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Origins of the myth of dopamine as the ‘pleasure chemical’ (theverge.com)
148 points by prostoalex 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments



Dopamine is the compulsion chemical, not the pleasure chemical. It turns thoughts into beliefs into actions. This is why people who take too many dopamine recreational drugs who get leaky dopaminE vesicles tend to easily believe any thought that occurs to them and do all kinds of psychotic things. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick had some great portrayals of what this looks like.

Opioid are the pleasure chemicals and that's why exogenous opioids destroy people. There's nothing that an opioid high can't fix, because that's literally how the brain is wired. Once the opioid receptors are activated, the brain is literally done trying to do anything else because the ultimate aim, at least the way the brain is wired, has been acheived.


Psychologically, this is a gross oversimplification and seing it this way generally does not help people.

It implies no choice, it implies that your life is controlled by chemicals.

And yet this theory cannot answer some simple questions, like, why there are people who actually get off opioids? How is it possible, if opioid is the "ultimate goal" of the brain and it "literally done trying to do anything", how does anyone ever get off it?

The brain and especially the mind is much more complex and deep than something that is controlled solely by some chemical. Chemical is what the brain uses. Chemicals do not use the brain.


> It implies no choice, it implies that your life is controlled by chemicals.

This implication would be correct. Hormones and other chemical messengers heavily influence brain "states" such as moods. The brain learns to make decisions that maintain homeostasis through the development of somatic markers, which represent body states that are composed of nerve and chemical activity. Even nerve impulses themselves are initiated by chemicals. And of course the structure of your brain and body are dictated by, you guessed it, chemicals. (Specifically deoxyribonucleic acid.)

"Choice" is a powerful illusion driven by our hypercompetent rationalizing system, whose purpose is to hide our true intentions in order to help us better operate in a social world. In the end, we are just elaborate stimulus-response systems, that is unless you believe in a "soul" or pseudoscientific quantum magic.

Edit: to more directly address your point about overcoming addiction. The brain's reward and drive systems are indeed very complex, and I do think that the suggestion of an "ultimate" goal is a gross oversimplification. On the other hand, if someone were able to maintain a permanent high (with no need to re-dose, find more drugs, find money to pay for drugs, etc), then perhaps it would indeed be impossible for them to overcome their addiction. From the addict's perspective, part of the problem with getting high is that the inevitable "low" may be worse, especially when tolerance and dependence kick in, followed by withdrawal.


> Choice" is a powerful illusion driven by our hypercompetent rationalizing system, whose purpose is to hide our true intentions in order to help us better operate in a social world. In the end, we are just elaborate stimulus-response systems, that is unless you believe in a "soul" or pseudoscientific quantum magic.

You are wording things in a derogatory way. If you said "unless you believe the world is rooted in subjective experience, or is non-deterministic", your argument would lose its strength (which is rooted in shaming), because there are many great thinkers and arguments along those lines.


Not that I agree with the GP, but non-determinism doesn’t imply free will in the usual strong sense of the phrase (e.g. that there is some intrinsic notion that humans can directly dictate their own actions). Non-determinism (as in QM non-determinism) still has deterministic evolution, since specifying the wave-function at any one point in time is enough to specify it for all of time via evolution by the Schrödinger equation.

So, this notion would require something stronger than QM non-determinism, or a different definition of free will.


> specifying the wave-function at any one point in time is enough to specify it for all of time via evolution by the Schrödinger equation.

Scientifically this is not very correct when you consider the chaos theory, which has been widely accepted by physicists for many decades now.

The problem is in practical application (and we live in a practical world, right?). The thing is that in theory, yes you can have some equation or elaborate mathematical model about the world and calculate everything. But once you start doing it, you immediately will see that it is impossible to calculate anything to such precision that this would work, the world is so big and complex that to calculate an X amount of world into the future, you would need Y (>X) amount of world to host those calcaultions. This is only the tip of the iceberg of why that is impossible.

