Friday, September 23, 2005

A society of addicts?

No time to organize fresh thoughts tonight, so here's a clipping from John Mauldin's highly rated newsletter... an item that relates strongly to my "Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry, and Social Psychology."

It suggests that science may yet come up with solutions to the things that are driving millions of people to wage war against science. Well, one can hope...


"Mirapex was among the top-selling Parkinson's drugs last year, with more than $200 million in sales in the United States. The drug reduces tremors and the slow, stiff movements that are a hallmark of Parkinson's disease. Mirapex belongs to a class of drugs that mimic the effects of dopamine.

addiction"A medical anomaly caught our attention: A recent Mayo Clinic study describes a compulsive gambling problem that developed among many Parkinson patients being treated with dopamine-enhancing medications. This is an unusual side effect.

"Also anomalous is the current U.S. obsession with the game of poker. Computer online gambling is booming, with poker sites alone expected to take in $2 billion this year. More than 50 million people describe themselves as poker players.

"As many as 10 million U.S. adults meet the "problem gambling" criteria, according to the National Council on problem gambling. Kids are hit even harder. The rate of problem gambling among underage players is between two and three times the rate for adults. Health officials want to know whether the damage can be curbed. What separates addictive gamblers from occasional ones? Another American oddity is obesity, which in turn may lead to diabetes.

"The medication for Parkinson's, the desire to gamble and the craving for excess food have one common denominator, dopamine.

dopmaine"Dopamine is a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, a neurotransmitter that controls action. Dopamine is associated with addiction of all types. Recent studies have indicated that dopamine responds more to unpredictable rewards than to predictable ones. A part of the brain called the striatum where dopamine exists seems to care more about what it cannot predict. In a sense, dopamine produces a need for novelty.

"Dopamine has been associated with the novelty of drinking, gambling and other addictions, but it is also connected with curiosity, adventure, entrepreneurship and accomplishments. An experiment performed by Dr. Gregory Burns, author of a book on dopamine, Satisfaction, shows a positive side of dopamine.

"In this research probe by Dr. Burns, patients connected with MRI brain scanning were given a computer puzzle. When completed successfully, an award of $10 was produced. Under these conditions, the dopamine was high. There was uncertainty as to the outcome. Conversely, when the same patients were given $10, the level of dopamine was very low. Predictability was certain and effort was not required.

"Dopamine helps to produce results in an uncertain world.

"Dr. Peter C. Whybrow, a psychiatrist and author of American Mania postulates that dopamine has produced a manic America. He cites the words of satirist George Carlin, describing this land of puzzling contradictions, 'bigger houses but smaller families; more conveniences but less time; more knowledge but less judgment.' As a practicing psychologist, Dr. Whybrow finds this frenetic chase in America reminiscent of the manic-depression cycles in individual patients.

"Dr. Whybrow connects the excessive dopamine characteristics of America to migration. Approximately 2 percent of any population has enough dopamine to create the curios risk-taking necessary to leave the group. America basically is built through immigration. As a nation we have perhaps 50 percent with high dopamine characteristics. This drive has made America great.

"When explaining the difference between the American and European mind set, Dr. Whybrow cites and observation from Alexis de Tocqueville's famous 1835 treatise, Democracy in America. Tocqueville uses a merchant seaman as a metaphor. The European seaman is prudent when adventuring out to sea. When an unexpected event happens, he returns to port. The American, neglecting such precaution, braves these dangers. He sets sail while the storm is still rumbling. He spreads full sail to the wind. He repairs storm damage as he goes. The American is often shipwrecked, but no other sailor crosses the sea as fast as he does.

"The same mind-set difference between Europe and the United States is visible today. The Washington Post this June states, "In France, not a single enterprise founded in the past 40 years has managed to break into the ranks of the 25 biggest French companies. By comparison, 19 of today's largest U.S. companies didn't exist 4 decades ago. That's why France is looking to the United States for lessons."

"The dopamine drive exists in the United States, not France. Expect a series of American manic excesses and bankruptcies as well as successes."

