The Complexities of Reality: A Practical Exploration from Where I Sit
As I Begin
One of my goals this semester is to reduce the amount of time I spend preparing my blogs, in order to sharpen my communication skills and create a more balanced life and work routine. I am pushing myself to form and hone my ideas more quickly and to edit less. I find this approach uncomfortable but am committed to improving my writing routine. I am open to the feedback of my peers as I navigate this learning process. I appreciate Dr. Clark’s comment that every blog need not be a homerun. I hope to hit some homeruns this semester and I hope to be content with simply getting on base some weeks, as well. In general, my aim is to free myself from the book and interact critically with the content by weaving in my personal experiences and learnings from other sources. To that end, let the challenge begin.
In Review: The Molecule of More
The first book we are reading this semester addresses the influence of dopamine on human behavior. Psychiatrist Daniel Lieberman and physicist Michael Long collaborated to create the 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. In their writing, they highlight the power of dopamine to drive human decisions and actions, despite the fact that only 0.00005 percent of brain cells produce dopamine, saying, “These cells appear to exert an outsized influence on behavior.” They also dispel the commonly held idea that dopamine is the “pleasure” molecule and show through research, that in fact, dopamine is the “anticipation” molecule. “From dopamine’s point of view, having things is uninteresting. It’s only getting things that matters.” Dopamine drives us to pursue new and attractive materials and experiences, but once we obtain them, dopamine subsides, as do the accompanying feelings of excitement. “The dopamine circuits in the brain can be stimulated only by the possibility of whatever is shiny and new, never mind how perfect things are at the moment. The dopamine motto is ‘More.’”
Interestingly, as Lieberman and Long point out, dopamine helps us to enjoy and envision the things that are possible, however, a completely different set of neurotransmitters, the Here and Now molecules, allow us to enjoy those things once we obtain them. “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,” which include serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Many of us get hooked on the pleasure of anticipation and find it hard to settle into the pleasure afforded through the sensations and emotions of the here and now. Lieberman and Long draw upon wisdom from anthropologist Helen Fisher, who illustrates the role of dopamine through the example of human relationships. She estimates that early love, driven by dopamine, lasts twelve to eighteen months. Beyond that, to foster a successful relationship couples must develop what Fisher calls, “companionate love,” which is fueled by the Here and Now chemicals in the body. Fisher says, companionate love “involves experiences that are happening right here, right now – you’re with the one you love, so enjoy it.” Our challenge is to recognize the pull of dopamine in our lives, make deliberate choices regarding our behavior, and enjoy the here and now.
An Area of Personal Intrigue
This presentation on dopamine offers various areas of interest I would like to pursue. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to discuss a particular idea that intrigues me near the end of Lieberman and Long’s book. In chapter six, the authors refer to the allure of virtual reality and the temptations they predict will cause humans to choose reliance on and interaction with artificial intelligence, instead of reliance on and interaction with human beings. They offer these words:
“With VR, the human race may go willingly into the dark night. Our dopamine circuits will tell us it’s the best thing ever. 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.”
Though there are several powerful ideas in this quote, the one phrase that catches my attention is: “appreciate the unlimited complexity of reality.” What is the unlimited complexity of reality? Is reality complex? Is the complexity unlimited? Do we too often ponder and reach for possibilities of what could be obtained, as opposed to spending balanced amounts of time in the here and now? Are we underutilizing our “Here and Now molecules” and missing the richness of our present reality? Is reality ever so painful, boring, or disappointing that it’s easier to continuously be moving forward into a new future?
An Experiment in the Here and Now
I decided to experiment with the “unlimited complexity of reality” to further understand what the authors are talking about. Pausing from my writing, I tried to sit in the present and experience what is immediately here and real. It struck me that I’m sitting in the church where my family attended when I was four through six years old. I accidentally found myself back at this church when I was in college and met my first husband here. We ended up back in this spiritual family after twelve years living in California and Mexico. I joined the church staff. The congregation offered office space for the nonprofit for which I now work. I am sitting in the chair and working at the desk that once belonged to my mentor who served as a pastor here years ago. I was baptized, married, and ordained here. I am struck anew by the reality that I have lived much of my life in connection to this church family and they are an encouraging group of people for whom I am grateful! Immediately, I can see that reality is complex and offers deep and broad opportunities through which to live and grow.
