Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The addiction to certainty

I am an addict.

Addiction is an imbalance in the brain's dealings with neurotransmitters in response to outside stimulus.  Where ordinary people would have a "ho hum" reaction, addicts get a boost of certain neurotransmitters and/or are deficient in neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine,  and are using the stimulus of choice in an attempt to bring themselves up to normal levels.

From previous blog entries, it's obvious alcohol is my stimulus of choice.  I'm likely also addicted to stimulants such as caffeine and I have an unhealthy relationship with tranquilizers.  When using my drug of choice, I get a nice feeling associated with certain neurotransmitters.  When I'm doing without, I get withdrawal symptoms - I call it the "screaming meemies", others call it "jonesing" or "the monkey on my back".

You will notice I've been avoiding the normally-used word "substance".  That's because it doesn't necessarily have to be a substance.  I have a number of obsessions.  When I indulge myself in them, I get the exact same "thrill" - the hallmark of a neurotransmitter - that I get from alcohol.  For example, there's certain political websites I can't keep away from, and I have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of bookstores else I leave with more books than I can carry, have shelf space for or can afford.

A lot of our understanding of addiction was mostly theory until the invention of the real-time MRI scanner.  This allowed scientists to see exactly what was going on in the brain during addictive behaviour.  What surprised scientists was they were seeing the exact same brain activity for non-substance addictive behaviour to, for example, mental states.

One  mental state is certainty.

I suspect that retreat into absolute ideologies is accentuated during periods of confusion, lack of governmental direction, economic chaos and information overload. At bottom, we are pattern recognizers who seek escape from ambiguity and indecision. If a major brain function is to maintain mental homeostasis, it is understandable how stances of certainty can counteract anxiety and apprehension.  Even though I know better, I find myself somewhat reassured (albeit temporarily) by absolute comments such as, "the stock market always recovers," even when I realize that this may be only wishful thinking.
A much longer excerpt can be found here.

I listen to voices.  Someone who knows what they're talking about speaks with an authoritative tone, even and measured with a dropping tone on facts.  If they get into uncertain territory, the voice rises e.g. "applying this patch should work" but you can hear the implied "but" at the end.  An authoritarian speaks differently.  They're dropping tone is on "should", with a rising tone on their "facts" (which usually aren't).  Their emphasis is on conclusions - how they get there is irrelevant.  The "facts" must match the conclusions, not the other way around.

Hence authoritarian followers look to authoritarian leaders for their source of certainty - which outrageous statement they can treat as "fact" to get them through their day.  The other day Pat Robertson announced that gay people go around with special rings that infect people with AIDS.  Not a whimper of protest from the Religious Right to this obvious nonsense.  But sure as shootin' they're been certain this is a fact just 'cause he said it. 

Addiction sucks - don't it.

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