      ----from John Mauldin's newsletter

Interesting.The facts are... even if some conclusions are a bit... well... romantic.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

Forget the "where's my flying car?" bit; for me, one of the most disappointing failures among the "predictions" that long-ago scientists and SF writers made about the present day was how much progress we were going to make in psychology/psychiatry. (Yeah, I know they weren't actually "predictions.") Just as our cars are about 90% the same as our granddads' models 50 years ago, so too has practical psychology (i.e., the kind that results in cures for psychoses) stagnated. Even in most cases with known physical/chemical causes, the current "treatment" is usually some pharmacological cudgel that only partially eases the condition, while creating other problems for the unlucky patient.

It'd be nice if the Mirapex-gambling connection yielded some cure for addictive behaviors. (It'd also be nice if we could get a handle on what causes people to lock into self-destructive or otherwise negative behaviors that don't ever offer a payoff. I know lots more people who have gone down this road than I do the kind who are addicted to unpredictable payoffs such as gambling.)

Of course, if we ever do gain the power to break irrational addictions, the Mirapax study and Mauldin's thoughts on it already raise two big ethical conundrums: (1) Does the benefit of enabling compulsive gamblers (or compulsive whatevers) to snuff their habit outweigh the possible downside of extinguishing the positive aspects of daring? (Puts me in mind of those Larry Niven stories that center on the usefulness of schizophrenia.) (2) If we do start to gain the ability to truly cure psychological problems, we're eventually going to have to tackle whether and when such cures can be forced on a patient. For example, do you let a gambler's spouse, afraid of losing all the family possessions, essentially have the gambler committed? Do you force the cure only if the problem pushes the sufferer into a crime? Do you always hold a person's headspace inviolate? A number of people who comment here, including DB, have made connections between extremist politics and addictive behaviors — e.g., "indignation junkies." Probably some of us would love the opportunity to cure, say, some of the neocon Leo Strauss disciples. But it's more likely that, say, Karl Rove would try to cure us.

Maybe I should be careful what I wish for.

Anonymous said...

Putting heroic U.S. risk takers opposite cowardly careful Europeans is simplistic to say the least. Citing anecdotal evidence from A de T is not scientific. Also, there are many more countries in Europe than just France to compare the U.S. to (there's an entire continent).

BTW, did anybody do similar research regarding differences in dopamine levels between red and blue states ? Or rural and urban areas ?

Anonymous said...

Also interesting...

How did this "self doping" response come about?
The pleasure response from drugs seems similiar to that perceived during various phases of mating behavior. (depending on the drug)
Indeed, were the very founders of human society alcohol seeking humanoids who horded and shared food? Was that what made us different from others of our sort?
Were these Humanoids craving a pleasure experience similiar to that hardwired into their reproductive patterns?

Very interesting indeed, TY Dr.Brin

A.R.Yngve said...

It's always been noticeable that America attracts bold, ambitious immigrants from Europe... but it didn't occur to me before, that the trend had created a concentration of DNA for this personality trait.
Fascinating! :)

If you think about it, the "brain drain" from Europe to America over the past 200 years is a form of "unintentional eugenics."

Then again, Europe has had its fill of too much ambition (World War I and II)....

daveawayfromhome said...

I dont know about "romantic", but this certainly explains a lot about our current "extreme" culture. I figured it was adrenalin addiction, but the dopamine thing makes more sense. As for a "red/blue" difference in dopamine levels, I dont think you'll find one on any significant level. Liberals arent less indignant or ambitious than Conservatives, just less effective.
Maybe what we need is drug that turns off or down dopamine, at least temporarily. Imagine the usefulness for, say, people at casinos: Gamble an hour or so, take a pill, when it kicks in you lose interest and leave.

David Brin said...

Um need I add that the distillation effect on strangeness-seeking otherness-loving types continued after most of them immigrated to North America?

After all, the continent is TIIPED. Everything loose rolls intto California.

I will give a post-of-the week to anyone who transcribes for everybody else that riff about this in the beginning of Heinlein's story "Built a Crooked House..."

I'm off to speak about Earth's future at the Enviro Fair.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, it might also explain America’s extreme dependence upon organized religion as a means to moderate the addictive behavior. Sadly most faith organizations have been way too silent about addictions, especially gambling. At least they give AA a place to meet.