So in practice, it is impossible to "specify it for all of time".

This is not just some logical trick, this is an important difference.

It's the same principle that applies in the Turtle-Achilles paradox (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeno%27s_paradoxes).

In the perfect logical world of perfect science and nice beautiful theories and equations - Achilles can never possibly reach the turtle. And yet in the physical reality that we live in it's obvious to anyone (and is truthful) that Achilles will easily reach and overrun the turtle.

On a related note, what is your definition of free will? People with similar SamHarris-esque arguments seem so happy that they have proven that there is no "free will", and yet it seems they have a difficult time defining what it is they have proven? Isn't this a problem if they are trying to be scientific? Would a perfect scientist ever entertain such vague concepts?

"intrinsic notion that humans can directly dictate their own actions" is very vague. Specifically, I can't see any place where even perfect determinism would conflict with this notion: a human is a very complicated deterministic neural network, that analyses the world and does some actions. This whole network processes information, and makes decisions based on that information. Based on that information it does directly dictate it's own actions. Of course those actions are going to be in part based on external information, but in part on the structure and form and function of the network itself. You're not going to find any single neuron that decides everything, but it's very clear that the whole network decides things.

Do you have a disdain for the fact that actions are being based on external stimulus? That this somehow is a problem for free will existing? But of course we would want them being based on external stimulus, that surely must be a part of being sentient? Reacting to something that happens in the world, not just blindly "choosing" random things for the sake of choosing?

And of course "based on external stimuli" - does not mean that the way it's going to react to them it "pre-determined" by something. The network can choose to react to stimuli from right now, or from yesterday, or from some other part of memory, or even from it's own thoughts or definitions. Those are also stimuli. It's obvious to any sentient human that sometimes we do react and act based on such things, not simply on currently active external stimuli.


I'm... not really sure what argument is being presented here. There's some weird accusations of vagueness, yet I see no proposition for a definition of free will here (and in the original comment, there was never attempt to provide one, since it had little to do with the content of the comment as a response to a tiny claim made in a sentence or so), and I just see a lot of random attacks against a position I don't even hold ("People with similar SamHarris-esque arguments seem so happy that they have proven that there is no "free will"", "Do you have a disdain for the fact that actions are being based on external stimulus?" the latter of which I have no idea if I even understand).

So what's the point? If you'd like to reason with me, at least give me a starting point, rather than accusing a comment I wrote in less than a minute of not being "scientific" because it doesn't define all of the terms it makes use of; even if the statement within it is correct with most definitions, discarding chaos theory and ‘practicality’ issues (which the statement above is totally unconcerned with).


Well I'm sorry you feel attacked.

The arguments (even though written in a quite short form in your post) are indicative of a much bigger and broader discussion taking place right now in the intellectual/philosophical world. This gives people the ability to infer a lot of information from even small statements, because the exact forms and phrases that you use are used in exact same manner by other people who have gone much deeper into this discussion and have a lot of thoughts about these things.

Sometimes on the internet one has to infer, because otherwise you would need every participant to first write a 100pages essay of all of their thoughts about the matter, before anything can be reliably responded to them without inferring.

In this case it seems you don't wish to have a well structured and formulated position with deeply going implications into this matter, which I inferred from your post. I guess sometimes inferring just backfires.

Coming back to having some kind of grounded argument, I would say that

> Non-determinism (as in QM non-determinism) still has deterministic evolution, since specifying the wave-function at any one point in time is enough to specify it for all of time via evolution by the Schrödinger equation.

is not really the case. Specifying anything in this matter (including evolution) works in theory and not in practice. There is no physically viable way to do this. Since science deals with physical reality first and foremost (math does not, but we talk about physics and the nature of reality, right?) - then scientifically that statement does not make a lot of sense. It is in fact not enough to specify the wave-function in such a way as to specify it for all time via evolution. This is the essence of Turtle-Achilles paradox and more prominently Chaos Theory, which has been an established paradigm of science for many decades now.

