Monday, August 23, 2010


Here’s one of those handy nuggets of data that I keep getting from the guys at Delancey Place, so I can keep on keeping up my further education. Today it’s dopamine.

"The importance of dopamine was discovered by accident. In 1954, James Olds and Peter Milner, two neuroscientists at McGill University, decided to implant an electrode deep into the center of a rat's brain. The precise placement of the electrode was largely happenstance; at the time, the geography of the mind remained a mystery. But Olds and Milner got lucky. They inserted the needle right next to the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), a part of the brain that generates pleasurable feelings. Whenever you eat a piece of chocolate cake, or listen to a favorite pop song, or watch your favorite team win the World Series, it is your NAcc that helps you feel so happy. But Olds and Milner quickly discovered that too much pleasure can be fatal. They placed the electrodes in several rodents' brains and then ran a small current into each wire, making the NAccs continually excited. The scientists noticed that the rodents lost interest in everything. They stopped eating and drinking. All courtship behavior ceased. The rats would just huddle in the corners of their cages, transfixed by their bliss. Within days, all of the animals had perished. They died of thirst. It took several decades of painstaking research, but neuroscientists eventually discovered that the rats had been suffering from an excess of dopamine. The stimulation of the NAcc triggered a massive release of the neurotransmitter, which overwhelmed the rodents with ecstasy. In humans, addictive drugs work the same way: a crack addict who has just gotten a fix is no different than a rat in an electrical rapture. The brains of both creatures have been blinded by pleasure. This, then, became the dopaminergic cliche; it was the chemical explanation for sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

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1 comment:

Jon said...

Yes, yes, so what? I am sick of pop neuroscience. It's all a con designed to reduce our understanding of the inner life of humans to a series of chemical reactions. It's the worst sort of science-as-religion reductionist bullshit. It's anti human. It serves no one but the pharmaceutical industry. Sorry. I'm not being the least bit ironic.
Put this another way. Do you really think the human mind can be defined by the chemical activity of the brain? That's as foolish as believing that society can be defined by our purchases in the market place.