On the beach in ceremony and celebration the men showed their skill, power and courage. They were fierce. The girls and women moved to the music of the surf and strings, graceful, elegant and free. They admired one another.
Times have changed. But still there’s time to wonder,
What happens when we fall in love?
One thing is, we feel magnificence. It might be warmth. It might be a flood. We feel light and unobstructed. The world looks different. The world looks good. We arrive in the center of a whole new universe, sweet with possibility, within reach right here and now. A universe saying yes.
It is a moment we could barely imagine and hardly believed would come, and yet we find it to be as natural and easy and inevitable as breathing. Unexpected. Unique. And immediately recognized.
It is a moment, a day, an eternity when every sensation, object, every moment, is a sensation an object a moment of bliss.
Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern wrote a song about this:
“The Way You Look Tonight”
Some day, when I’m awfully low
When the world is cold
I will feel a glow just thinking of you
And the way you look tonight…
After a long sojourn in Italy, dispossessed at the court of Queen Elizabeth by intrigue and his own vanity, Shakespeare let’s us all in on it:
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
And at the end of “The Man Who Was Thursday”
G.K. Chesterton is surprised at the unfamiliar magic of it:
…He felt he was in possession of some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality. Dawn was breaking over everything in colours at once clear and timid; as if Nature made a first attempt at yellow and a first attempt at rose. A breeze blew so clean and sweet, that one could not think that it blew from the sky; it blew rather through some hole in the sky. (He) felt a simple surprise when he saw rising all round him on both sides of the road the red, irregular buildings of Saffron Park. He had no idea that he had walked so near London. He walked by instinct along one white road, on which early birds hopped and sang, and found himself outside a fenced garden. There he saw the sister of Gregory, the girl with the gold-red hair, cutting lilac before breakfast, with the great unconscious gravity of a girl.
What can account for the strange enchantment that illuminates the world, transforms the ordinary, brings rapture at a glimpse of one face?
Does it mean, could it be, that we are experiencing a dopaminergic response to a reward prediction error? A reward prediction error that we are programmed never to make again for as long as we both shall live? Is it the initiation of an arduously evolved exquisitely refined happiness-reinforcing learning cycle in our neurochemistry?
Some say yes!! That is precisely what it is.
But they go further, wandering off into dangerous territory.
They say that is what it really is. They presume our biology to be more real than our subjectivity. To make this claim they must exclude vast regions of human experience, of meaning and of action, from consideration. But they do.
Their acute observations of these neurochemical, psychological and behavioral mechanisms were the products of decades of research by brilliant people. It is very valuable. But inferences drawn from it now present us with a lethal threat.
The truth they discovered, if well-understood, would help us live. But the reduction of phenomena to their mechanisms arbitrarily extracts one dimension of reality from the whole, and privileges that single dimension above the whole mass of them which exist together. This offers up that mechanism for exploitation, which leads to slavery, stupidity and death.
As children we explore. We continue to explore throughout our lives.
And as we do we learn. We learn what to do. And what to avoid. What actions or places are threatening and which are rewarding.
Our senses and our emotions are intensely engaged in this exploratory learning, as children and as adults.
When our exploratory efforts are rewarded, unexpectedly, we will never forget the circumstances of it, and we will seek those circumstances out again, as long as we have a expectation that our adventure, our choice and our risk, will be rewarded again.
Let’s say you are a deer. You are eating some grass. You stop and listen. There is danger. You freeze.
You feel terror. You run.
You run and run. You stop. The sun is bright. You are far from the herd. The land is strange to you. It is quiet. You look around. You listen. You are very thirsty. It is hot. You do not know where to find water. You wander along.
You have lived your entire life hungry or a few minutes from hunger. You rest and move and search all the time, alert, to a sound or a scent or a sight that might mean something to eat, or death.
You wander. Without warning a cool spring is at your feet. Complete delight fills you as you bow your head down to drink. The world says yes to you. You can live. You drink the cool water, the heat fades and life flows back into you. You will never forget the way this place looks.
You will never forget the landscape that led you here. You will always remember the lay of the land, the look of the path, the kind of plants, the fullness of their fragrance in the air. The way they grow, green, low and close together. You will never forget them, you will recognize them again whenever you see them. You will know what they promise. They will always seem beautiful.
You did not expect the reward that came from wandering along this path to the water. Your mind is wired to prevent that failure-to-predict from happening again. Your mind was awash in dopamine as soon as you found the water. Delight and happiness. The world saying yes.
And not only did the dopamine rush produce a feeling of exhilaration and affirmation at that moment but it also back-filled all the memories and sensations associated with the steps that led you to find that water.
The land and scents and sights, all are forever encoded in your memory by the powerful survival adaptation that has evolved to associate reward – especially unexpected reward – with delight, so we can repeat it, so we can predict and locate reward more easily next time, learning, through our deep and delightful memory of all the things that led us to it.
