Are you in control of your life? Mims Rat Removal?
I recently watched a presenter’s TED Chat titled “The key to want in a long-term relationship” that led me to ask this very question of myself. As the name suggests, this TED Chat was about long-term relationships and why so many modern marriages wind up failing. The speaker, a relationship therapist called Esther Perel, pointed out that modern-day couples frequently fail because they expect their spouse to meet two contrary human needs: the need for comfort and reliability and the need for novelty and excitement.
This invaluable insight made me realize just how much of our lives could be regarded as a quest for both of these states of mind. Sex, as an instance, is often known to be fueled by novelty. Gary B. Wilson’s popular book and site Your Brain on Porn, as an instance, explains how addiction to online pornography is actually an addiction to the dopamine rush one gets from locating a new video of attention. While it might appear easy to scoff at those addicted to online porn, this tendency is a microcosm of our society’s growing reliance on technology and the easy accessibility to dopamine spikes this permits. Those of you reading this report, ask yourselves: what motivation lies behind this act? The whole self-improvement motion is based around little dopamine rushes struck when one believes they have attained a “success.”
Prior to the invention of computers or smartphones allowed access to pornography, people got their fix elsewhere: playboy, sensual call facilities, peep-show booths, and Victoria’s Secret catalogues all attest to that. Sure, the ease of access now is unprecedented but it’s still the exact same story of the mind seeking out dopamine. In the 1950s Leave it to Beaver-esque presence, the archetypal small business man had to have his evening pipe, slippers, and paper. Is this not the image of dopamine seeking? Immediate gratification, relaxation, and novelty all rolled into a satisfying ritual.
Is there some value in that understanding? Should we attempt to counter this behaviour? Some believe this is the aim of religion. In the Middle Ages, as an instance, the Church played a very important role in controlling sexual knights who returned from Crusade with an insatiable appetite for killing, raping, and pillaging. Biologically, those knights were probably chasing a similar dopamine rush to “addicts” of all types now.
Many religions impose rules which work to suppress our unhealthy appetite for self-satisfaction, to be selfless, and care for others. The obvious caveat to this is that performing a “selfless” deed could become a different method of securing that exact same rush of positive feelings–and become a selfish act in itself. Believing that charity gets you into paradise is not any different than thinking that the slot-machine you’ve been playing will eventually “pay out.”
Naturally, philosophers and religious scholars will contend that selfless acts add into the world–that has a net positive impact. I don’t deny that. But my point here is that almost all of our lives are controlled by the need to feel “great” either by novelty or familiarity.
Are we self-serving addicts?
The response to the latter question is, in a true sense, yes. The majority of our lives are spent pursuing pleasure. However, that does not need to be a terrible thing. While it might be responsible for the continuing prevalence of Keeping up with the Kardashians, the human brain’s dopamine reward system is responsible for everything humans have generated that’s enchanting, glorious, divine, delicious, or just plain cool, in this world.
So, go ahead, indulge in some reality TV, sex, and chocolate and invite your mind because of its (self-interested) service.