Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why does it feel so good?


There are many pleasures in life, some more intense then others. Some feel that these pleasures may be unnatural due to their force or effect. Usually these unnatural pleasures are illegal drugs, although all drugs come either directly or indirectly from nature. What those who use this term “unnatural” miss however is the social constructive factors in their judgment. That is, the only reason they call it unnatural is because their culture or society does not recognize that kind of activity. Case and point: although drug use facilities extreme pleasure, it’s not an unnatural form of it.

In order to clear the socio-cultural bias, lets take a quick look at the neurochemistry of pleasure. When we feel sensations of satisfaction, it is correlated with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Therefore when you receive good feelings, this chemical is increased in your brain. The so called normal pleasures such as sex and eating only see a release of lets say for example 25-100 level of dopamine (I‘m making these numbers up for illustration). While illegal drugs such as cocaine release about 300-600 level of dopamine.

At first glance it may seem like a very high number worthy of the label unnatural, but this is all relative to and dependent on society. To illustrate: the Amish culture because of their ascetic like behavior may not see a dopamine level higher then 30 or 40. While our entertainment saturated culture sees much higher dopamine levels. Therefore the society or culture is what determines the range of dopamine levels. It just happens that certain societies which have utilized certain technologies to increase pleasure then would naturally, have their range of pleasure reach higher.

A very interesting and relevant fact is that when a psychoactive or illegal drug enters one’s body, the brain quickly knows exactly what to do with the chemical. It seems as if the brain was evolved to metabolize these substances because of their selective binding to brain receptors. It’s as if the brain was full of key holes and psychoactive drugs were the matching keys (this is not true of all drugs, just the most used and known). If one would to inject a substance that is truly unnatural into the brain, it wouldn’t be able to use and metabolize it so quickly. It would rather bounce around in the brain, perhaps disrupting or damaging parts of it. But instead many of these drugs (in the proper dose) when entering the brain are dealt with quickly and in a uniform machine like manner. The brain knows (or acts like) how to use these drugs. This is the definition of a natural/biological action.

As a result of dopamine being the biological substrate of pleasure, it serves to clear any socio-cultural bias in investigating what are “natural” and “unnatural” pleasures. Drugs although they seem unnatural in their pleasure giving actions, are natural because of both the arbitrary definitions of pleasure by culture/society, and the brains ability to quickly and efficiently metabolize many psychoactive drugs, as if the brain was adapted to do so.