Good luck at the Enviro fair! I would go but I would have to burn too much gas to make it worthwhile to offset gobal warming.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Brin, you are nasty. You just *knew* there'd be a sucker out there that would get so curious that he'd just *have* to go look that up.

OK, so I'm your sucker, and it was worth looking up. Here goes:

(from "--And He Built a Crooked House", (c)1940, 1968, by Robert A. Heinlein, fair use asserted. Bob and Virginia, please don't haunt me or send Hilda Burroughs after me.)

Americans are considered crazy anywhere in the world.

They will usually concede a basis for the accusation but point to California as the focus of the infection. Californians stoutly maintain that their bad reputation is derived solely from the acts of the inhabitants of Los Angeles County. Angelenos will, when pressed, admit the charge but explain hastily, "It's Hollywood. It's not our fault -- we didn't ask for it; Hollywood just grew."

The people in Hollywood don't care; they glory in it. If you are interested, they will drive you up Laurel Canyon -- "where we keep the violent cases." The Canyonites -- the brown-legged women, the trunks-clad men constantly busy building and rebuilding their slap-happy unfinished houses -- regard with faint contempt the dull creatures who live down in the flats, and treasure in their hearts the secret knowledge that they, and only they, know how to live...


Even the architecture of southern California is different. Hot dogs are sold from a structure built like and designated "The Pup". Ice cream cones come from a giant stucco ice cream cone, and neon proclaims "Get the Chili Bowl Habit!" from the roofs of buildings which are indisputably chili bowls. Gasoline, oil, and free road maps are dispensed beneath the wings of tri-motored transport planes, while the certified rest rooms, inspected hourly for your comfort, are located in the cabin of the plane itself. These things may surprise, or amuse, the tourist, but the local residents, who walk bareheaded in the famous California noonday sun, take them as a matter of course.

(Dear Bob: I take it you never visited the "Clam Box" in Ipswich, Massachusetts.)

Ben Tilly said...

Given current politics, the prospect that you illuminate frighten's me more than anything.

This administration already wants to institute universal mental health screening (with drugs prescribed for the "sick" people). Giving them access to better drugs and diagnostics could make this prospect far more nightmarish than it is already.

David Brin said...

Catfish, thanks, but you snipped just before the cool part! Isn't there a sentence soon after that, about a side canyon that even Laurl Canyonites refuse to acknowledge?

Mr. Tilly said: This administration already wants to institute universal mental health screening (with drugs prescribed for the "sick" people).

Yes, scary... if the definition of sanity to be used is one of the traditional ones, suppressing diversity, eccentricity, creativity and crititism.

Ah, but what if sanity's very DEFINITION were one centered on the enlightenment, upon appreciation of otherness and diversity, the creative richness that arises from harmless eccentricity, and the value of citokate?

People, the Age of Anity is coming. It will either enforce the old homogenizing pressures of hierarchy and pyramids and privilege and dogmatic, self-defending mono-memes...

...or it will be the sanity of an organic society that KNOWS it is a multicellular organism, and that unifromity of cells only happens in cancer, and that monolithic memes are in themselves insane.

That the adult values of maturity and calm, and tolerance and patience, and negotiation and planning are paramount... but only if room is left over for everyone to also have elbow space and time to hoot and hooler in their own ways. Everybody getting a chance to preen and yell and criticise and get stoked on dopmine... as an occasional reward, not a perpetual, enslaving drug high.

Moderation can include some doses, jolts, hits of great passion. It is - in fact - through the good works of maturity that we earn them. And they, in turn, prove that the sober citizen and dad is still a kid inside, alive.

And so, when the i's are all dotted and the chores all done, when the kids are in bed and the bills are paid, when all safety measures have been taken care of and both anticipation and resiliency have been paid their due...

...when at last I go screaming, naked, through the night, the neighbors look at my wife, who rolls her eyes and shrugs.

"He earns this. He deserves it."

Anyway, well, after all, she is the only one who has a right to judge me.

(Only slightly exaggerated.... ;-)

Have a great weekend.

Xactiphyn said...