Like when we fall in love. The land and the sky, the restaurant, the car, her voice and her scent, what she said and the expression that passed across her face, briefly but unforgettably, and all the places and moments that led you to assume the risk, explore the unknown, hope for reward, and move, moving through her neighborhood, remembering the voice, the way the light was reflected, the song that was playing and the sounds of the traffic on the street.
You will never forget it as long as you live. That will lead you back, to her, forever.
The natural world guides us to what works. To explore. To prepare our minds and bodies and skills and spirit. To depart and take risks. To seek reward, and to return.
This takes a long time. It takes persistence. It includes error. We are unfinished. We are engaged in a transformative enterprise. We learn. We do best when we use virtue and strength and work together. We can learn that, by trial and error, over the course of a lifetime if we are fortunate, over ages and ages if we are human.
But what if you – or what if someone – could manipulate people’s minds and just give them that intense reward experience, at will. What if you could enslave people, as many as you want, and have them serve you? You can!
By understanding the exquisitely tuned, subtle operations of our brain, it has been made possible for people with malicious intent to harm us and destroy the world. By substituting the passivity and hopelessness of pornography for the complex demands of courtship, by substituting drug dealing and getting high for work and family, substituting video gaming for skill and shared purpose, substituting social validation-seeking behaviors via social media for actual friendship, we have disabled ourselves, devalued our lives and degraded society.
If we buy what they are selling we will suffer the consequences.
The evidence is everywhere, not just on couches, in basements, on the highways and in the schools, but in the debt, despair, indifference and degeneration that have proceeded from science when it is guided by the gleeful guile of conventional wisdom.
Heroin, like cocaine, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, and others, induces a dopaminergic response in the brain. Among other effects, they mimic happiness by initially producing a reward-prediction-error response. This reinforces the drug-taking behavior with euphoria. People learn to repeat the rewarded action.
New users love it. He or she soon will not only crave the heroin experience itself but all the things they associate with the heroin experience. Because the dopaminergic response, as it does in response to romantic love, the delight of children, pride in achievement, or quenching your thirst on a hot day far from home, backfills the memories leading up to the rewarded event.
The memories of the steps you took that led to the heroin use are themselves impregnated with blissful feelings, and the users crave those in anticipation of the pleasure of the heroin, just as they crave the heroin itself. The street corner where they met the dealer, the car they were in when they rode away, the apartment where they shot up, the table covered in paraphernalia and garbage, the people they met there, all are infused with a special excitement, looking back; if not with actual beauty at least with glamor and an intensity of the real you never see in ordinary life.
The anticipatory sights and sounds that precede the reward experience trigger the kind of neurochemical response that in the natural world can guide our behavior toward success – in finding food, shelter, victory, mating, happiness, family, home, and peace.
Heroin addiction exploits the neurochemistry of exploration, courtship and living in the natural world.
Now through the union of science and crime, brain chemistry is being exploited, and instead of inducing skillful exploration, family commitment and strength, it produces theft, ignorance and barrels of human heads dumped in narcofosas.
This is the same neurobiology people use to addict themselves to pornography.
The biological mechanism that addicts people to ludic killing through first person shooter games (popular ones with day-of-release sales of over $2 billion.)
It is the same neurobiology that addicts normal, healthy people to gambling, sugar and other popular stuff considered innocuous or fun, or for adults who are free to use their own judgment, or an unfortunate misuse.
But which turns people into slaves.
Do the manufacturers and dealers and social media architects know about the susceptibility of the human beings to seduction via these obscure biochemical mechanisms? At the top of the decision chain, they do.
Lower down the distribution chain people eventually catch on. They may not be aware that what harms other people will harm them too. They will find this out. But by then it may be too late for them to benefit much from the discovery, or for the rest of the world to avoid misery.
As long as science is used in a way that treats the world as a mass of material, treats minds as brains, use gain and ambition as acceptable motives for action, and feel no compunction about leaving loving kindness out when considering what to do, we will proceed, step by step, through cities and cars, computers and phones, to robots and artificial intelligence, to artificial experience, to artificial everything, to death.
Some people object. They insist this is reactionary, or too categorical, prudish, anhedonic or just unfun – to defame drinking, gambling, sugar, pornography, promiscuity, hate and dope. These things are fun, or necessary, or no one’s business.
But take a long look at any life, or the life of any family.
What makes people who live close to their families and to the earth look the way they do? What makes people who live far from their families and the earth look the way they do?
Reward systems decoupled from human love and the natural world exhaust us, tempt us to take poison for happiness, and to miss the experience of joy, in times of abundance and in difficulty.
The path we are on is not the only path there is.
All we have to do to make it right is dedicate every moment of our lives to understanding deep reality with courage and true love.
Post by J. Michael Brooks