Book Review: 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”

Hyperbolic, gentlemen. I say gentlemen because this book is written by Daniel Z. Lieberman, MD & Michael E. Long.

And it doesn’t say it’s about dopamine at all but… it’s about dopamine. That’s the single chemical we’re talking about.

Overall I found the book interesting with some filler and some big hypothetical stretches, I don’t think it’s a must-read, but let’s dive into my specific book marks that I found fascinating.

p.17 has an example of a highly dopaminergic person who’d excitedly plan a trip to Rome, scheduling out every day and loving it. Then when he’s at the museum he’s not really enjoying it because he’s thinking about dinner, and at dinner he’s thinking about the next thing on the schedule and the next thing and he’s not totally present and enjoying any of it.

I fall into that trap sometimes, living one step ahead of myself and missing the fullness of what’s going on around me. You just have to be conscious of it. The book doesn’t say that, the book doesn’t actually offer anything if you identify with an unfortunate example.

On p.64 we talk about why this dopaminergic thrill of planning exists. Because it helps us maximize our resources in the future. People who plan should end up with greater access to food and mats so of course evolution would select for high-dopamine, planning type people.

p.68 This one’s about dopamine and willingness to put in effort. If you artificially lower the dopamine of starved rats they will do barely enough work to feed themselves, compared to the control rats who work hard, overfeed, and store food after being starved.

Furthermore, if you give the same groups of rats a choice between working for some good food or not-working for bland food the low dopamine rats will settle every time.

Drawing the conclusion that willingness to work hard isn’t about virtue or laziness, it’s just chemicals. No dopamine, no motivation. So instead of preaching at people about will power we should, as always, ask them to check if their neurotransmitters are in order first.

p.76 Affiliative and Agentic relationships. The book casts Afflitiative relationships as mere friendship, they kind were you just hang. Marinate in each other’s company as Kevin T. Porter says. And Agentic relationships are where the relationship has a purpose like, say, you and your literary agent, where each person has a need and goal to be fulfilled by the other.

But this touches on something I’d been thinking about anyway in that friendships are purpose-driven too. There are people I know who hang out with people they don’t enjoy being around and when pressed to not hang out with that person they say but we’re friends.

Isn’t the point of friendship though that you enjoy the other person’s company? Like, you went out to have fun and one person ruined the fun aren’t they then bad at friendship? There’s a lot of cultural talk about toxic people and emotional labour and I think it’s because people don’t realize that as adults you can choose your friends. We’re raised in a model where you made friends at school because you were thrust together, your classmates and your friend’s friends were unavoidable. So those would be truly affiliative as I’m concerned, everything after that though, when you can choose who you want to be friends with, is agentic in a way. It has a purpose it either achieves or doesn’t.

And while saying that all friendships are goal-driven might seem like me being cold and logical and missing the true value of friendship in a My-Little-Pony-kind-of-way, I think it acknowledges that the purpose of friendship is to feel good about oneself and others, to me that’s practical self-care and acknowledges the evolutionary value of having friends.

Don’t have mediocre (or worse) friends is my point.

What does this have to do with dopamine, it’s sane to ask. The authors say that agentic relationships, like networking for your career, is dopaminergic while standard friendship is serotonergic (to do with serotonin, the molecule of contentment supposedly). Whereas I imagine your relationship with some you live with or (maybe ironically) work with are the merely affiliative. You don’t have a goal at all times, you fill a lot of silence with sharing, and you just marinate in their company for years to the point you sometimes only know you like them when they been gone. Modern friendships are a series of difficult to organize and frequently cancelled play-dates to consume together – be it food, alcohol, or a movie. It’s all planning, hoping, liking, rewarding. That’s dopamine.

That was quite the rant, I’ll call that part one. Stay tuned.

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