Mind over Matter
In Leiberman and Long’s The Molecule of More, a closer look at how dopamine interacts with various areas of life attempts to answer the question of why humans do what they do. Housed under science and psychology, this text strives to explain to the reader how the molecular and behavioral chemicals in the brain relate to addictiveness in several contexts including love, drugs, power, and creativity. Although attributing for such a low number of brain cells, dopamine is classified as “the pleasure molecule” and its corresponding pathway as “the reward circuit” for its significant “influence on behavior” (2,3). Contrasting dopamine are the H&N molecules, those classified as the here and now, responsible for the present-oriented chemicals attributed to sensation and emotion (16). While both sets of chemicals are needed and serve specific purposes, the authors focus a significant amount of the text on how when overutilized, the dopamine can negatively impact the area(s) of life it has been activated in.
With a vocational history of working with those who have mental health disorders and/or struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, this text was a reminder of how significantly the molecular and behavioral chemicals in our brains can develop habitual patterns that can lead towards destruction of capacities across all areas. There were several scriptures that continued to come to mind as I read this text, most notably:
“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)
Similar to Augustine’s questioning on why we love what we love, scripture articulates the challenges of the human mind to wrestle with the “why?” of our thoughts and actions. Do we simply explain it away as being part of a sinful and fallen world? Do we really have the capacities that 2 Corinthians 10:5 says to “take every thought captive” or are the chemicals too strong? Is the solution as simple as the common “mind over matter” phrase? Perhaps this is why in Romans 12 we are encouraged towards transformation that comes through the renewal of the mind.
Although this text was helpful to explain the scientific and psychological functioning behind dopamine and addictive tendencies/behaviors, it lacked attention towards how to reverse some of the damaging effects that can take place if the reward circuit has been able to develop a deeply rooted highway. For example, increased discussion on the role of the amygdala and how the cycle has the ability to be hijacked towards positive or negative would be helpful. I could, however, anticipate tremendous value in utilizing this book as a supplemental reading alongside addiction recovery curriculum.
The authors write that “dopamine makes us want things with a passion, but it’s the H&Ns that allow us to appreciate them” which leaves me with more questions (34):
- Is there any positive correlation and between H&N chemicals and the practice of gratitude and if so, is there a reciprocal relationship?
- Connecting to Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, is increased dopamine release in System 1 and H&N in System 2 thinking?
- From a leadership perspective, how can leaders best cultivate environments that encourage more happiness?
11 responses to “Mind over Matter”
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Kayli, what insightful questions you ask at the end of your great post! I especially resonate with your last question – how do leaders cultivate environments of happiness? Leadership seems fraught with the problems of the present and the yet unfulfilled possibilities of the future. You also write about working with those struggling with addiction. Are there consistently effective methods you’ve seen work in the lives of those you interact with?
Roy: How true it is that cultivating happiness is a challenge, especially in light of the constant obstacles these last few years have provided for all sectors. One resources that I’ve found can aid towards this is “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” by Gary Chapman.
In regards to walking with those in addiction recovery, the best method I’ve seen is for the individual to be in a long-term recovery program with a curriculum. One that doesn’t just focus on the spiritual components, but dives into the amygdala, the hijacking process, and how to actively develop new highways of thinking in your brain. It is a daily road that requires accountability at each new stage.
Kayli: Nice thoughts in your essay. You bring to the discussion years of experience working with people who wrestle with addictions and I’m sure that informs your reading of this book. The undeniable power of chemicals in our bodies influencing behaviors was clearly described by the authors. Romans 7:15 also came to my mind while reading this book. There are shortcomings of the book that you mention but I think it is only because it is a thin book. If the authors ever wanted to follow where the research leads, they could easily write a few more books about this subject.
I agree, Troy. I could see this being a multi-book series if the authors chose to. It definitely serves a targeted purpose.
Kayli, I love that your wrapped those passages into the conversation. One thing I kept thinking throughout the book is everything (well, maybe not everything) in moderation. It speaks to those “idols” we hold on to that we value and love more than Christ Himself. How do we strike balance in all of that, and then in light of who God has made us, how He has made us, what part of the Body He has made us to fit it, plus the Holy Spirit, and now chemicals (i.e., dopamine), how do we find balance with all of this?
Eric: Interesting thoughts. I’m not sure balance is the right expression for all of this. As we are being fearfully and wonderfully made it makes me think that it becomes more of an integration of all things learned as we age and mature. I think as Andy pointed out in his post this week, we are constantly choosing what to pursue — in the big and small decisions we make on the daily. Maybe figuring it out and balancing it all can become an idol in its own right?
I think you have asked some thoughtful questions. Also, I had not thought about the correlation with “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”
I agree with you that the book failed in giving real, in-depth insight into these matters. I wonder if it was written as a popular press book to invite novices into the conversation.
Kayli, I like how you question whether we are really able to “take every thought captive” according to 2 Corinthians 10, or have no choice but to bow to the power of Dopamine. I think promoting the supremacy of scripture could significantly increase the effectiveness of our counselling and mental health practices. Thanks for raising this very important point
Kayli, I appreciate your reflection on the book. I relation to your last questions, I wonder how the research around politics and in relation to the ways liberals and conservatives “give” might speak to your question about gratitude?
Is Kahneman’s system 2 more appropriately equated with dopamine control circuit? If so does that change anything?
If we engage in the act of creativity could we open the pathway to happiness (while balancing that with H&N purpose)?
Thank you, Kayli, for your thoughtful post and engagement with Lieberman and Long’s work. I appreciated learning from your background working with substance abuse and appreciated your scriptural tie-ins as well. As I read this book, I found myself wondering…are we more than our brain chemistry? Are our spiritual longings only about dopamine at work in our systems? The authors seem to acknowledge that we are more complex than only our brain chemicals, but their writing did leave me wondering how those who view the world from purely a brain chemistry perspective understand or experience their spiritual longings. I’m curious if you’ve had any of those kinds of conversations with students or colleagues in the university setting? How do you weave together the scientific and the spiritual aspects of our complex make-up? Their book also left me wondering how we distinguish spiritual discernment from brain chemistry? I’d value your thoughts on this.
Kayli, I could really relate to your perspective on the book and the unaddressed questions. I appreciate how you intertwined scripture. I also thought of many of them as I was processing this book. I am curious about your last question. Do we really want to cultivate more opportunities to be happy or the experience joy? I would be interested to hear more about your thinking on this.