For a long time I've believed that what makes America different than other countries is our immigrant culture. Immigrants are a self-selected lot; certainly something separates those that choose to immigrate versus those that don't. Up until today I've assumed the majority of those differences were social, not inherited.

But perhaps there really is a biological difference. This certainly warrants more study.

Joel said...

A.R.Yngve & Dr. Brin:

I thought of a differen Heinlein passage, from Time Enough for Love. He talks about the winnowing aspect of interstellar migration with respect to boldness and (less plausibly) intelligence. It's pretty clear he's also saying something about his own American heritage in the subtext:

"...stupid people won't leave the slopes of their own volcano even when it starts to smoke and rumble. What space travel does do is drain off the best brains: those smart enough to see a catastrophe before it happens and with the guts to pay the price—abandon home, wealth, friends, relatives, everything—and go."

Uh...what the last guy said about fair use and spiritualism applies to this quotation to. Not that I believe in ghosts or the current state of intellectual property law, but better safe than sorry.

Jay Denari said...

It's always been noticeable that America attracts bold, ambitious immigrants from Europe... but it didn't occur to me before, that the trend had created a concentration of DNA for this personality trait.

That makes a lot of sense... and the fact that this trait IS overly concentrated today (because we lack a new frontier that enough people can explore) may be causing it to "implode," so to speak. Previous generations had an outlet in the New World (1420-1800) or the West (1800-1900), but today the best outlet, space, is severely restricted by lack of investment. Without it, our society has turned that thrill-seeking into addictions -- not just booze, drugs or gambling, but workaholism, religion, TV, food, wealth, weapons, and just about anything else someone can accumulate or do repeatedly. That, in turn, has led to violence against our own citizens and other societies. The fact that the US blames California and CA blames LA are just examples of the typical addict tendency to blame someone outside for the cause of one's own issues.

In psych, the idea isn't new; Anne Schaef wrote about it at length in When Society Becomes an Addict.

BTW, a lot of bright people came here for freedom, but we also got a lot of people who simply could not adapt to a changing European culture and came here because they thought they'd be able to assert their version of control over people and nature.

Anonymous said...

a lot of bright people came here for freedom, but we also got a lot of people who simply could not adapt to a changing European culture and came here because they thought they'd be able to assert their version of control over people and nature.

That still takes a bit of umph, to take the chance on bending the world to your own views or controlling others. Just think of those guys in the '70's, sitting in their garages in Silicon Valley, wanting to change the world...

Rob Perkins said...

What evidence exists that bold migratory ambition corresponds to certain sequences of DNA?

A possible refutation: what of Mexican immigrants, who do not come from Europe, and presumably whose ancestry, being the poor of Mexico, did not also come primarily from Spanish or French colonizers?

I'm weak on Mexican and Central American history along those lines, though, so I could readily be wrong.

Anonymous said...

There may be a grain of truth in that Heinlein / Lazarus Long rant, but there's also a whiff of the cranky self-congratulatory B.S. that some SF fans gobble up.

Building on what Rob just posted:

A lot of immigrants didn't pull up stakes and move to the U.S. because they were ubermensch with some kind of genetic wanderlust, they left because they were starving. Or, like my Grandmother, wanted to make a thousand dollars stitching clothing in labor-hungry NYC and then go back home. (She got married to a guy running a restaurant and stayed a bit longer.)


Anonymous said...

Interesting interview with Joss Whedon:

I never got into "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and was only modestly engrossed by "Firefly." I'm not a member of the guy's personality cult. But I like what I read in this article. (Note: The questions and answers are in the same font.)

I bring this up here because of this quote:

"The trick was to create [a political situation and culture] that was complex enough that you could bring some debate to it -- it wasn't, "If we hit this porthole in the Death Star, everything will be fine!" Mal is somebody that I knew, as I created him, I would not get along with. I don't think we have the same politics. But that's sort of the point. If the movie's about anything, it's about the right to be wrong. It's about the messiness of people. And if you try to eradicate that, you eradicate them.."


Tony Fisk said...

In a sense, dopamine produces a need for novelty.
An interesting double edge to this: does it mean that dopamine can get you hooked on SF?

Quoth frank:
BTW, did anybody do similar research regarding differences in dopamine levels between red and blue states ? Or rural and urban areas ?