You write that "discarding chaos theory the statement is correct". Well, yes perhaps. It's about the same as to say "discarding Einstein's relativity, one could easily travel faster than the speed of light". Chaos theory describes the real world, better in this regards than other theories we have. It's not enough to just discard it: you will end up with faulty reasoning...


> This implication would be correct. Hormones and other chemical messengers heavily influence brain "states" such as moods. The brain learns to make decisions that maintain homeostasis through the development of somatic markers, which represent body states that are composed of nerve and chemical activity. Even nerve impulses themselves are initiated by chemicals. And of course the structure of your brain and body are dictated by, you guessed it, chemicals. (Specifically deoxyribonucleic acid.)

This is dualism. Not as naive as cartesian dualism, but dualism nonetheless. The brain is electrochemical activity. There is no factorization of this system into brain states and chemicals that act of them, nor any other such factorization such as binning hormones into such states and describing neuron depolarization as acting on these states.

So, for example, moods are not separate from hormonal activity in the brain.

The brain is only controlled by chemicals in the sense that it is chemicals. There is no reason why chemicals cannot exhibit what we call choice. In fact, they do. Saying that a brain makes a choice is the same as saying chemicals make a choice. If you say that chemicals control the brain, well, then I'll say that the brain controls the chemicals.

> "Choice" is a powerful illusion driven by our hypercompetent rationalizing system, whose purpose is to hide our true intentions in order to help us better operate in a social world. In the end, we are just elaborate stimulus-response systems, that is unless you believe in a "soul" or pseudoscientific quantum magic.

This is the same dualism. Saying that a brain is an elaborate stimulus-response system doesn't say anything about what choice is, because now we can just ask how an "elaborate stimulus-response system" exhibits choice. There is no separation between "hypercompetent rationalizing system" and "true intentions". These splits don't make sense in such a non-linear, self-interacting system. Choice is only an illusion if you call a brain's ability to represent itself (imperfectly of course) an illusion, but what does that mean? Brains clearly encode representations of themselves and this gives rise to the incredible complexity of their behaviors. That is an indisputable physical phenomenon.

External to a brain, you can describe it with the laws of physics and a large scratch pad to do calculations (take your time it'll be a while). But crucial to what a brain is is that there is an internal point of view, the one of the brain's own dynamics. That point of view has many properties, such as emotion, and choice and all other sorts of phenomena. Yes, this point of view reduces to physics and chemistry, but it also arises from physics and chemistry.

In particular the reduction one can infer from the laws of physics is essentially out of reach. It is computationally and logically intractable; one is forced to resort to qualitative descriptions in order to say anything useful, and one starts arriving at concepts like... choice. When someone makes a point about psychology and uses the hypothetical reduction to chemistry as a premise, usually they're going to say something trivial or even false.


The concept of "choice" as most people use it when describing consciousness tends to be synonymous with so-called "free will," and it is a metaphysical concept rather than a descriptive one. It implies the existence of some kind of non-physical "choosing" mechanism that is unbound by the law of physics.

I have no problem with the concept of choice as you have expressed it, as shorthand for an immensely complex set of processes. This is similar what I was referring to when I mentioned "moods" and "states." I do realize that brain processes can't be accurately represented by fuzzy concepts such as these, but they are occasionally useful for discussion.

> The brain is electrochemical activity. There is no factorization of this system into brain states and chemicals that act of them, nor any other such factorization such as binning hormones into such states and describing neuron depolarization as acting on these states.

At a macro level, a higher than normal quantity of cannabinoids will cause the brain to act differently, with certain predictable characteristics. You could even give it a name as shorthand: "stoned." At a micro level, you could describe the effects of the chemicals on receptors. In between, you can talk about the effects on various brain structures and how that affects behavior. That's what I'm getting at.


