- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 24, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143120751
- ISBN-13: 978-0143120759
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
By merging an evolutionary perspective with cutting-edge research in neuroscience, Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, addresses provocative questions about the relationship between pleasure and addiction while exploring many of the broader implications of the nexus of the two. "Understanding the biological basis of pleasure leads us to fundamentally rethink the moral and legal aspects of addiction to drugs, food, sex, and gambling and the industries that manipulate these pleasures." Linden (The Accidental Mind) is admirable at explaining complex scientific concepts for the nonspecialist. He focuses most of his attention on the role played by the small portion of our gray matter known as the medial forebrain pleasure circuit and demonstrates how both behavior and chemistry can activate its neurons. He also discusses the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that addiction is often associated with decreased pleasure. Linden's conversational style, his abundant use of anecdotes, and his successful coupling of wit with insight makes the book a joy to read. Even the footnotes are sprinkled with hidden gems. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"A hugely entertaining look at why we enjoy the things we enjoy. ... There's hardcore biology here, but it's tempered with personal anecdotes, penetrating observations and quotes from the likes of comedian Mitch Hedberg and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. If you're science-phobic, don't worry: Linden is incredibly smart, but comes across as the funny, patient professor you wish you'd had in college."
-"National Public Radio", Michael Schaub
"This cheerful summary of the brain's reward system is a profound experience... "Pleasure" is a superb book. My brain has been changed by reading it."
-"The Guardian" (UK), Leo Benedictus
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Top customer reviews
Linden explores the dark side of pleasure - how the human brain can turn pleasures into addictions and habits so overpowering and pervasive that people will sacrifice almost anything just to get a fix. Why, you might wonder, would anyone ruin their health, neglect their family, and spend themselves into poverty all in pursuit of an addiction? Linden says it all comes down to a single neuro-chemical - dopamine.
Addiction, in Linden's view, is the result of "long-lasting changes in the electrical, morphological, and biochemical functions of neurons and synaptic connections within the medial forebrain pleasure circuit." (p. 4) When we experience an event that we regard as comforting, exciting, or pleasurable, or when we put certain substances into our bodies, the brain's pleasure circuit turns on, emitting dopamine - nature's own feel-good chemical. In turn, the hypothalamus lays down a memory as to how, when, and where we obtained that good feeling, so that we'll likely repeat the experience at the first opportunity. With several repetitions of the pleasurable experience, the brain's basal ganglia streamline the behavioral process so that it becomes increasingly automatic.
You might think addictions occur for people who get a huge pleasure from food, drugs, sex, or gambling. You'd be wrong. Actually, says Linden, addicts want more of those things, but enjoy them less. Addictions occur for people who possess genetic deficiencies that interfere with the production and/or absorption of dopamine. These people find pleasure harder to obtain. So they need excessive amounts of drugs, sex, food, gambling, shoplifting, or whatever vice they are pursuing, in order to feel even the slightest satisfaction.
Yet, when repetition of pleasurable experiences becomes excessive, the addictive cycle moves from pleasure to tolerance, and to the enslavement of dependence. The self-destruction and self-loathing begin. The risk-reward ratio gets turned upside down - lots of risk for very little reward.
Activities and substances that carry high rates of addiction target specific neurotransmitters in the brain that determine dopamine production and the way in which it is received at the cellular level. Socio-cultural factors often dictate the types of addictions people choose. Addicts are most likely to turn to their vice of choice or to relapse under anxiety - because stimulating the pleasure circuit brings temporary relief from stress.
Linden states that addictions produce "a long-lasting rewiring of the addict's brain, which is manifested at the level of biochemistry, electrical function, and even neuronal structure." (p. 53) He discusses the connections between pathological gambling and suicide, and between ADHD and drug addiction. Linden backs up his information with examples and research studies, devoting individual chapters to food, sex, compulsions, and even virtuous pleasures such as exercise.
The Compass of Pleasure is long on information and short on solutions. It is not a self-help book. Its purpose is to educate readers about the neurological and chemical components of addictions. It accomplishes this purpose quite well, especially for those of us in the helping professions. Books like this one help us to see beyond a client's behavior, environment, and personal history to understand what goes on in the brain when addictions and intractable habits present themselves. We can then understand that addicts are not weak, defective human beings lacking in willpower. They are people with brains that are chemically deficient.
To pick up where The Compass of Pleasure leaves off, we must learn more about how to work with such brains to promote neuroplasticity, teaching our clients to derive pleasure by purposely creating positive experiences, to develop resourceful responses to environmental difficulties, to curb catastrophic thinking, and to find stress relief through relaxation, peaceful activities, and healthy self-soothing.
Pleasure (and its close relatives including reward, satisfaction, and addiction) and pain govern a lot of human behavior. Amazingly, due to brain science research we now know nearly all of the parts of the brain involved in the "pleasure and reward" circuitry. This knowledge represents a tremendous advance in human knowledge and eventually will hold the key to helping humankind greatly with our struggles that represent the chapters of the book - drug use, eating behavior, sexual behavior (and misbehavior), gambling, and other pleasure-oriented behaviors. However, as one realizes from reading this fascinating book, we are still near the beginning of our arc of understanding of our own complex brains. For pleasure does not exist in isolation in the human brain; rather pleasure interacts intimately with other brain processes. Pleasure circuits interact with memory circuits (how else will our brains keep a mental record of our pleasurable pastimes?). Pleasure circuitry interacts with learning circuitry (how else will we learn how to reproduce pleasurable activities?). Pleasure circuitry interacts with circuitry for experiencing other emotions, and with sensory input and motor output circuitry, and with more abstract centers in the cortex that govern functions such as "salience", foresight, judgment, and planning.
All of this makes for a fascinating read on the pleasure centers of the human brain that answers many interesting questions about everything from sex addiction to slot machines, from obesity to exercise addiction, but also - like any good scientific writing - raises more questions than it answers, including that eternal conundrum (as I watch my bright and talented 9 year-old ignoring her favorite breakfast while clicking away furiously on her electronic gaming device): how much do we really, truly differ from that proverbial lab rat mashing away at the lever delivering squirts of cocaine directly into his "medial forebrain bundle"?
Although the author is careful to avoid the sweeping generalizations and unsubstantiated theories that are frequently part of mass market scientific literature, he makes a strong case for fully considering the nature side of addictive, even self destructive, human behaviors. In his concluding "the future of pleasure", he even allows a bit of hope for how some of these behaviors(and the misery they can bring)might some day be altered by science. All in all, an important book that is as enlightening as it is entertaining.
I have enjoyed it all along the reading covering several critical aspects of our complex and still somewhat misterious pleasure engine.