Keeping a Dopamine Diary, Part 3: Wrestling With Dopamine Ignorance

by Charles Lyell on February 17, 2013

“Every man is a diary in which he writes one story while intending to write another. His humblest moment is when he compares the two.” – Hugh B. Brown

Everything we do we do to protect or trigger dopamine flow. This isn’t common knowledge because those 11 words pose a catastrophic threat to esteem, which promptly turns dopamine flow off. At the same time, the conceit that human behavior is complex beyond comprehension protects and boosts esteem, which protects and boosts dopamine flow.

The double whammy, that punishes threatening facts with dopamine withdrawal and rewards flimsy deceptions with easy dopamine, produced a “cerebral fix” that makes it possible to ignore the obvious, deny the undeniable, and believe the unbelievable. I call the fix, that helps us fool ourselves and others, dopamine ignorance.

Our unconscious but clever predecessors cultivated, refined, and bequeathed the powerful dopamine ignorance that continues to keep unconscious but clever Homo sapiens ignoring dopamine ignorance.

Without dopamine ignorance, it would be impossible to ignore how wars, bigotry, hatred, pollution, lying, cheating, corruption, and addictions to food, sex, safety, power, approval, status, beliefs, and money are all symptoms of a serious disorder plaguing our species.

Dopamine ignorance helped Galileo’s detractors ignore the fears keeping them from risking a safety, esteem, and dopamine depleting peek through the gifted astronomer’s telescope. Dopamine ignorance helped the same experts trigger extra dopamine with esteem boosting delusions of being too intelligent to be conned by a charlatan’s contraption.

Galileo’s foes didn’t care about religion, truth, facts, or science. They were out to protect and trigger dopamine flow by protecting their status and pretending they were much smarter, braver, and more inquisitive than they were. And, thanks to dopamine ignorance, most of them never had to admit to their deceptions, cowardice, and depravity.

Centuries later, little has changed.

Rising Above Dopamine Ignorance

“What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires — desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.” – Bertrand Russell

Rising above dopamine ignorance is challenging but doable. The process starts with a willingness to accept the possibility that dopamine ignorance is real, ubiquitous, and formidable. If you find the concept comprehensible, noticing examples of dopamine ignorance will be as easy as paying attention.

One way to gain valuable insights into dopamine ignorance is to attempt to give up one or more favorite “habits” for a few hours, days, or weeks. The habits can be the internet, drinking, sex, chocolate, cursing at other drivers, or anything you enjoy and find difficult to stop doing. Each time you give something up, witness the tug-of-war between the cravings and your commitment to keep your word.

It doesn’t matter if you give in every time. What matters is that you learn to understand how dopamine ignorance helps you ignore your promise as you manufacture rationalizations to justify changing your mind.

For the next month

“Your conscious mind is always trying to give you a clear picture, but you often allow preconceived ideas to block out this intelligence.”  – Seth

Whenever you notice examples of dopamine ignorance enter them in your dopamine diary. Next, link each example to how it protects the dopamine flow triggered by food, sex, safety, power, acceptance, approval, attention, esteem, status, beliefs, and/or money.

I’m including sample entries to demonstrate how little time keeping a life-changing diary takes.

Example A
“Forgot” that I swore to not drink over the weekend. Ended up drunk as a skunk on Saturday night.

Evaluation: Protecting and triggering booze-related dopamine flow.

Conclusion: Do I crave alcohol? Do I like getting drunk more than I’m willing to admit?

Example B
At the sight of a juicy cheeseburger, all concerns about animal suffering and how unhealthy beef consumption is completely disappeared from my mind.

Evaluation: Protecting dopamine flow triggered by food (fats, salts, sugar).

Conclusion: I claim to care about animals and my health, but when expectations of titillating taste buds starts the dopamine flowing, dopamine ignorance keeps me ignoring my concerns and the only thing I care about is chomping on the burger. I might be part dopamine zombie.

Example C
Lied to myself about lying to a friend and then continued to deny (and rationalize) about what I did.

Evaluation: It was if I couldn’t help myself. Instead of telling the truth about an experience that made me feel like a loser, I embellished the facts to save face. The only thing that mattered was protecting and increasing acceptance and esteem.

Conclusion: The only thing that mattered was protecting and triggering dopamine flow.


2 Responses to “Keeping a Dopamine Diary, Part 3: Wrestling With Dopamine Ignorance”

  1. The part about giving up your habits and cravings sounds very zen to me. Did the Buddhists came across the destructive nature of ego/dopamine addiction centuries ago?

    Posted by Chris Gauss | December 5, 2013, 5:06 am
    • The Buddhists weren’t the only ones who understood that something was getting in the way of consciousness. Many religions, mystics, philosophers, psychologists, and individuals identified the problem. But without modern brain scanning equipment it wasn’t possible to link the various observations, teachings, and theories to neurotransmitters.

      Posted by Charles | December 5, 2013, 8:48 am

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