I don't know of any. However, I have heard that dopamine release can be induced, not only by high stress activities like running marathons, but by meditative practices (eg charismatic prayer).

In other words, they got off the rumbling volcano (of their stomachs). But, yes, I think the genetic factor in immigration could get a bit overdone, rather like the preselection for luck that Niven did to death in Ringworld.

Just to hark back to your comments about that report on soldiers' treatment of PUKs. It's the Stanford Prison experiment all over again!

Watch 'n Wait said...

Off topic, David, but I've been hunting for that post you did on the elevator into space. It does seem they're determined to build it.

Anonymous said...

Dang . . .

Remember Pat Tillman, the football star who gave up his career to become a soldier, only to die in combat?

Of what, after the Pentagon gave him a hero's funeral and the right wing media milked the story of all it was worth, turned out to be friendly fire?

It turns out he opposed the war in Iraq, disliked Bush, and had an appointment for a meeting with Noam Chomsky when he got back from Afghanistan:

As the Firesign Theater once said:

Everything you know . . . is wrong!

Maybe, when the time comes to write the legends of how the nation was seduced into war, bankruptcy, and disgrace by a cabal of fools and scoundrels, Tillman's story will be told in full.


Rob Perkins said...

I thought Tillman volunteered for Afghanistan.


re dopamine and prayer, I expect I know what you mean, but I'd like more clarification: What is "charismatic prayer?"

Rob Perkins said...

Hup! never mind... next time I'll google before I ask.

David Brin said...

Do not conflate Iraq with Afghanistan.

Afgh was implemented with Clinton-Clarke's war plan by a professional military and diplomatic corps. Bush had time to say "Go!" Rumsfeldian meddling is minimal and morale there is high. In fact, this is the first imperial intervention since Alexander to go in there and not whimper and howl within a year.

Iraq was the right objective, 12 years late. A pack of morons who deliberately left Saddam's boot on Iraqi's necks, then blink in surprise when those same people don't throw kisses and flowers 12 years later.

Guys who spent the last 30 years claiming that "Vietnam was lost because politicians meddled," who are now meddling daily more than LBJ and MacNamara meddled during any month.

Anyone who wanted to hurt us would look across the American Century for one mistake... and try to lure us into another divisive, bankrupting, demoralizing Vietnam.

Tillman could easily have volunteered for Afghanistan while opposing the Iraq mess. So now it seems he planned to denounce when he got home? Do not under-rate the possibility that his "friendly fire" death might have been even worse than that.

Anonymous said...

That's going a bit over the top.

The article suggests that Tillman was VERY well liked and respected.

There was some very desperate / fishy handling of the aftermath -- burning Tillman's body and gear -- but I suspect that was more "gee, we really blew it" rather than "No vun vill know of our villainy, nyah-hah!"


David Brin said...

"The article suggests that Tillman was VERY well liked and respected.

All the more reason NOT to want him to come home and be the non-loony, non-frothing, likeable and credible Cindy Sheehan?

Conspiracy theory alert: I give this one an INITIAL score of 20%

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin, I have to ask: What is making you so suspicious? I loathe GWB more than most and wouldn't put anything past him(and Rove), but I still think "Try not to ascribe to malice what can easliy be explained by incompetence" makes sense.

Anonymous said...

I´ve read somewhere that many cities in Europe used to have a mortality exceeding the birth-rate due to the health conditions of a pre-sanitary society. That is, the larger cities depended on imigration from the surrounding country-side in order to keep up the population.

Just a thought; if this kept up for close to a thousand years, what effect would that have on the dopamin levels?

Would the level increase in the cities, and decrease in the nearby countryside? Not impossible.

If the cities were large enough, (and deadly enough), urbanisation would even be a selective pressure against high-dopamine levels. Genes that made it likelier that people would like to live in a city would be weeded out.

This pose a further question: How would the dopamine levels of the urbanised areas compare to rural areas that didn't have a nearby city? Would the people of those areas be more entrepreneurial (and prone to addiction)?

This is all loose speculation of course, and it would take a lot of knowledge of pre-idustrial population dynamics to do the math properly, but if the theory is of any value it could be used on the Old World too.