How a Sin­gle Chem­i­cal in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Cre­ativ­ity—and Will De­ter­mine the Fate of the Hu­man Race

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Popular Science -

Daniel Z. Lieber­man, Michael E. Long, Ben­bella Books (AU­GUST) Hard­cover $26.95 (240pp), 978-1-946885-11-1

Dopamine has a lot to an­swer for. First dis­cov­ered in 1957, it is var­i­ously known as “the plea­sure mol­e­cule” and “the re­ward cir­cuit.” In The Mol­e­cule of More, Daniel Z. Lieber­man and Michael E. Long probe the un­ex­pected con­nec­tions be­tween dopamine and every­thing from ad­dic­tion to cre­ativ­ity.

Novelty is a nat­u­ral hu­man crav­ing. Dopamine in­spires us to han­ker af­ter what­ever comes next, com­pelling us “to pos­sess the world be­yond [our] im­me­di­ate grasp,” the au­thors ex­plain. This can be a good thing if it fu­els in­ven­tion and en­trepreneur­ship, but bad if it re­sults in un­man­age­able ob­ses­sions.

The most fas­ci­nat­ing sec­tion of the book ex­am­ines the in­ter­play be­tween mad­ness and ge­nius. Schizophre­nia and bipo­lar dis­or­der, which stud­ies have sug­gested are 25 per­cent more com­mon in cre­ative types, may have a dopamin­er­gic com­po­nent. One vari­ant of the dopamine re­cep­tor gene, called 7R, is par­tic­u­larly as­so­ci­ated with im­pul­sive, novelty-seek­ing be­hav­ior; per­haps early hu­mans with this gene were more likely to mi­grate to new ar­eas.

Lieber­man and Long al­ways keep the av­er­age reader in mind: their fea­tured stud­ies are not at all dry, and they pause reg­u­larly to give rel­e­vant anec­dotes and ex­am­ples. Their pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences are per­fectly il­lus­tra­tive, like Mick Jag­ger and Se­in­feld’s Ge­orge Costanza as mod­els of men who, never sat­is­fied, are al­ways mov­ing on to new re­la­tion­ships.

Dopamine is both a bless­ing and a curse. Lest it steer us “ever on­ward into the abyss,” the au­thors of­fer strate­gies for step­ping back: take mini breaks in na­ture, re­frain from mul­ti­task­ing, and spend time fix­ing things. In such ways we can in­dulge the best of our plea­sure-seek­ing im­pulses and avoid the worst.

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