If you believe the world to be deterministic, I think you have to remove a lot of terms from your language, such as 'learning', 'illusion', 'rationalizing', 'purpose', and 'social'.

It is hard for me to understand what a 'rationalizing system' could even mean in a deterministic world. Would there be an experimental outcome that could prove your hypothesis about it wrong?


It's true. These words are useful shorthand for common behaviors, and I have nothing better to offer that won't be encumbered with a non-deterministic history.

Frankly I'm a bit of a hypocrite. Here I am jumping on the word "choice" because of its metaphysical implications, but then I'm turning around and using other words that are just as muddy. Discussing this stuff is a real challenge because of the hidden implications buried in most of our language.

> Would there be an experimental outcome that could prove your hypothesis about it wrong?

Good question. The answer is that I haven't given it enough thought yet. I suspect that it may not be possible to prove or disprove the hypothesis in live humans because our brains are simply too complicated, with an enormous number of feedback loops. How do you test a subject from a known state when it is impossible to recreate a specific state? But then, how do you prove that we're not living in a simulation? When the door is open for metaphysical interpretations, then all we have is intuition and conjecture. It is possible that we're all made of fairy dust, but there's no way to prove or disprove that.


> It is possible that we're all made of fairy dust, but there's no way to prove or disprove that.

That is very true, and modern science therefore decided rightfully that these questions should be outside of scientific enquiry.

The issue I have with "hypercompetent rationalizing system, whose purpose is to hide our true intentions in order to help us better operate in a social world" is that it sounds like a scientific conjecture (my brain associates it with evolution theory), and at the same time you admit that it is pretty similar to the fairy dust hypothesis.

I agree that stating your arguments somehow forces you to use what is in our current language, leading to unwanted implications. Still, it would be good to either rephrase your hypothesis so that it becomes testable, or mark it clearly as metaphysical speculation.


Thanks for the conversation, and for the reminder. You're right about rephrasing my hypothesis! I need to spend some time reducing it into testable chunks.


> Discussing this stuff is a real challenge because of the hidden implications buried in most of our language.

This fact alone says a lot.

This is a very big and deep profound thing.

The language is an innate ability of humans to optimize and find tools (words) that work in the reality that we live in. We don't just make up words for no reason, and we don't make up overcomplicated words that do not fit the reality that we live in. We strive for choosing the perfectly fitted, perfectly abstract, perfectly functional words that correlate to how life works. If there is ever a better word for something, than some old word - the population will quickly start using the new word. The human society in general uses the words that work well. That fit the reality well.

So then, if there are so many words with those implications in your (common!) language, the one that you have chosen to use, the one that other people have chosen to use, is it really possible that all of those words are simply illusions with nothing behind them? Isn't it more logical that those words exist because there is something underlying them in the actual reality that we live in? Maybe the fact that those words seem so "unclean" to you is that the representation of reality that you are trying to argue for simply lacks many chunks of what's actually going on? Because in many people's reality those words are not "unclean". They are the most clean ones, they are very good tools that work really well.

If you disagree with that - it would say that you basically don't trust your language, your ability to speak and think. It would mean that you don't trust your ability to find words (as tools), and by extension, to find good logical intellectual structures (of which words are an example of) that fit the reality. If you say those words don't fit the reality, that would mean that you don't trust that your way of finding words and logical structures applies to reality. That's a big problem then, right? You would need some other way first to even construct your language, before you can ever hope to use it to communicate to other in truthful and meaningful way?


Our language and our knowledge about the world are both moving targets. For example, people rarely use the word 'sin' nowadays to scold others for unaccepted behavior. But 200 years ago, 'sin' was a generally accepted concept, as real as 'addiction' is today.

In addition, great thinkers often struggled to express their innovative thoughts, and invented new terminology for that purpose. This new terminology then became part of our language over time, in lock-step with the new ideas expressed by it.

So I think inferring reality structure from from language structure is a fallacy.


