'Thirst for knowledge' may be opium craving 


One of my first blog posts--13 years ago.  I believe this addiction accounts for my own malady, keeping me from engaging in more sensible activities like marriage and a career. T.O.M.

Neuroscientists have proposed a simple explanation for the pleasure of grasping a new concept: The brain is getting its fix. The "click" of comprehension triggers a biochemical cascade that rewards the brain with a shot of natural opium-like substances, said Irving Biederman of the University of Southern California. He presents his theory in an invited article in the latest issue of American Scientist.
"While you're trying to understand a difficult theorem, it's not fun," said Biederman, professor of neuroscience in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
"But once you get it, you just feel fabulous."
The brain's craving for a fix motivates humans to maximize the rate at which they absorb knowledge, he said.
"I think we're exquisitely tuned to this as if we're junkies, second by second."
Biederman hypothesized that knowledge addiction has strong evolutionary value because mate selection correlates closely with perceived intelligence.
Only more pressing material needs, such as hunger, can suspend the quest for knowledge, he added.
The same mechanism is involved in the aesthetic experience, Biederman said, providing a neurological explanation for the pleasure we derive from art.
"This account may provide a plausible and very simple mechanism for aesthetic and perceptual and cognitive curiosity."

Perceptual Pleasure and the Brain: A novel theory explains why the brain craves information and seeks it through the senses 

Irving Biederman and Edward A. Vessel

 All of us have felt the pleasure of acquiring information—a view of a dramatic landscape, a conversation with a friend, or even a good magazine article, can all be profoundly gratifying. But why is this so? What makes these experiences so pleasurable?

We believe that the enjoyment of such experiences is deeply connected to an innate hunger for information: Human beings are designed to be “infovores.” It’s a craving that begins with a simple preference for certain types of stimuli, then proceeds to more sophisticated levels of perception and cognition that draw on associations the brain makes with previous experiences. When the hunger becomes even moderately starved, boredom sets in. Consider, for example, the last time you enjoyed staring at a blank wall or listening to a repetitive airport-security announcement. In our view, infovore behavior is activated only when other motives are not engaged. When people are trying to satisfy a need for food, are avoiding harm or are otherwise involved in some goal-oriented behavior, then the infovorous instincts take a less active role. The infovore system is designed to maximize the rate at which people acquire knowledge under conditions where there may be no immediate need for the information. Of course, the knowledge obtained may have some practical value in the future. But even if there is no direct use of the new information, there is, in evolutionary terms, adaptive value to its acquisition. People generally perceive those who are knowledgeable as being more intelligent, a trait that is strongly correlated with mate selection in every human culture that’s been studied.

In our view, infovore behavior is activated only when other motives are not engaged. When people are trying to satisfy a need for food, are avoiding harm or are otherwise involved in some goal-oriented behavior, then the infovorous instincts take a less active role. The infovore system is designed to maximize the rate at which people acquire knowledge under conditions where there may be no immediate need for the information. Of course, the knowledge obtained may have some practical value in the future. But even if there is no direct use of the new information, there is, in evolutionary terms, adaptive value to its acquisition. People generally perceive those who are knowledgeable as being more intelligent, a trait that is strongly correlated with mate selection in every human culture that’s been studied. 

We think that the muopioid receptors are the key to the pleasures we derive from acquiring new information,

If a stimulus contains a great deal of interpretable information, it should lead to more neural activity in the association areas and hence to a greater release of endomorphins and increased stimulation of mu-opioid receptors. As more opioid receptors are stimulated, there should be a boost in the pleasant effects associated with opioids. So, for example, a visual stimulus that elicits many episodic or semantic memories should be more pleasing (or more interesting) than a stimulus that brings forth fewer mental associations

So our hypothesis proposes that the rate of endomorphin release in the parahippocampal cortex determines, at least partially, the human preference for experiences that are both novel (because they have yet to undergo competitive interactions) and richly interpretable (because such patterns would initially activate an abundant set of associations in brain areas that manifest dense opioid receptors).

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Temperamental differences by race

A Conversation Salon: Exploring CulturePlaces