In an older NYT article (“Hijacking the Brain Circuits With a Nickel Slot Machine”), science writer Sandra Blakeslee offered a curious response to those old questions regarding the deepest roots of human motivation. She said neuroscientists were uncovering an inconvenient truth: “The number of things people do to increase their dopamine firing rates is unlimited.” Hypothetically, the human “executive brain” should know better. But, across a broad range of behaviors – from the intoxicating pursuit of money, power, and celebrity, to all sorts of physical and virtual overconsumption – it appears not to; and to know no limits to the rationalizations it will spin to justify all sorts of problematic behaviors.
In his first book (Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind, published in 2001 – a year before Blakeslee article), neuroscientist Elkhonon Goldberg once heaped much praise on his protagonist. He even expressed hope that the bickering states and non-state actors of our ever smaller world could come together under some sort of global government – as the different parts of the brain had become integrated under the iron hand of the frontal lobes. But could things be flowing in the opposite direction – with creeping neurosomatic dysregulation following the pattern of social and political disintegration in the larger social world? I dearly wish I could take no for an answer – unless it is just so much wishful thinking.