Completely agree. It's worth reading older literature to see this effect first-hand!

To add to your point, language frames reality through its structure, and meaningful concepts that are "missing" from a language may be missing from conversations in that language. For instance, the Pirahã language has no concept of numbers or time! English itself is missing some nice features, such as efficient agglutinative words (backpfeifengesicht) and emotional context added to words (perrazo vs perro).

I don't know if any language does these concepts well: * Relative positioning in greater than three dimensions * Quick and clear way to indicate that a point being made applies universally versus being limited to the current context under discussion (and vice-versa). You could do this with a separate statement but it would get tiring very quickly. * Clear and efficient expression of degree of certitude. For instance, being able to convey how much evidence you have for an argument, or being able to express a statement as purely speculative, without having to explicitly append that as a separate statement. * An elegant way to "tag" a statement as metaphor, or even as being an intentional oversimplification for the purpose of brevity.

We may solve some of these gaps over time. After all, the internet brought us "/s", which I both despise and grudgingly accept as necessary.

In terms of this discussion, perhaps what we're missing is a suffix that indicates whether or not we're using a word in a slightly different way than is traditionally intended. I see this all the time, especially in philosophy, and it can be incredibly frustrating for the reader. It's an issue in politics as well, but good luck solving that one.


"hypercompetent rationalizing system"

If true, can you state which chemicals are in charge of the hypercompetent rationalizing system? What happens when these chemicals are absent or their delivery is absent?

More so, if you really feel the mind is entirely the product of chemicals, can you describe what is happening when someone faces a tough choice, one which, up to the last second, could go either way? Are you suggesting probabilistic outcomes for normally deterministic chemical processes?


>More so, if you really feel the mind is entirely the product of chemicals, can you describe what is happening when someone faces a tough choice, one which, up to the last second, could go either way? Are you suggesting probabilistic outcomes for normally deterministic chemical processes?

Huh? You're seem to be the one to suggest "probabilistic outcomes for normally deterministic chemical processes".

If personal choice is not an illusion/rationalization (as the parent suggests), then it's real.

By which means such a real agent would come into play in an otherwise deterministic universe?

Or are you saying the universe is not deterministic?


My understanding of the consensus in quantum mechanics, is that the wave function evolves deterministically, but the state of the universe falls out of the wave function non-deterministically. So the probabilities evolve deterministically, but the empirical state of all the 'particles' doesn't. Second-order determinism, not first-order.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Determinism#Other_matters_of_q...


> "Choice" is a powerful illusion driven by our hypercompetent rationalizing system, whose purpose is to hide our true intentions in order to help us better operate in a social world. In the end, we are just elaborate stimulus-response systems, that is unless you believe in a "soul" or pseudoscientific quantum magic.

This is ultimately a very big argument that is hard to have over the text.

But I have had this way of looking at things earlier in my life, and I've rationalized it in about the same way that you do in your post, and have now had more life experience that showed me that it is a dead-end.

Choice is only as much of an "illusion" as everything else: as science, as physical objects, as chemicals, as determinism. Once you start getting deeper into nature of things, you'll see that those concepts are not much better, not any less illusory than "choice". So anything being an "illusion" does not say so much about nature of things, because everything is.

The ultimate difference is in your personal life. If you see yourself as "elaborate stimulus-response system" - you'll have a hard time making hard choices and changing your life to the way you want it to be. (Do you even believe in wanting anything then? Besides just what you can rationalize with evolution (sex and food)?)

If you allow other categories, you'll find that your mind and yes, soul have many more resources and much more energy to create extraordinary things in your life and in lives of people around you (ie, in the consensus reality).

One difficulty is that this difference is sometimes hard to logically talk about because of how unconscious people are. To quote Jordan Peterson (highly recommended) - people say that they like determinism and science, - and yet they act is they were sentient moral beings with choice. There is one thing that people say and think - and another that they do. For example, many people might be thinking about determinism and chemicals, and yet in their personal life they make choices like helping others, like building a better future, like sacrificing instant pleasures or even all bodily pleasures in order to achieve some higher goals, which will not even bring them any of those stimulus-response-based evolutionary candies.

