Mu – Delta – Kappa
Humans are reward seeking organisms taken to an extreme. But the extreme is perhaps only because of our evolved sociability. It seems that most organisms would be satisfied with obtaining the necessities of life and thereby filling their Mu, Delta and Kappa opioid receptors with behaviors benefiting their homeostasis. But humans are different and have another level of dopamine/opioid functionality that encourages their gregarious and social lifestyles. Group enjoyment of opioids is a natural evolutionary step for humans, found in activities such as making music together, dancing and perhaps even enjoying some natural substance such as peyote or coca leaves. Additionally, the foundations of tribal behavior and civilization may stem from the evolution of the dopamine/opioid reward system to encourage group activity which also usually happens to release much opioid into the brain. The dopamine/opioid system has evolved beyond simply guiding individuals to environmental rewards to encouraging groups to coalesce for opioid stimulation, in religious worship for instance. The type of reward found at a Mayan temple or at a Roman coliseum may be the dopamine/opioid glue that holds societies together and in its manifestations enhances the individual’s survival. (Except for those fed to the lions, sacrificed at the temple or enslaved.)
How many times have you heard, “A family that eats together, stays together.”, or the obvious proclivity of humans to “party”, dance and listen to music. With our temporary energy surplus these convergences of humans have been taken to massive scales as when many millions of people descend upon sporting events like football, basketball, and NASCAR, none of which is necessary for survival and all of which elicit great enjoyment and binding. Religion being a common dopamine and opioid producer is also mostly a group activity with reinforcement in the belief of the final reward happening each Sunday. Even an Ark theme park has been built in Kentucky where humans can congregate to share the joy of their religious beliefs. As these beliefs are reinforced again and again and are rewarding, it becomes rather difficult to change them. Just as there are addictions to substances it is likely there are addictions to ideas and belief systems too.
None of these extra social activities are necessary from a purely metabolic stand-point, but humans flock to the local church, stadium or theme park for regular group dosing of dopamine and opioids. It would be interesting to test whether the rewards were less, equal or more if the event were attended alone or in the presence of many more followers. Do people laugh as readily alone or is there greater joy when many are laughing together?
In any case, humans are primarily reward seekers and their brains have evolved to survey the environment for potential sources of reward, and if spotted, the dopamine levels rise and the body moves-in to take the reward with portions of the prefrontal cortex ready to limit unseemly greed and gluttony in a social environment.
Some of the most intense memories are formed at opioid blowouts, like during family vacations where money is saved to be blown all in one week having a great time, no expense spared. The brain remembers the really good times because of all the dopamine released, and it’s not unusual to return to the same location for a repeat performance. And if that family wants to create shared memories, the dopamine and opioid faucets should be turned-on full blast. If you want to share some memories with your friends or kids, I would recommend you take them somewhere and have an opioid “blast”.
Our entire fossil fuel energy source is being turned into a good time while the ecosystem is being laid waste, but this hasn’t slowed the pursuit of money, power, wealth and other rewards. Industrial civilization is the opioid blowout of all time, playing right now at a venue near you. In the future, for those that survive this hedonistic course, joy will revert to singing songs and dancing around the campfire. Even being religious and striving for an eternal reward is a form of hedonism and the mega-church visited by thousands of cars is only marginally less damaging than the mega-football stadium where tribal warfare and bonding occurs with plenty of raucous fun, food and drink for everyone.
LET THE FESTIVITIES BEGIN! (Because it won’t be long and they’ll be coming to an end, at least on the massive scale experienced today).