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Dopamine and the molecule of novelty?

I'm just about coming to the end of this quarter's book "The Molecule of More" by Lieberman and Long, chosen by Tim Beames, and honestly, I didn't know if i'd get here to be honest.

I found the first few pages hard to engage with and reductionist, which clanged harshly against the projects I was working on earlier in the year - preparing talks and teaching sessions on whole-person care, phenomenology and anti-reductionist messages.

But I trust the process of reading things I don't agree with, so I chomped my way through like i was eating brussell sprouts. I faked it...then I kind of made it a bit.

The writing style is quite thrilling at times, and the authors use some beautiful turns of phrases to showcase the brilliance of being human, with an incredible capacity to think, do and move the world.

I don't for a second agree that all that complexity of experience and action can be reduced down to dopamine, but what did I take from this that was useful?

Humans interact with their environment by knowing their environment, we get to know what are the consistent bits that make up our field (a psychology and philosophy term for environment that I'm going to use throughout this blog). Knowing what's usual (or accurately predictable) in our environment is comforting and energy-saving. If I'm a good predictor of my field I don't need to spend time and energy on exploring it and making meaning.

Walking around my field, I am constantly offered up opportunities for action, not all opportunities are made equal though and some of them i will attend to and others i will dis-attend (is that a word??) to. When I am attending to them i am interacting and exploring them in some way - spending energy on them. When i am dis-attending (disengaging?) I am reducing or minimising the energy i spend on them. (Remember that energy isn't made or un-made, just moved / converted, this is the first law of thermodynamics)

Dopamine, may well be part of the 'optimal physiological environment' for supporting that energy investment - when we encounter error for which we have no way of meaning making without interacting.

This is an empirical view of humans (i'm not getting into the complexity of which organisms have consciousness, which are intelligent and which are neither) navigate their world, through experiencing and interacting with it.

I find empiricism a really nice theory to use when trying to understand the complexity of consciousness and intelligence, because it makes sense to me. I don't think that meaning / perception is given to me by a spiritual entity, I think that I have build up models of my world based upon my experiences within it and with it.

So, perhaps, dopamine has evolved to become an important part of the internal signalling processes that allow me to shift attention or perturb me, from a comfortable predicted environment where I dis-attend, to interracting and moving towards something novel where my attention is key to meaning-making.

Can it do it alone? No absolutely not. But, is it involved when I do move towards something, possibly?

Why is this intereasting?

Well, when we are thriving, much of our world and body remains transparent to us, we aren't pay8ing attention to it. We are in a harmonious balance with our field - we know what's in it, and what's in it is what we know.

But, illness, injury, urban development, groups / communities, climate change etc are all creating novelty within our field (includes internal and external environments if we want to make that distinction). As a thriving organism concerned with my own survival, I need to be able to flexibly respond to the changes within me and within my wider field, whilst also maintaining a level of consistency (liunks back to our past mont on allostasis and homeostasis!).

In illness and injury, I temporarily change how I attend to my environment because my bodily integrity has changed. Either this is temporary and I will slowly return to my previous predictions or it is longer lasting, perhaps even the new norm, in whcih case i need to make predictable (usual) what was once the un-predicted.

To use the book's analogy, I need to take my new knowledge of the world and myself within it and move from the dopaminergic system of 'that's new novel and unpredicted lets attend to it, to the 'here and now' system of this is my usual and i can attend less.

If this sounds like acceptance theory, good. Because, I think, it basically is. Acceptance theory is working on updating the model to include the new information about our field and our integrity.

So, whilst I think this book is trying to tell us something about dopamine, it actually tell s us more about human behaviour, model-making and consciousness.

I'm looking forward to seeing you all at the discussion!

Laura x

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