The Molecule of More

How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity―and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race


Daniel Z. Lieberman, Michael E. Long

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  • From dopamine's point of view, having things is uninteresting. It's only getting things that matters.
  • Dopamine isn't the pleasure molecule. It's the anticipation molecule.
  • Dopamine firing rate
  1. Dopamine system at rest - it fires 3-5 times per second
  2. Dopamine system in excitement - it fires 20-30 times per second
  3. Dopamine system in disappointment - its firing rate drops to 0
  4. Chocolate 1.5x
  5. Sex 2x

Up vs Down

  • H&N - satisfaction, inward experience
  • Dopamine - drives you to seek things that are out there, beyond reach of your arms
  • Look down. What do you see?
  1. These are things you can touch, things within your reach, much of the things are yours.
  2. Here and Now neurotransmitters allow you to experience satisfaction and enjoyment of the here and now.
  • Look up. What do you see?
  1. Things in distance
  2. To reach them you have to plan, think, calculate.
  3. Dopamine drives you to seek out
  • If you want to feel the dopamine in charge right now, look up.


Love = Dopamine + Testosterone + H&N (Serotonin, Oxytocin)
Why love fade
  • Dopamine activity is not a marker of pleasure. It is a reaction to the unexpected--possibility and anticipation.
  • Dopamine stops firing when stimulants keep coming -- the unexpected becomes expected.
  • Our brains are programmed to crave the unexpected and thus to look to the future, where every exciting possibility begins. But when anything, including love, becomes familiar, that excitement slips away, and new things draw out attention.
Love that lasts
  • shifts the emphasis from anticipation to experience; from the fantasy of anything being possible to engagement with reality and all its imperfections.
  • To enjoy the things we have, we must transition from future-oriented dopamine to present-oriented here and now molecules.
  • Here and Now molecules; serotonin, oxytocin (and vasopressin in male), endorphins and endocannabinoids. These chemicals give us pleasure from sensation and emotion.
  • According to Helen Fisher, "passionate" love lasts only 12 to 18 months. After that, the couple need to develop "companionate" love.
  • Oxytocin and vasopressin suppress the release of testosterone and testosterone suppresses the release of oxytocin and vasopressin. -> most couple have sex less frequently as obsessive dopaminergic love evolves into companionate H&N love.
  • During passionate love, testosterone is the one H&N that is not suppressed in favour of dopamine. Dopamine + Testosterone = enhanced romance


  • Sex is love on fast forward.
  • Sex begins with desire and arousal, a dopaminergic driven by testosterone.
  • As physical contact begins, the brain shifts control to H&Ns to deliver the pleasure of the sensory experience, mainly with the release of endorphins.
  • Sexual climax is associated with decreased activation throughout the prefrontal cortex.
  • The relaxation of control allowed the activation of H&N circuits necessary for sexual climax.
  • Orgasm = dopamine off, H&N on

Reward prediction error

  • Dopamine responded to reward prediction error: the actual reward minus the expected reward.
  • We constantly make predictions and when what happens is better than what we expect, it is an error in our forecast of the future. That happy error is what launches dopamine into action.
  • It's not the extra time or the extra money themselves. It's the thrill of the unexpected good news.
  • The mere possibility of reward prediction error is enough for dopamine to swing into action. The pleasure of anticipation--the possibility of something unfamiliar and better.
Dopaminergic excitement doesn't last
  • the thrill of anticipation
  • Sometimes when we get the things we want, it's not as pleasant as we expect.
  • Because eventually the future becomes the present. The thrilling mystery of the unknown becomes the boring familiarity.
  • When things become part of the daily routine, there is no more reward prediction error.

How the brain creates a three-dimensional map of the world

  • The brain manages the external world by dividing it into separate regions, the *peripersonal* and the *extrapersonal* --the near and far.
  • Peripersonal space includes whatever is in arm's reach; things you can control right now by using your hands.
  • Extrapersonal space refers to everything else--whatever you can't touch unless you move beyond your arm's reach.
  • Things in extrapersonal space require effort, time and in many cases, planning to get to them.
  • Since moving from one place to another takes time, any interaction in the extrapersonal space must occur in the future.
  • Dopamine's job is to maximise resources that will be available to us in the future; the pursuit of better things.
  • Every part of living is divided in this way; we have one way of dealing with what we want, and another way of dealing with what we have.


  • Most of what we do is for the sake of other things.
  • Dopamine circuit evolved to promote behaviours that lead to survival and reproduction; get food and sex, and win competitions.
  • Dopamine focuses on acquiring more of everything with an eye toward providing for the future.
  • It doesn't care whether or not you're hungry, eat that donut anyway.
  • The sensation of wanting (desire and excitement) is not a choice you make. It is a reaction to the things you encounter.
  • Wanting is not the same as Liking
  1. Want - dopamine
  2. Like - H&N
  • The speed with which alcohol gets into the brain determines how high a drinker feels.
    The total amount of alcohol consumed determines the level of intoxication.
Graph: Level of Intoxication vs Time
  • Impulsive behaviour occurs when too much value is placed on immediate pleasure and not enough on long-term consequences.
  • The only point of smoking cigarettes is to get addicted so one  can experience the pleasure of relieving the unpleasant feeling of craving, like a man who carries around a rock all dat because it feels so good when he puts it down.

Bits & Pieces

  • Initially, dopamine was seen simply as a way for the body to produce a chemical called norepinephrine (adrenaline in the brain)
  • Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen + a single nitrogen atom
  • Gaming
  1. The ideal portion of treasure chests that should contain gems is 25% - good unexpected surprises
  2. and 15 gems is the optimum number that the user has to acquire before he is allowed to progress to the next level.