Dopamine Addiction & The Chemistry of Boredom

Preface

Armed with the knowledge of dopamine self-addiction and the deep logical error elsewhere referred to as the ‘dyadic flip’, we can look again at the related neuroscience. The knowledge of dopamine gene differences in the population at large having been uncovered, the picture that emerges strongly correlates with what the ancient mystics have been trying to tell us about the “lowered awareness” or “heaviness” state all along.

The great discovery in brain chemistry that explains the human vulnerability to falling into an unhealthy spiral of diminishing awareness, robotic behavior and deductive-only thinking (also called linear-only thinking) was made by Professor Russell Barkley of the University of Massachusetts.

Because he is evidently trapped in linear-only thinking he sees his own work exactly the other way round, and believes he has found the difference that handicaps people so that they are unable to be robotic. If we want to understand Barkley’s contribution from the mystics’ point of view (or even from the ‘difference’ point of view), we have to separate his chemical discovery from the reasoning he has built on it, because his reasoning is focused on using the difference to explain a mental handicap that doesn’t really exist.

Barkley has discovered that people who are liable to be diagnosed as having ADHD (that is, people who are non-robotic and picked on by teachers) all have much lower levels of a brain chemical called dopamine than robotic people have.

He has also discovered that non-robotic people have one of two genetic differences, compared to the majority of people. Non-robotic people with the first difference are able to remove excess dopamine from their brains much more quickly than most people.

Non-robotic people with the second difference have a particular dopamine receptor that is the wrong shape, and doesn’t bind to dopamine at all.

Like adrenaline, dopamine is an important chemical in our bodies. It’s used to stop motor nerves firing after the brain stops telling them to move the muscle they are responsible for. Without dopamine, the brain fires a nerve to make a muscle move, and when the brain stops the nerve keeps firing for a while, so the muscle keeps moving even when the person doesn’t want it to.

In Parkinson’s Disease, people lose the ability to make dopamine at all, with the result that their muscles don’t stop moving when they should. It’s when the person uses the opposing muscle to try to correct the extra movement, and that movement doesn’t stop when it should either, that the person finds themselves with two muscles pulling against each other, and the shaking characteristic of Parkinson’s starts to happen.

So in most situations, dopamine is understood to be a neuro-inhibitor. It’s presence stops nerve cells from firing, like pouring water on a fire.

There are lots of situations in our bodies where one part of our body (and that includes our brains and every other part of our nervous system) wants to signal to another part. In modern computers, signals like that are usually carried by electrical signals moving along wires. In our living bodies, signals are usually carried by chemicals that are released by the sender and detected by the receiver.

There are many kinds of cells that have receptors on them, that are good for detecting different kinds of chemicals and so receiving chemical signals. Receptors work by having a shape that is just right for the chemical they detect to fit them, and chemically bind. When the receptor binds to the chemical it detects, the cell has detected the chemical. So that the signal can be sent again when it is needed, chemical signalling systems also need the ability to remove signal chemicals after they have been used, and make the system ready to detect the chemical again.

Because Barkley has discovered that robotic people have high dopamine and a particular group of dopamine receptors (called the DRD4 dopamine receptors) that correctly fit dopamine, he has concluded that in order to be robotic (which he thinks is healthy), people need to be constantly receiving a dopamine chemical message from themselves, like this:

Some people are not able to receive the dopamine message from themselves, because their DRD4 receptors can’t bind dopamine. Because of this, Barkley thinks they are not able to be robotic, and this makes them mentally handicapped. He has also noticed that they have low levels of dopamine in their brains, although they don’t seem to have any problems producing dopamine.

Barkley doesn’t say why he thinks the inability to receive dopamine means the non-robotic people stop producing it. So Barkley sees non-robotic people doing this:

From the mystics’ point of view, we can understand the DRD4 dopamine signal path as the physical mechanism of the off switch for the human mind. It’s Gurdjieff’s organ kundabuffer.

Following the example of adrenaline addiction, where behavior causes more message, and message causes more behavior, we can draw the diagram for people trapped in robotic behavior like this:

This full picture shows the reason why people with a non-working DRD4 receptor also produce low amounts of dopamine – it’s because they aren’t doing the boring behaviors that raise dopamine to try to turn their minds off. The same idea explains why people who clear up dopamine very quickly can stay free of boring behavior. Even if they engage in boring behaviors, not much of the dopamine they produce gets through to turn their minds off:

 

Such a person can only turn their minds off when they get so bored that they produce huge amounts of dopamine, and enough gets through to turn their minds off:

This way of understanding Barkley’s discoveries explains a great deal, from the mystics’ point of view. The hard core of people who can never turn off their minds because their DRD4 receptors don’t work, comprise about 3% of the population. They are the ones who get into the most trouble with the robotic people around them, and have the greatest opportunity to start to see things in the way the mystics do, because their minds are always turned on.

They are also the most vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and sterility in the world around them, and so more vulnerable to depression and emotional damage. Other studies, done by different people to Barkley, have identified exactly the same variation in the DRD4 dopamine receptor as an “alcoholism gene”, because many people who end up in trouble with alcohol or other sense numbing drugs share it.

In fact, the gene doesn’t code for alcoholism any more than it codes for mental handicap. It codes for staying awake when everyone else goes to sleep with their eyes open, and when people don’t realize what is happening, they can get very upset and turn to alcohol.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the DRD4 variation is often found in Celtic peoples, bearing in mind their excellent traditions of poetry, music, and curious non-deductive (non-linear) modes of thought. Still other studies claim that exactly the same DRD4 variation is a “novelty seeking” gene, which causes people to be very energetic and seek new experiences. Of course they are indeed novelty seeking in comparison with their boredom addicted neighbors, but that’s a relative judgement. They don’t have a gene that makes them seek novelty, instead they have a gene that stops them avoiding it, so they retain the human normal level of interest in novelty!