Just because someone is not conscious about being sentient, does not mean they are not sentient. (There are different definitions of the word `sentient`, of course, but this is the one that I am proposing is the most useful one.)


Thanks for the discussion, even though it is indeed a difficult one to have over a web forum! I think our positions may be more similar than either of us assumed.

> One difficulty is that this difference is sometimes hard to logically talk about because of how unconscious people are. To quote Jordan Peterson (highly recommended) - people say that they like determinism and science, - and yet they act is they were sentient moral beings with choice. There is one thing that people say and think - and another that they do. For example, many people might be thinking about determinism and chemicals, and yet in their personal life they make choices like helping others, like building a better future, like sacrificing instant pleasures or even all bodily pleasures in order to achieve some higher goals, which will not even bring them any of those stimulus-response-based evolutionary candies.

This is exactly the case. It would be crippling to live any other way! So much of how we think and act is more or less automatic, including our mental framing of reality and "choice." Attempting to oppose those processes is a constant battle without any real benefit. (But it is still important to understand this condition of reality while dealing with other people, designing systems, and so on!)

Interestingly, because we also can't really "choose" (under my definition of "choice") how we see ourselves or our reality, our beliefs about choice and creativity and so on are really driven by the information that we take in and internalize. Approaches like Peterson's are actually really valuable because of that. They provide a solid, constructive, prosocial framework for living, which hopefully is read widely and taken up by people in their day-to-day lives. Same goes for the stoics, most religions, secular humanism, and so on. All the more reason to read widely!

I should also recommend The Elephant in the Brain (Simler/Hanson), which synthesizes existing research to show how people are not merely ignorant of their true motives - rather, they actively deceive themselves as to what those motives are in order to better hide them from others. It complements this line of discussion rather well, and helps add depth to the notion that we don't really have control over our internal thought processes.


How does not being conscious of all aspects of the process of choice ("ignorant (unconscious) of their true motives") somehow equate to "no free will"? If a subconscious part of me makes a choice, and I execute - that it still me making a choice isn't it? Don't you agree that "I" have both conscious and unconscious aspects? And that both are a part of "I"?

Otherwise, do I have to logically think about every single part of myself, every single motivation, every single feeling in my entire being for it to count as free will? Why, what's the point? I have subconscious parts of me, which do a lot of the work for me. It's still my will.

(Another thread) > Interestingly, because we also can't really "choose" (under my definition of "choice") how we see ourselves or our reality, our beliefs about choice and creativity and so on are really driven by the information that we take in and internalize.

I guess we have to strongly disagree on this one. I have consciously changed a lot of beliefs and ways of seeing myself, the world, other people, the universe, etc. - during the course of my life. I can describe the process, I see where it's going, I see where it stumbles, etc. I can definitely choose these things. This choice doesn't necessarily happen in 1 second always, sometimes it takes longer time (would be really weird if such deep foundational files/drivers in my system could even be changed overnight, wouldn't it? Seems very unstable), but it's definitely happening.


I would just add my personal experience and say that while it was possible to get off of opioids, I do feel that my sense of pleasure from other things in life has been somewhat blunted for many years after.

After ten years abstaining from opioids and cocaine I still don't feel quite as much drive to do normal pleasurable activities and when I do them they don't feel quite as great as they once did. Strenuous exercise definitely works the best. If I get a good weight lifting session in, go for a run, or bike ride I get a pretty strong endorphin high now. Even five years ago I didn't feel nearly as strong an endorphin reaction as I do lately from these activities.


I used and abused meth-amphetamine for the better part of a decade.

Five years clean and I’ll say the same thing with regard to lifting and running and doing strenuous short (<5hr) hikes.

