Thursday, June 16, 2005

How to Sweet-Talk a Rattlesnake

Somebody asked Bernard Sumner of New Order where he got his slightly wacko-clichéed lyrics...he said he stayed up very late at night when the world became silent, and he caught various average people's hopes and fantasies floating in the breeze of the world-soul...

He really said something like that. It was in
NME or Melody Maker about a thousand years ago. It's modestly late and I'm very tired and all I'm getting is signals from my own brain about how tired I am. I've been reading about the brain's reward system and its role in addiction, and apparently the same part of the brain that produces dopamine to reward us for eating and having sex also produces dopamine to reward us for taking dope. (This latter word used in its old-fashioned sense of "any and all drugs.")

Drugs like nicotine, alcohol, opioids, speed, cocaine, etc. can rewire the brain's reward center (mainly, I think, the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental area--I'm not a brain surgeon). You take these substances and they not only produce pleasure but they create a reinforcement loop in which the brain learns to associate
all pleasure with the particular chemical(s) involved. Soon, if the brain belongs to someone predisposed to addiction, they crave the drug more than food, sex, or any of the other stuff they used to get their dopamine fix from.

Drew Pinsky, M.D., medical director at an addiction treatment center (I know he's also on TV) calls this "a set of very powerful drives being activated beneath conscious control in a region of the brain that can't be influenced by reason, language, or will." The reptilian brain gets ahold of you and you're in a world of shit.

Amateur neuroscience may seem a bizarre and unfortunate turn for this blog--but bear with me.

Those who break the addictive cycle do not merely do so via positive thinking and abstention from chemicals. They must also rewire their brain
back to a state in which it's able to produce feelings of well-being without chemical assistance. Dr. Pinsky advocates Alcoholics Anonymous, which provides one such rewiring regimen, but here's my point: we're all wired for some kind of reward kick. We get off on shopping, or muscle cars, or BDSM, or ice cream--but we've all got our dopamine-laced reward loops. The question is, what are they doing for us? Or doing to us? Is there a way to select a poison that's more beneficial for us?

The conscious rewiring of the brain goes by many names: magick, tantra, bio-feedback, meditation, the 12 Steps, yoga. To work, it must fuse a retraining of the body with a forcefully imposed new outlook on the world. Pursuing such a program to the point of meaningful change is very difficult, and the potential for self-deception is tremendous. This is why most of us need some kind of guide, mentor, sponsor, guru--or angel, if we're lucky.

No comments:

Post a Comment