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?