As I continue to sit in the present, my colleague Amy comes to the office door on her way home and shares her appreciation for a woman at the school district with whom I work. She tells of the lifechanging gift that this woman, Sara, offered her family as they navigated a move after their recent house fire. I am reminded of Sara’s dedication to her clients. Amy asks me to help her carry something to her car. I’m feeling the tension of needing to get back to my essay, but I lean into the opportunity to explore the present. We have a fun conversation on our way to the parking lot, I am renewed by the chance to get up and walk and spend some time outside, I am reminded that there are cookies in the church refrigerator and grab one on my way back to my desk. I am energized and receive joy from conversation, a short walk, the outdoors, and a delicious cookie. This combination adds significant value and inspiration to my day.
Before I return to my essay, the pastor of the church enters my office and sits to recount a story from the afternoon. It’s a sobering story. I am privileged to share this burden with her. My relationship with a friend is strengthened. This is not only significant to my day, but to the long-term wellness of my being.
As I turn back to writing, I am inspired to more deeply notice and experience the complexities of reality and to let the Here and Now molecules flow more freely in my life. Though dopamine serves an important role, I want to be more aware of the ways in which I give into its pull and instead, strive for balance between my desire for “more” and my appreciation of what I have. There is complexity in our reality and that complexity offers opportunities for contentment, growth, and the experiences and emotions that make us human.
 Jason Clark, DLGP01 Zoom Chat, January 9, 2023.
 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 (Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc, 2018), 2.
 Lieberman and Long, 16. Italics added by the author of this blog.
 Lieberman and Long, 16.
 Lieberman and Long, 16.
 Lieberman and Long, 16.
 Helen Fisher, A. Aron, L.L. Brown, Romantic Love: A Mammalian Brain System for Mate Choice. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 361 (1476), 2173-2186 in Lieberman and Long, 16.
 Topics I would like to explore further include the role of dopamine in consumerism, the effect of the “culture of more” on the church, potential health effects of overly focusing on the future and underappreciating what we have now, the Biblical perspective on the role of dopamine and the human tendency to focus on obtaining “more.”
 Lieberman and Long, 208.
 C. Mooney, Just looking at nature can help your brain work better, study finds. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/05/26/viewing-nature-can-help-your-brain-work-better-study-finds/.
13 responses to “The Complexities of Reality: A Practical Exploration from Where I Sit”
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Look at you quoting Dr. Clark! This is brilliant. I am going to need to do this more in my blogs! Why not use those notes that we take from Monday morning zoom calls!! Brilliant…you are brilliant!!
This info, you quote, was so cool for me to read! I have always told young people and premarital couples that the “honeymoon stage/ The Blitz” can last 2 years! This was confirmed in this book!
” She estimates that early love, driven by dopamine, lasts twelve to eighteen months”
I LOVE your experiment in the HERE AND NOW! Look at you applying the book while writing your blog! Like I said: You are brilliant! What a creative blog! Excellent work! Thank you for role modeling good doctoral work!
JSH- I must continue to read your blogs!
Thanks for reading my blog and for your comments! Yes, I agree, isn’t this transformative information regarding the feelings we experience during new and seasoned relationships? I feel like this should be information we share in schools with all young people looking forward to long-term relationships in the future! It could almost be a relief to people to know that when the butterflies of new relationships fade, it doesn’t mean the value or potential of the relationship is fading, just that the depth of the relationship is potentially growing. So many thoughts here to explore!
I appreciate your comments!
I am excited to see how the challenge you set for yourself goes for this semester! Though I must admit, I believe that your blogs will still be thorough, insightful, and well-written and I’ll still be trying to catch up to your level!
The questions you posed were fascinating, one of them being “Are we underutilizing our ‘Here and Now molecules’ and missing the richness of our present reality?”
“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.”
