Dopamine Reviews: Think Like A Freak

by Charles Lyell on December 27, 2014

A book about dopamine

I’m a big fan of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics series and especially their latest book, Think Like A Freak. In addiction to being entertaining, thought provoking, intriguing, and inspiring, TLAF offers valuable insights into neurocentrism.

Neurocentrism is a behavioral model that links all likes, dislikes, cravings, repulsions, beliefs, and biases to primitive drives involving maintaining dopamine flow. Moreover, neurocentrism explains how these same natural drives morph into common, destructive, unacknowledged addictions that few understand are the root cause of all man-made problems.

With the help of TLAF’s authors I’d like to demonstrate how the drive to maintain dopamine flow influences behavior, starting with…

A moral compass

“There is one more explanation for why so many of us think we know more than we do. It has to do with something we all carry with us everywhere we go, even though we may not consciously think about it: a moral compass.”
– Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

Levitt and Dubner believe we develop a moral compass to distinguish right from wrong. Their metaphorical device started me thinking about a neurological compass that always points towards dopamine and away from anything that threatens dopamine flow.

Whereas moral compasses suggest diversity by spinning from rationalized rights to arbitrary wrongs, neurological compasses point to a universal commonality by zeroing in on seemingly unrelated behaviors capable of triggering the exact same chemical squirts in our primitive brains.

Same neurotransmitter, same denials, same self-deceptions, same inability to admit to addictive behaviors.

It doesn’t matter if the powerful neurotransmitter is triggered with legal or illegal drugs, gambling or social media, belief systems or money, Abraham Maslow’s physiological deficiency needs (d-needs) for food and sex or psychological d-needs for safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status.

To sum up, the same brain chemical keeps junkies shooting up, smokers lighting up, alcoholics lapping up, mountaineers climbing up, entertainers acting up, food addicts scoffing up, sex addicts fucking up, safety addicts shutting up, power addicts screwing up, acceptance addicts sucking up, approval addicts kissing up, attention addicts cutting up, and status addicts dressing up.

The three hardest words to say — I don’t know

“Every time we pretend to know something, we are doing the same: protecting our own reputation rather than promoting the collective good. None of us want to look stupid, or at least overmatched, by admitting we don’t know an answer. The incentives to fake it are simply too strong.” – Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

Researchers recently discovered why pretending to know what we don’t, protecting reputations, not wanting to look stupid, or overmatched all involve protecting dopamine flow.

According to a article, Rejection is more powerful than you think, “Rejections elicit emotional pain so sharp it affects our thinking, floods us with anger, erodes our confidence and self-esteem, and destabilizes our fundamental feeling of belonging.”

Neurologically, most humans find it impossible to admit to ignorance because psychological threats to safety/power, acceptance/approval, esteem/status, and dopamine flow are every bit as daunting as physical threats of being pummeled. Given dopamine’s mind-boggling power, it’s no surprise so very few think like freaks while most run with the herds mindlessly trampling independent thinkers.

Smart people and predictions

“Smart people love to make smart-sounding predictions, no matter how wrong they may turn out to be.” – Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

This is an excellent example of how the same neurotransmitter drives different addicts in different directions. While safety addicts obsess over protecting dopamine flow against expectations of being caught, ridiculed, or rejected, attention/esteem addicts jump at every opportunity to artificially score dopamine with empty words that attract attention, inflate esteem, and (sometimes) fill bank accounts.

An obvious incentive

“Let’s begin with the most obvious incentive: money. There is probably no quadrant of modern life in which financial incentives do not hold serious sway.”
– Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

Motivational speaker Zig Ziggler explains how millions of quarter inch drill bits are purchased every year by consumers who aren’t interested in owning quarter inch drill bits. What they actually want are quarter inch holes.

Similarly, people aren’t interested in money. What everyone wants is dopamine. Money is the ultimate incentive because it can be easily converted into dopamine-triggering drugs, bets, video games, food/sex, safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, esteem/status, and/or more money.

An obscure disincentive

“There are about 38,000 suicides a year in the United States, more than twice the number of homicides. Suicide is one of the top ten causes of death for nearly every age group. Because talking about suicide carries such a strong moral taboo, these facts are little known.” – Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

Humans avoid considering, discussing, acknowledging topics that threaten psychological d-needs and dopamine flow. For too many, the list of dopamine repellent topics includes suicide, death, bodily functions, fears, racism, climate change, personal addictions, and how everything we think, believe, and do can be linked to maintaining dopamine flow.

Dopamine biases

“We tend to pay attention to what other people say and, if their views resonate with us, we slide our perception atop theirs.”
– Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

All biases, predilections, and preferences can be linked to the drive to maintain dopamine flow.

The same dopamine-induced eating biases that continue to ensure dumb animals ingest healthy quantities of life-sustaining edibles (and avoid life-threatening toxins) have been short-circuited by clever money addicts to trick potentially sapient humans into consuming unhealthy amounts of life-threatening (but profitable) junks foods (while shunning wholesome fuels).

Psychological biases explain why esteem-inflating, dopamine-triggering, flattering deceptions are seldom questioned while esteem-deflating, dopamine-threatening, addiction-exposing, indisputable information is ignored, mocked, or summarily dismissed.

Racial biases explain why craven safety/esteem addicts find it easier to hate, demean, and blame scapegoats than own up to safety, esteem, and dopamine threatening admissions of cowardice.

Confirmation biases explain why the information contained on this site might not be common knowledge for years.

Dr. Barry Marhall

“Marshall was variously ridiculed, pilloried, and ignored. Are we to seriously believe that some loopy Australian found the cause of ulcers by swallowing a batch of some bacteria that he says he discovered himself?”
– Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

History books are filled with examples of how frightened experts react when their power, positions, prestige, cash and dopamine flows are threatened. If Dr. Marshall’s opponents had their way he’d be an inside joke (about the perils of hubris) instead of a Nobel Prize recipient. And ulcer sufferers would still be wasting billions on ersatz cures.

We’ll never know how many breakthroughs were ignored, overlooked, discouraged, delayed, and/or squashed because they threatened the dopamine flow of entrenched authorities who trigger dopamine with esteem-boosting delusions about being the sole legitimate arbiters of scientific inquiry.

To be continued…


The Freaks Picture Gallery: Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Ignaz Semmelweis, Albert Einstein, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner




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