You Don’t Have to Be A Scientist to Understand How Dopamine Works

by Charles Lyell on July 4, 2011

“One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen.”  – Robert A. Heinlein

When it comes to knowing about dopamine addiction, you not only don’t have to be a scientist, you might be better off if you aren’t one. In a previous post, “What’s Wrong With This Picture?,” I quote British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley who wrote, “‘Authorities,’ ‘disciples,’ and ‘schools’ are the curse of science and do more to interfere with the work of the scientific spirit than all its enemies.”

I’m beating this particular dead horse to challenge a dangerous misconception that goes, “if dopamine addiction were a real and present danger, scientists would have discovered it.” The problem is, as Heinlein, Huxley, and others have noted, scientists often present the biggest obstacles to scientific breakthroughs. And nowhere is this more evident than in analyzing the accumulating research highlighting dopamine addiction’s widespread existence.

Understanding dopamine addiction doesn’t require advanced degrees, funding, or scientific papers. You don’t have to grok it. Connecting the trove of dots doesn’t take any “thinking outside the box.” The only requirement is a willingness to look at what’s actually going on inside the proverbial box. This is where scientists come up short and the reason why they might be the last group to look into the links between dopamine addiction and the dearth of research into dopamine addiction’s existence.

Most scientists’ initial motivation can be traced to dopamine-induced rewards triggered by studying the marvels of our world. Some are seduced by dopamine-induced dreams of fame and fortune.

A major turnoff for logical candidates is an illogical requirement demanded of novices  — a willingness to toe a thin line. Acquiescence is a prerequisite for admission into a prestigious and exclusive box. To gain acceptance, aspirants demonstrate deference by spending years studying what they’re told to study, while accumulating massive debts. The process requires pleasing scores of guard keepers wielding the power to withhold grades, recommendations, and admissions that can block entrance into the box.

Hurdles to get into the box are followed by hoops the boxed in must jump through to remain in the box. Hoops include published papers, promotions, titles, credentials, funding, and working on research that pleases the signers of checks. Most of all, staying in the box means never antagonizing any number of defensive twits who feel it’s their duty to protect the box’s prestige, image, and existence from threats, both inside and outside the box.

The bigwigs scrambling to control the box tend to be safety addicts who crave power, peer-approval addicts who chase acceptance, and status addicts who are slaves to the dopamine fueled need for esteem. It doesn’t matter if the supposed decision makers controlling the direction of scientific research are reporting to university, government, or corporate bureaucrats — the bosses share a vested interest in not wanting to know  they are dopamine addicts. This leaves researchers with zero incentive to delve into dopamine addiction’s existence and a lot of seemingly logical reasons to kowtow to addicts disinclined to study what they don’t want to learn. In addition to job and funding protection, scientists do not want to get kicked out of a box they spent valuable years studying, struggling, and sometimes cheating to get into.

In other words, one of the key reasons researchers avoid delving into dopamine addiction’s existence is because their efforts are unlikely to produce positive dopamine payoffs. Worse — exposing dopamine addiction comes with the threat of severe dopamine withdrawal in the form of poor grades, withheld recommendations, hampered advancement, rejected papers, missed opportunities, lost funding, blemished prestige, sidetracked careers, and being banished from the box.

What do you think?

Are all scientists hopeless?

Will scientists continue to be a bane to publicizing dopamine addiction or will a few step up to the plate and risk striking out?

How would you try to help a potentially helpful, open-minded, insightful scientist understand what’s at stake?


One Response to “You Don’t Have to Be A Scientist to Understand How Dopamine Works”

  1. My apologies, but the number of inane spam comments convinced me to turn off the comments feature on all posts.

    If you have a legitimate comment, suggestion, and/or question please send it by using the Contact Us page.

    Thank you

    Posted by Charles | October 4, 2014, 7:30 am

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