August 24, 2009

We're All Wired to Be Seekers

Ever find yourself using the internet to look up one edifying fact—and not emerging from an exhausting round of follow-the-link until hours later? You're not alone. Dopamine may be to blame, or, as University of Michigan professor of psychology Kent Berridge says, wanting:

Our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied. "The brain seems to be more stingy with mechanisms for pleasure than for desire," Berridge has said. This makes evolutionary sense. Creatures that lack motivation, that find it easy to slip into oblivious rapture, are likely to lead short (if happy) lives. So nature imbued us with an unquenchable drive to discover, to explore. Stanford University neuroscientist Brian Knutson has been putting people in MRI scanners and looking inside their brains as they play an investing game. He has consistently found that the pictures inside our skulls show that the possibility of a payoff is much more stimulating than actually getting one.

All of our hunting and seeking is completely unsatisfying. Is evolution to blame? Or is has it just always been this way in samsara?

(For more on this, read "Darwin and the Buddha," Tricycle's interview with Robert Wright, a journalist and author who has written frequently on evolutionary psychology.)

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