When, What, Why, and How The Who Knew About Self-Actualization

by Charles Lyell on August 16, 2012

“If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high you’d laugh and say nothin’s that simple” – The Who

In a previous post I wrote about Abraham Maslow’s belief that we all start out with the potential for self-actualization and then get it knocked out of us. I also explained why self-actualization is both as simple as The Who knew it was, yet unknowable and unnowable for 99+% of us.

While looking for quotes to add to the earlier post I considered lyrics from The Who’s rock-opera Tommy. The Who’s lyrics proved so spot-on, a pleasurable dopamine hit convinced me to feature them in this follow-up post about self-actualization.

What The Who Knew

“I’m free, I’m free, and freedom tastes of reality
But you’ve been told many times before
Messiahs point you to the door
No one had the guts to leave the temple.”

What The Who Couldn’t Know Until Now

“This unusual and highly successful species spends a great deal of time examining his higher motives and an equal amount of time ignoring his fundamental ones.” – Desmond Morris

With the help of brain scanning equipment it’s possible to link common, unacknowledged, and destructive addictions to the dopamine-induced cravings we share with chimpanzees. These primitive cravings, Abraham Maslow called deficiency needs, are why most of us behave like “…the missing link between the anthropoid apes and civilized men” instead of the self-actualized beings he believed we could all be.

The glitch preventing us from reaching our true potential can be traced to not-very-bright ancestors who cultivated natural cravings into addictions to food, sex, safety, power, acceptance, approval, attention, esteem, and status. To complicate matters, our more recent ancestors added unnatural addictions to dopamine-triggering substances, beliefs, and behaviors, e.g., gambling, drugs, belief systems, and money. Then they bequeathed their addictions to offspring who were indoctrinated by societies controlled by of out-of-control money, power, status, and/or religion addicts.

Since we’re talking about the same neurotransmitter junkies trigger with heroin, it’s no surprise the symptoms are the same, i.e. self-deception, denial, and the dishonesty that allows addicts to continue doing the only thing addicts care about = vigilantly protecting and triggering dopamine flow.

In other words:

Freedom tastes of reality = honesty = self-actualization.
Dopamine-induced addictions taste of delusion = dishonesty = self-deception.

The Power of Expectations

A common misconception is that dopamine is all about pleasure. In actuality, dopamine manipulates behavior through misery, which helps explain why there are so many euphemisms for the word ‘misery,’ including hunger, thirst, titillation, insecurity, annoyance, sadness, unhappiness, distress, wretchedness, hardship, suffering, affliction, anguish, anxiety, angst, torment, torture, agony, pain, discomfort, deprivation, grief, heartache, despair, despondency, dejection, depression, desolation, gloom, moroseness, doldrums, melancholia, woe, sadness, sorrow, fear, envy, jealousy, cravings, needs.

In turn, miseries drive expectations. A simple example of dopamine manipulating behavior is how misery, aka hunger, creates expectations of ending the discomfort by locating and consuming edibles. 

A more complicated example involves wagering. Gambling addicts find slot machines highly addictive because expectation of hitting jackpots temporarily assuage a never-ending sense of misery. Conversely, expectations of losing money (i.e. increasing misery) encourage safety addicts to avoid casinos.

Expectations also explain why most of us discard rancid foods, dislike danger, and avoid honesty.

“No one has the guts to leave the temple” because expectations threaten dopamine flow.

  • Expectations of the unknown terrify safety addicts.
  • Expectations of disapproval traumatize acceptance addicts.
  • Expectations of humiliation paralyze esteem addicts.
  • Expectations of having lies, self-deceptions, and denials exposed totally discombobulates safety, acceptance, and esteem addicts.
  • Expectations of any threat to dopamine flow keeps 99+% of us choosing dopamine over self-actualization.

How The Who Knew

Tommy‘s composer, Pete Townshend, was inspired by the teachings of Meher Baba, an Indian mystic and spiritual master who understood how simple it is to reach the highest high.

In Conclusion

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The self-deceptions, denials, and dishonesty we “re-lie” on to protect dopamine flow keep us from being here now, self-actualizing, experiencing true freedom, and fully comprehending what it means to be human beings sharing an impossible, incomprehensible, mystical, unfathomable, amazing, spiritual experience.

Raising dopamine awareness fosters self-actualization.



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