I experienced my control dopamine working overtime as I read the various insights contained in Daniel Z. Lieberman, MD and Michael E. Long’s book, The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. Classified by the Library of Congress as a book on animal biochemistry, Leiberman and Long explore in lay terms the brain chemical dopamine’s immense influence on human behavior at both an individual and societal level. Nicknamed “the pleasure molecule” shortly after it was discovered by researcher Kathleen Montagu in 1957, dopamine drives us “to pursue, to control, and to possess the world beyond [our] immediate grasp.”
Through an introduction, seven chapters, and a valuable index, the authors explore research on how dopamine influences the human experiences of love, drugs, domination, creativity and madness, politics, progress, and harmony. Each chapter concludes with suggestions for further reading. Left out are footnotes to the specific research sources discussed in each chapter. While a scan of the recommended further reading suggests the listed materials are the sources for their conclusions, footnotes would have better allowed the reader to explore their multiple hypotheses more deeply regarding the role of dopamine.
It turns out that dopamine plays a dual role in one’s brain. It compels us to explore the novel, contemplate new possibilities, or embark on adventure beyond our known environment. This aspect of the brain chemical is described by the authors as desire dopamine. But control dopamine puts the brakes on the raw power of desire dopamine. Control dopamine allows us to strategize, plan, and use abstract concepts and rational thinking to make the best use of resources and accomplish the future imagined by desire dopamine. This part of the authors’ work reminded me of Daniel Kahneman’s System Two thinking slow processes—logical, strategic, deliberate, effortful.
I found Lieberman and Long’s chapter on progress the most engaging—or should I say my control dopamine latched onto this chapter. They explore dopamine’s influence on human migration patterns from before recorded history and its implications for the characteristics of various societies today. They grapple here with the question of what role dopamine plays in contemporary migration patterns. Though they don’t use this language, the research they reference seems to indicate potential correlations between successful immigration into a new context and the presence of more 7R alleles of the DRD4 long form gene—the gene responsible for risk-taking behaviors. This question of causality remains unanswered. I’m indebted to Tom Chivers and David Chivers book, How to Read Numbers, for cultivating my sensitivity to this distinction between correlation and causality.
This chapter’s focus is deeply relevant to my current work context where my colleagues and I consult with partners in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the USA on migration issues and the discipleship call of Christ to his church. Most of the migrating peoples we personally know from Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon do NOT want to leave their countries. “We are people of this land, this earth, this dirt,” is a phrase we often hear. But geo-politics and its resultant domino effects of destroying a country’s economy and social fabric, force people to move beyond their known contexts into new realities—whether they have the dopamine wiring that would lead them to venture forth or not. These types of geopolitics are fueled by the forces of domination referenced earlier by Lieberman and Long and raise all its accompanying ethical and moral dilemmas that must be addressed through both advocacy work and more comprehensive and holistic discipleship commitments. But at the local human level, understanding more about the role of dopamine in helping people successfully transition into a new context gives me another lens for working with churches who are receiving new arrivals into their communities. Some people with a higher percentage of 7R alleles will adapt faster. Others, with lower levels of this allele will need additional support in the short-term to succeed in the long run.
Their hypotheses in this chapter also called back to mind Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, and his compelling description of the Hero’s Journey. The description of dopamine’s role in our behavior left me wondering if part of why some people refuse to take up the Hero’s Journey is because of their brain chemistry. Perhaps they have a higher percentage of the “Here and Now” (H&N) chemicals that leave them more at peace with their present circumstances. If that is the case, such individuals will surely have to face extreme circumstances to persuade them to leave what they know and embark on a journey into the unknown.
As a pastor who facilitates congregational change journeys, this connection between dopamine and the hero’s journey also makes me think of the change adopter bell curve. It is a small percentage of congregants who are early adopters of change in their congregation’s call, identity, and actions. Now I have another lens through which to understand why they may be early adopters. The role played by dopamine versus H&N chemicals also helps me to better understand the rest of the adopter bell curve. The next step for me as a leader of change, both in my work context and in my NPO, is to more deeply explore and cultivate what Lieberman and Long only hint at in their chapter on politics—encouraging people to more deeply practice abstract thinking, which stimulates the production of dopamine and thus capacity to move into new experiences.
 Lieberman, Daniel Z, and Michael E Long. 2019. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity-and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc.
 Ibid, 2-3.
 Ibid, xvi.
 Ibid, 126.
 Ibid., 184.
 Ibid., 56.
 Ibid., 57, 62-63.
 Kahneman, Daniel. 2013. Thinking, Fast and Slow. 1st pbk. ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p. 13.
 Lieberman and Long, 184-185.
 Chivers, Tom, and David Chivers. 2021. How to Read Numbers: A Guide to Statistics in the News (and Knowing When to Trust Them). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
 Lieberman and Long, Ibid, 61+.
 Campbell, Joseph. 2008. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Bollingen Series XVII. Novato, Calif: New World Library.
 Lieberman and Long, Ibid, 16-17.
 Ibid, 161-162.