not seek that easy and peaceful lot which permits us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the labor of office, but the bustle which averts these thoughts of ours, and amuses us.

Reasons why we like the chase better than the quarry.

Hence it comes that men so much love noise and stir; hence it comes that the prison is so horrible a punishment; hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible. And it is in fact the greatest source of happiness in the condition of kings that men try incessantly to divert them, and to procure for them all kinds of pleasures.

The king is surrounded by persons whose only thought is to divert the king, and to prevent his thinking of self. For he is unhappy, king though he be if he think of himself.

This is all that men have been able to discover to make themselves happy. And those who philosophize on the matter, and who think men unreasonable for spending a whole day in chasing a hare which they would not have bought, scarce know our nature. The hare in itself would not screen us from the sight of death and calamities; but the chase which turns away our attention from these, does screen us.

Thus passes away all man’s life. Men seek rest in struggle against difficulties; and when they have conquered these, rest becomes insufferable. For we think either of the misfortunes we have or those which threaten us. And even if we should see ourselves sufficiently sheltered on all sides, weariness of its own accord would not fail to arise from the depths of the heart wherein it has its natural roots, and to fill the mind with its poison.

Thus so wretched is man that he would weary even without any cause for weariness from the peculiar state of his disposition; and so frivolous is he that, though full of a thousand reasons for weariness, the least thing, such as playing billiards or hitting a ball, is sufficient to amuse him.

But will you say what object has he in all this? The pleasure of bragging tomorrow among his friends that he has played better than another. So others sweat in their own rooms to show to the learned that they have solved a problem in Algebra, which no one had hitherto been able to solve. Many more expose themselves to extreme perils, in my opinion as foolishly, in order to boast afterwards that they have captured a town. Lastly, others wear themselves out in studying all these things, not in order to become wise, but only in order to prove that they know them; and these are the most senseless of the band, since they are so knowingly, whereas one may suppose of the others, that if they knew it, they would no longer be foolish.

Questions:

– Would Pascal have been capable of admitting to being a dopamine addict?

– The above passages contain over 22 references that provide useful insights into how dopamine works. (How many can you find?)

Here are a few examples:

Dopamine dysfunction

“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.”

“And even if we should see ourselves sufficiently sheltered on all sides, weariness of its own accord would not fail to arise from the depths of the heart wherein it has its natural roots, and to fill the mind with its poison.”

Safety addiction

“…the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely.”

Peer-approval + esteem addiction

“But will you say what object has he in all this? The pleasure of bragging tomorrow among his friends that he has played better than another.”

“So others sweat in their own rooms to show to the learned that they have solved a problem in Algebra, which no one had hitherto been able to solve.”

“Lastly, others wear themselves out in studying all these things, not in order to become wise, but only in order to prove that they know them; and these are the most senseless of the band, since they are so knowingly, whereas one may suppose of the others, that if they knew it, they would no longer be foolish.“

Safety, peer-approval, esteem addiction

“Many more expose themselves to extreme perils, in my opinion as foolishly, in order to boast afterwards that they have captured a town.”

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Discussion

One Response to “Guest Editorial: Blaise Pascal Shares His Thoughts on Dopamine”

  1. Yes I think Pascal would see his DA within his pursuit to expose it – thoughts. BTW, I cannot find a statement that is not addressing DA.

    Thank you for sharing this. This is an amazing website!

    Posted by lain | July 30, 2011, 1:25 pm

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