The existence, and perhaps extinction, of our world hinges on dopamine, according to authors Lieberman and Long in The Molecule of More. Dopamine, a chemical in the brain, “makes you desire what you don’t yet have, and drives you to seek new things. It rewards you when you obey it, and makes you suffer when you don’t.” This insatiable drive for more has led to great discoveries, bold developments, and astounding creativity, but also madness, addiction, and self-destruction. Written from a social neuroscience perspective, the authors address several topics ranging from love to politics and the potential implications of dopamine. While undoubtedly dopamine “gives us power to create… to imagine the unreal and connect the seemingly unrelated” to accomplish impossible tasks, left unchecked, much like a child destroying a newly created tower of blocks, “dopamine demolishes its own” creation. Given the vast power of dopamine to create and devastate, the authors arrive at the following conclusion: “There’s only one thing that will save us: the ability to achieve a better balance, to overcome our obsession with more, appreciate the unlimited complexity of reality, and learn to enjoy the things we have.”
While many of the addressed topics were of great interest to me, I was enlightened to better understand the power of dopamine, especially as it relates to addictions. The authors reference two different chemicals in the brain that, when working correctly, provide balance to one another. The down chemical, called the Here & Now, or H&N, “allow you to experience what is in front of you. They enable you to savor and enjoy, or perhaps fight or run away.” The upper chemical, dopamine, is the never satisfied drive for more. The authors write, “Dopamine control circuits and H&N circuits work in opposition, creating a balance that allows us to be humane toward others, while safeguarding our own survival.” However, when this system is unchecked, and there is a dominance of dopamine, any concern for others or even oneself is disregarded as all that matters is the drive for more pleasure at any cost. “Prod dopamine too hard and too long, and its power comes roaring out. Once it has taken charge of a life, it is difficult to tame.” Working in a low-income community plagued by an oversaturation of addiction to drugs and alcohol, I have greater empathy to understand the plight of the addict’s condition and the reasoning for what appears to be their continual choosing a path of destruction despite the personal costs. Additionally, as one with addictive tendencies, I am challenged to consider ways to ensure a healthy balance between H&N and dopamine. While full-blown addiction can be hard to tame, thankfully, it is not impossible.
Finally, I was especially intrigued by the chapter titled “Progress.” The authors make an interesting connection between increased levels of dopamine and the migration of people. Furthermore, they suggest this migration is due to a milder form of bipolar known as hypomania. These people “enjoy such things as enhanced motivation, creativity, a tendency toward bold actions and risk-taking, and other characteristics that reflect higher than average levels of dopamine activity.” Given the migration of people and the discovery of new lands, Americans have a high degree of this dopaminergic drive. In fact, Tocqueville described America as a “nation inhabited by hyperthymics,” that is, those who demonstrate hypomanic tendencies. In many regards, the US would not be what it is today apart from this dopaminergic drive, yet, the authors indicate this progress has not come without a cost:
When the human race lived in scarcity and on the brink of extinction, the drive for more kept us alive. Dopamine was the engine of progress. It helped lift our evolutionary ancestors out of subsistence living. By giving us the ability to create tools, invent abstract sciences, and plan far into the future, it made us the dominant species on the planet. But in an environment of plenty in which we have mastered our world and developed sophisticated technology – in a time when more is no longer a matter of survival – dopamine continues to drive us forward, perhaps to our own destruction.
This section was of particular interest for two reasons. First, a few years back, I visited the neurologist as I was struggling with ongoing headaches. Having conducted an MRI, the doctor concluded I was in good health; however, he also had an incidental finding that I have a Chiari malformation. In this follow-up, he also mentioned I might have mild hypomania! Needless to say, there was much I could identify with as the authors described the hypomanic tendencies of our nation, to which my wife concurred. For example, “They often accomplish a great deal, but they can be difficult to live with.” Thankfully marriage is “till death do us part!” Second, regarding the organization I have been leading since 2010, there have been many times I have wondered if my constant drive and push for more is what the organization needs most. The authors write, “It is possible that we won’t last beyond another half-dozen generations. We’ve simply become too good at gratifying our dopaminergic desires: not all forms of more and new and novel are good for an individual, and the same is true for a species.” I would argue, the same is also true for organizations. I am challenged to consider, how I can be a self-differentiated leader and know when what I have to offer the organization is no longer to its benefit?
 Daniel Z Lieberman and Michael E Long, 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, 2019, xvi.
 Ibid., 139.
 Ibid., 208.
 Ibid., xvi.
 Ibid., 96.
 Ibid., 47.
 Ibid., 194.
 Ibid., 195.
 Ibid., 202.
 “Chiari Malformation – Symptoms and Causes – Mayo Clinic,” accessed January 11, 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chiari-malformation/symptoms-causes/syc-20354010.
 Lieberman and Long, The Molecule of More, 194.
 Ibid., 202.