– Dacher Keltner, University of California, Berkeley
How often do we pause, and allow awe to move us towards worship? How often do we settle for numbing pleasures that move us away from the HERE and NOW?
I guess this is the invitation of silence, solitude, and mindfulness of our present (and complex) reality.
Once again, beautifully written and thought-provoking Jenny!
Hi David, Thanks so much for reading my blog and for your thoughtful comments. I love your quote on awe. It’s such a powerful feeling, isn’t it, with so much potential to move us toward depth of understanding and satisfaction with our lives and the surrounding world. I really like that you pointed out that awe can immediately move us toward worship. I once read an article entitled, “The Gift of Awe,” and it talked about the ways in which we can help our kids to experience awe in life. It seems like that’s a gift we could even pass on to our work teams and people in our congregations. I need to go find that article again.
Thanks again, David! Looking forward to learning together with our cohort this semester.
Jenny, appreciated you allowing us a glimpse into your practice in being present. My partner regularly practices mindfulness with her students and I am often reminded of how easy it is to not fully experience the present as I constantly look forward to the next thing.
Hi Caleb, Thanks for your comments and thoughts. That is so cool that your partner practices mindfulness with her students. What an amazing life-long gift she is giving them. I agree with you that I want to be settling in to the here and now and not always focused on what’s coming next in the future!
I hope you are doing well and had a great holiday. I’m looking forward to some great learning together with our cohort this semester!
Such a lovely blog post! And you quoted Dr. Jason Clark from our Monday meeting! How clever of you! You took the very thing he spoke about on Monday and applied it to this post. Congratulations. Job well done my friend!
Your glimpse into the practice of being present in the moment, the here and now, was insightful. Thank you for being honest in your writing. I appreciate that about you.
Hi Tonettte, Thanks for your comments! I so appreciate your words of encouragement. I’m excited to find new angles from which to write our blog posts this semester and to try out some new approaches. I find writing about my own situation at the moment is an easy way to approach our blogs, because it’s something I can describe here and now, instead of something I have to create out of nothing, which is harder. I’m trying to be mindful, though, of not overly talking about myself. Trying to find the balance.
By the way, I’d love your wisdom on that balance, at some point in a future conversation.
Hope you are well this weekend!
Thanks for the great post sharing your goal and inviting us to engage “I am open to the feedback of my peers.” You are not alone; we share the challenge. I loved your post and appreciate the details of your life and the readings you did. You’ve been blessed with a wonderful community of believers, it’s amazing! My experience is the opposite, I have been a nomad all life yet very appreciative of God’s blessings as well.
Hi Jean, Thank you so much for your comments. Yes, maybe we can all encourage each other in shortening our reading and writing times and sharpening our skills through our blogs. I’m looking forward to improving.
I am grateful for the family I have found at our church and would love to hear more about your experiences, which you mentioned, in the future!
Hope you are well!
Great post. I appreciate the way you summarized the book and used it as an example in your life. It was fun to read and get a glimpse of your work at a church that has been an important part of your life.
I also resonated with the appeal to take more notice of the reality around us. I’m curious what you think of the warning given about virtual reality. Much like video games, movies and even novels before, it seems that we often fear new technology and experiences and how they might affect the people who use them. I’m particularly curious since you have lived in different places with distinct cultures. How would you rate the quality of human interaction and how technology either hinders or elevates this quality?
Thanks for your comments and for your great questions. I think the VR warning is interesting and probably warranted, but I also think there are and will be some great opportunities available through VR. You make such an interesting point about new technologies and advancements in our societies throughout time and the tendency to fear what is unknown and unfamiliar. I definitely have to give this some more thought, but it seems like our culture tends to focus on our human strengths and weaknesses and some people exploit those strengths and weaknesses for profit and others complement those strengths and weaknesses to promote wellbeing. I’m not sure if we can completely stop the exploitation and harms done as a result. What do you think?
Great questions regarding technology and human interaction in other cultures. Speaking from my own observation, the people in Mexico with whom we lived and worked were completely invested in relationships with family and friends. Technology was a peripheral element in daily living.
Thanks for prompting me to think further!