Review and Summary: The Molecule of More

Review and Summary: The Molecule of More

Sometimes, we find ourselves pondering the driving forces behind our actions. In his book, “The Molecule of More,” Daniel Z. Lieberman talks about the fascinating world of dopamine, a chemical within our bodies that encompasses a wide spectrum of actions, feelings, and emotions; cross a spectacular range of human endeavors: creating art, literature, and music; seeking success; discovering new worlds and new laws of nature; thinking about God—and falling in love. This book explores what shapes our behavior, drawing from two key perspectives: the immediate present, referred to as the “here and now matters” circuit (H&N), and our aspirations for the future. Dopamine plays a pivotal role in determining how we approach the future, with high levels of dopamine fueling our drive.

If you have a keen interest in understanding human behavior and psychology, then “The Molecule of More” is an absolute must-read for you.

Summary

  • Dopamine isn’t the pleasure molecule, after all. It’s the anticipation molecule. To enjoy the things we have, as opposed to the things that are only possible, our brains must transition from future-oriented dopamine to present-oriented chemicals, a collection of neurotransmitters we call the Here and Now molecules, or the H&Ns. Most people have heard of the H&Ns. They include serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins (your brain’s version of morphine), and a class of chemicals called endocannabinoids (your brain’s version of marijuana). 
  • Winners cheat for the same reason that drug addicts take drugs. The rush feels great, and withdrawal feels terrible. Both know that their behavior has the potential to destroy their lives, but the desire circuit doesn’t care. It only wants more.
  • The evolutionary processes that harnessed dopamine were driven by the need to motivate survival and reproductive activity.
  • That happy error is what launches dopamine into action. It’s not the extra time or the extra money themselves. It’s the thrill of the unexpected good news.
  • When it comes to addiction, easy access matters. More people get addicted to cigarettes and alcohol than to heroin, even though heroin hits the brain in a way that is more likely to trigger addiction. Cigarettes and alcohol are a larger public health problem because they are so easy to obtain. In fact, the most effective way to reduce the problems caused by these substances is to make it more difficult to get them.
  • Boosting dopamine can lead to enthusiastic engagement with things that would otherwise be perceived as unimportant. 
  • Dopamine circuits don’t process experience in the real world, only imaginary future possibilities. For many people it’s a letdown. They’re so attached to dopaminergic stimulation that they flee the present and take refuge in the comfortable world of their own imagination. 

Why does love fade?

  • Our brains are programmed to crave the unexpected and thus to look to the future, where every exciting possibility begins, But when anything, including love, becomes familiar, that excitement slips away, and new things draw our attention. This phenomenon named reward prediction error.
    • We constantly make predictions about what’s coming next. When what happens is better than what we expect, it is literally an error in our forecast of the future. That happy error is what launches dopamine into action. It’s the thrill of the unexpected good news.
    • In fact, the mere possibility of a reward prediction error is enough for dopamine to swing into action
    • Yet sometimes when we get things we want, it’s not as pleasant as we expect. dopaminergic excitement (the thrill of anticipation) doesn’t last forever, because eventually the future becomes the present. The thrilling mystery of the unknown becomes the boring familiarity of the everyday, at which point dopamine’s job is done, and the letdown sets in
    • When things become part of the daily routine, there is no more reward prediction error, and dopamine is no longer triggered to give you those feelings of excitement.

The chemical keys to long-lasting love

For love to continue beyond that stage, the nature of the love relationship has to change because the chemical symphony behind it changes. To enjoy the things we have, as opposed to the things that are only possible, our brains must transition from future-oriented dopamine to present-oriented chemicals, a collection of neurotransmitters we call the Here and Now moelcules, or the H&Ns include serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins (your brain’s version of morphine), and a class of chemicals called endocannabinoids (your brain’s version of marijuana)

Helen Fisher, an anthropologist:

  • Early or “passionate” love lasts only 12-18 months. After that, a couple to remain attached to one another, they need to develop a different sort of love called companionate love. Companionate love is not a uniquely human phenomenon. Their behavior is characterized by cooperative territory defense and nest building.
  • A romance built on dopamine is a thrilling, if short-lived, roller coaster ride, but our brain chemistry gives us the tools to move down the path that leads to companionate love. The chemicals most associated with long-term relationships are oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is more active in women and vasopressin in men.

Author: Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long

Publication date: 1 January 2018

Number of pages: 240 pages


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