I’ve also sound Vitamin D and magnesium aminoacid chelate to be beneficial.

But, I want to add: given what I’ve read here, and heard elsewhere, from people who never used drugs: it would seem my experience of life with regard to lacking energy and motivation, and a history of depression and suicidal ideation, isn’t too dissimilar to the non-drug users experience. So I’m not sure how much weight to place on the drugs as a cause or a misguided attempt to self-mediate. Probably both. I don’t think the drugs help anyway.


I’ve never done those drugs, but I feels similarly. I think this comes with age and added stress, which also comes with age.


I currently take naltrexone with buprenorphine for my depression. I highly recommend checking out low dose naltrexone, which is usually defined as a dose less than 5 mg. There has been a large surgre of interest in LDN on /r/nootropics and /r/depressionregimens in the past six months. Most people are trying it either for autoimmune diseases or to reverse opiate tolerance. The typical starting doses for LDN are around 1 mg

Before anyone says that I'm just getting high, you should know that I've been on 20+ different antidepressant treatments and none of them worked. That includes ketamine and rTMS. So it was a medication of last resort. My other options were basically electro convulsive therapy or deep brain stimulation.

There is an experimental antidepressant called ALKS 5461 that is composed of buprenorphine and samidorphan. The company who makes it (Alkermes) recently submitted a new drug request to the FDA, but it was denied because the FDA wants more studies on how ALKS 5461 compared to buprenorphine. Samidorphan has a similar method of action to naltrexone, and the dose of samidorphan is 2 mg, combined with 2 mg of buprenorphine. If the FDA would have approved it, it would have been released in 2019.


Kudos to you to staying clean and on your path despite of those perceptory artifacts. The fact that you did shows that you (and your brain by extension) does not always, and does not have to optimize for simple pleasures, and can instead choose to optimize for higher modes of being.


>I do feel that my sense of pleasure from other things in life has been somewhat blunted for many years after.

ex addicts always say stuff like this. or, "I started balding after getting clean!" "I have no more energy!"

its also known as getting old.


Not the OP, but it looks to me like reaching the "ultimate goal" and "literally done trying to do anything" references the situation during a opioid high. Contrasting this with other drugs where you actually do things while high.


It's really not much more complex. This is from someone whose bro has been hospitalized twice. Antipsychotics work wonders and ”solely by some checmical” sounds rather ignorant. Guess what, you're life IS controlled by some chemicals.


I believe parent is referring specifically to opioid intoxication rather than to opioid addiction.


What came first, the chemical or the choice?

Wouldn't it be the former, with the latter forever playing catch up to the lead? That is, choice is implemented via chemicals.


Human composition of chemicals has evolved over a long period of evolution. Choices stem from this composition. The composition however is not perfect. It has evolved by random mutations with best mutations surviving the environment. Composition is made to learn which decisions and choices come to a good outcome however it is not perfect (falling pray to drugs) or it does not always adaot to fast evolving environment (being addicted to social media).

But the decision and choice itself comes from chemicals of course. It is like asking which was first, the bits in the computer or the calculation it produced.


There is no scientific answer to that question. Neither of those things exist in separation in reality. They are only separated in our mind.

Some questions can be answered with science, others cannot. Both types of questions have meaning.


>And yet this theory cannot answer some simple questions, like, why there are people who actually get off opioids? How is it possible, if opioid is the "ultimate goal" of the brain and it "literally done trying to do anything", how does anyone ever get off it?

Through huge pain and with huge effort, and often substantial help from others. Besides, it's few who do.

Not to mention that even getting off those opioids doesn't mean that your life is NOT "controlled by chemicals." Other chemicals played a role in getting you off.


because opioid high wears off and then it really sucks


> your life is controlled by chemicals.

Do you believe your life isn't controlled by chemicals?


Opioids work by inhibiting GABA release, which then releases dopamine into the nucleus accumbens and VTA. Dopamine is the key element.