The way that three groups of linear-only minded scientists, working in exactly the same area, can describe a single gene as coding for mental handicap, dynamic successfulness and alcoholism, without realizing the contradictions in what they are saying, is itself a striking example of how far from sense reactive deductivism (linear-only thinking) acting alone can stray. When the inductive ability to spontaneously notice something, pause and say “Hold on a minute…” is lost, nonsense and contradictions can build without end.

The second group of people with genetic immunity to falling asleep don’t enjoy the kind of protection that people with the DRD4 variation have. This group comprise about 17% of the population.

If things get boring enough they will become robotic, but it takes much more boredom to do this than most people need. These are the people that seem to go through life changing their values and approach over and over again. During periods of full awareness they develop interests and relationships that fulfill them. Then after a period of under-stimulation they sink into robot-ism, and the activities that they previously found fulfilling seem to them to be ridiculous and lacking because they don’t provide them with enough boredom to maintain their addiction. From the outside, their awake friends see them as becoming shallow and like a herd animal.

After a while they go through a period of change, perhaps occasioned by a change in their job situation, and they snap out of it. Then they find their activities boring, and their current crop of relationships tedious and scripted. Because they always spend some of their time in a herd-like state of mind, these people learn the behaviors that only members of a herd can notice, so they don’t suffer as much unpleasantness from the majority who are permanently trapped in robot-ism, but they also go through life not understanding that it is they who are changing rather than authentically interesting lifestyles always proving wanting, and their own personal development is interrupted by periods of robot-ism so often that they rarely make much progress in the poetic direction, even though they often yearn for this.

When we add the 3% of full immunes to the 17% of partial immunes, we have 20% of the population – one person in five – who have some experience of doing inductive thinking, and the richer universe which it reveals, at some time in their lives.

This exactly matches the observation of the founding psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who was very interested in the deeper nature of human perception, and said that one person in five would have what he called some sort of “spiritual” perception during their lives. Here we see that we don’t need to imagine some spooky other dimensions or hidden connections for spiritual perception to happen. Everything that is real happens in front of our noses, here in this universe, and seeing what is there is as natural as breathing. It’s just that most people have their natural faculties for seeing what is there asleep, leading to lurid tales of bizarre visions of other dimensions and so forth.

How might the chemical off switch for the human mind operate?

According to the explanation of the ‘exploitation of feedback in cognition’ mechanism that creates the inductive loop, all the data needed for a feedback process where incoming data is mixed in with prior input is indeed available.

This kind of feedback is sometimes used in engineering, and very often by electric guitarists. As anyone who uses feedback knows (and this includes guitarists), the amount of amplification of the signal must be exactly right. Too little amplification and the signal quickly dies away to nothing. Too much and the signal quickly becomes an unmanageable howl.

For the human nervous system to exploit feedback when it detects the patterns in the data entering it, its level of excitability must be exactly right.

We know that dopamine is a neuro-inhibitor which is used by all animals to stop motor nerves firing when the animal wants to stop moving its muscles. So dopamine was available to evolution when our species faced the problem of out-waiting less intelligent animals in siege situations. Learning to raise the level of dopamine and make some cells in the brain that are sensitive to it would be a very easy way to squelch the feedback, and stop the brain being a useful medium for incoming patterns to self-detect.

This fits with the experience of people who manage to break themselves free of the robotic trap. At first they have to make a lot of effort to break themselves out of their habitual rut, without any perceived change in their own consciousness. Then all of a sudden, their humor, awareness of their situation, awareness of their own bodies, their sensuality, energy and awareness of their own options all explode, and they experience a sudden change in their state of mind.

This is not a linear effect. It’s more like a switch turning on.

If we understand this as their dopamine levels dropping to the point where the feedback loop is exactly adjusted, then we can understand why this deeper awareness turns on and off like a switch instead of being a gradual effect. On the other hand, when people get trapped in robotic behavior, after they have lost their full awareness, they can be seen gradually sinking deeper and deeper into self-absorption, complacency and inability to notice even full scale emergencies in their immediate vicinity.

If we understand this as the dopamine/behavior cycle getting worse, we can see why once full consciousness has turned off like a switch, people can reach different levels of introspective boredom addiction, with people like junior bureaucratic clerical workers being chronically unaware, and shop workers who enjoy more stimulation being more aware of their immediate physical surroundings.

To finish up this look at the underlying chemistry of true awareness, we can compare the situation of people trapped in robotic behavior with that of people trapped in cocaine addiction. We know that cocaine has its effect on the mind by stimulating dopamine production, and produces a state which looks very different from the outside (where the person seems to be quite unaware of the pressing issues in their lives) and from the inside (where the person feels completely confident and that they have complete mastery of the situation).

Experiment usually confirms that such people have lost the plot, when the repossession crew takes away their belongings. From the mystics’ point of view, the delusional state caused by massive dopamine production stimulated by cocaine is identical to the delusional state caused by massive dopamine production stimulated by very boring behaviors.

Both are equally delusional and unhealthy. On the other hand, those who see robot-ism as inherently healthy have to jump through hoops to square this one. They have to acknowledge that the cocaine addict, talking complete rubbish between chopping up lines and having his possessions taken away has lost the plot, but they also have to claim that the chronically robotized clerical worker who has the same brain chemistry and talks equal rubbish as she fails to produce adequate customer service and her employer goes bust, is inherently healthy simply because she is robotized.

The desirability of high dopamine levels and the effects they cause becomes a matter of social mores rather than the effects of chemistry. Such hoop jumping can often be seen in people who are led by boredom addiction to think they can always noun their way out of contradictions.

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About L-bo

Not much to say, really...
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