Fuel for Love

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 the 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, every 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…

 

Shakespeare, returning from his adventures in Italy, was kicked out of the court of Queen Elizabeth, the result of back-stabbing rivals and his own arrogance.

He wrote about how it felt; he let us in on the redemptive joy of romantic love:

 

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.

(That is Sonnet 29)

 

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. And this is what they do.

 

Their acute observations of these neurochemical, psychological and behavioral mechanisms, in and out of the lab, were the products of decades of research by brilliant people.

The truth they discovered, if well-understood, could 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.

 

2.

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, places and people 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 don’t know where to find water. You wander along.

 

Path 1

 

You have lived your entire life hungry or 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 one that might mean death.

You wander. Without warning a cool spring is at your feet. Complete delight fills you as you bow your head 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.

moss and needles

 

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.

 

rock path 1

 

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.

 

3.

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. It offers opportunities 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 we work together. We can learn that – by trial and error, over the course of a lifetime if we are fortunate, over ages and ages of trial and error by our ancestors, 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 who are selfish or have 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 you to the heroin 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 they never felt 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 deceit, ignorance, anxiety and insatiable desire.

 

This is the same neurobiology people use to addict themselves to pornography.

 

The same biological mechanism that addicts people to ludic killing in first person shooter games (popular ones have sales in the billions of dollars.) The same neurobiology that addicts normal, healthy people to gambling, sugar and other popular stuff considered innocuous or fun.

 

And which turns people into slaves.

 

People turn themselves into slaves sometimes, thinking they can just have a taste, just play a little bit, and that they will stay in control.

Bob Dylan in “A Simple Twist of Fate” explains how easy it is to do:

They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark
She looked at him and he felt a spark
Tingle to his bones
‘Twas then he felt alone
And wished that he’d gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate
They walked along by the old canal
A little confused, I remember well
And stopped into a strange hotel
With a neon burnin’ bright
He felt the heat of the night
Hit him like a freight train
Moving with a simple twist of fate
A saxophone someplace far-off played
As she was walkin’ on by the arcade
As the light bust through a beat-up shade
Where he was waking up
She dropped a coin into the cup
Of a blind man at the gate
And forgot about a simple twist of fate
He woke up, the room was bare
He didn’t see her anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care
Pushed the window open wide
Felt an emptiness inside
To which he just could not relate
Brought on by a simple twist of fate
He hears the ticking of the clocks
And walks along with a parrot that talks
Hunts her down by the waterfront docks
Where the sailors all come in
Maybe she’ll pick him out again
How long must he wait?
One more time, for a simple twist of fate

People tell me it’s a sin
To know and feel too much within
I still believe she was my twin
But I lost the ring
She was born in spring
But I was born too late
Blame it on a simple twist of fate

 

He wished that he’d gone straight. Straight where? He knew better. Maybe he knew he was doing something wrong. But he went ahead anyway.

There are lots of things out there that promise you pleasure and want your love but will never love you back.

Do the manufacturers and drug dealers and social media architects know about the susceptibility of the human beings to seduction via these biochemical mechanisms?

At the top of the decision chain, they do.

 

Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and later became its vice president for user growth, said that he and the company’s founders “have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

The engineer-turned-investor added that he feels “tremendous guilt” for the impact Facebook has had on the world, and said that his kids don’t have profiles on the social network.

“They’re not allowed to use this sh-t,” he said…

Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker said Facebook is designed to exploit “a vulnerability in human psychology” to get its users addicted…

“It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other,” he said. “And I don’t have a good solution. My solution is I just don’t use these tools anymore.”…

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he continued. “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem… This is a global problem.” – NY Post 12/11/17

 

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.

Our rich and powerful titans have no clue what to do, where to focus their brilliance, what works, how it works, and what they could actually do to prevail.

Reward systems decoupled from human love, responsibility for other people 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 times of difficulty.

What makes people who live close to their families, their neighbors and the earth continue to live the way they do?

The men and women on the beach, moving in the wind, in the firelight, together, to the music of their lutes, know. Everyone used to know.

We cannot afford to forget it.

To be strong and beautiful be strong and good, or you might say

Be courageous, stand upright and take care of each other.

 

 

Post by J. Michael Brooks

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