Is there a link with schizophrenia ? it seems the main mode is a strong doubt -> belief implication.


There's the dopamine hypothesis that posits that schizophrenia is caused by over-active dopamine receptors. It's based on the evidence that dopamine releasing agents like stimulants can cause pyschosis and that the medications used to treat schizophrenia block dopamine receptors. However, there's good deal of evidence that there's more to schizophrenia than just over-active dopamine receptors.


Amphetamine is fascinating in both a good and a bad way. Low to moderate doses seem to be performance enhancers for many people, but high doses and abuse can be incredibly destructive both to the self and... others... and in curious ways.

Psychedelics inspire more fascination and so more has been written about them. Too little has been written on the large effects that dopamine based stimulants have had on history. They seem to at times inspire people to make huge forceful decisions. They can be very good or very bad but they're always very big.

On one end: Hitler and the Nazis used a ton of meth, and it was likely how starting a war on two fronts and the holocaust seemed like good ideas. "Blitzkreig" just feels like "methkreig" to me.

On the other end look up "Dr. Feelgood" and other less well known "amphetamine doctors" of the 50s-70s and the many notable people they treated. Among these are JFK, and I've wondered about this and how it might relate specifically to the famous "we choose to go to the moon and do the other things not because they are easy but because they are hard."

It's a subject that awaits several very big books to anyone interested in investigating it.


As someone correctly mentioned below, opioids are not "pleasure molecules", they are dopamine uptake inhibitors. Basically, antidepressants.


I thought it was serotonin. I've never taken opioids but having a serotonin release feels really good.


> but having a serotonin release feels really good

How did you know that the experience was caused by a serotonin release?


Well, I can't know what it is, but I had ingested a chemical (not an opioid) which supposedly causes serotonin release and my experience matched many other written experiences with said chemical.


What chemical was this?


There could be several, but the one I know of is MDAI, which is basically like MDMA without the amphetamine ("dopamine-releasing") part.


Pure gasoline -- jk.

Probabily wise mdma


Note that MDMA releases a lot of dopamine and possibly oxytocin, too. The unique pleasure from the substance isn't solely attributable to the serotonin release.

Other serotonin-affecting substances like LSD also affect dopamine.


True, taking MDMA is literally the best I've ever felt.


If anyone is interested more in the latest science of teasing apart the neural substraits of wanting and liking I highly recommend taking a look at the review papers written over at Berridge lab, http://www.lsa.umich.edu/psych/research&labs/berridge/resear...


The new popular oversimplifications tend to be really patronizing to the previous ones


Is there some kind of war between The Verge and Business Insider? The article mentions 3 times that Business Insider mistakenly called dopamine the pleasure chemical just in the intro.


Nah it's just verge being a crappy example of journalism.


Business Insider is always my first stop for science news.


What’s the purpose of a distinct pleasure chemical and a “compulsion” chemical, evolutionarily? Wouldn’t a pleasurable response already compel you to repeat the action?


I would not say there is a pleasure chemical, more that it is a contentment chemical. It is more of a signal that the situation is so good that there is no point in trying to improve it.

In a sense they are antagonists. The compulsion is driving you to do something, perhaps anything, and will eventually drive you into the ground from stress. The other will drive you to do nothing, even if it means that you waste away from lack of water and nutrients.


I can't see any way of defining pleasure, in an objective way, without it being part of motivation. "Reinforce the recently followed decision paths" sort of thing.


Then it's semantics, if that's true, and dopamine may as well be "pleasure". For what it's worth the expert's explanation of how cocaine "compels" you to do work didn't sound intuitive. The common understanding is that it alleviates your brain's need for "pleasure" so you can focus on long term goals instead of short term goals (distractions). It's intuitive because it's analogous to satisfying one's pressing immediate needs so that one can do other higher level stuff.


Isn't it just the mechanism by which the pleasurable response is created?


>dopamine cells

The quality of the article is horrifyingly low




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