Please, Sir, I Want the Molecule of More

To prove the existence of the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle,” a physicist needs the biggest machine ever built. He needs a particle collider that is 17 miles in circumference and 574 feet below the border between France and Switzerland. To prove the existence of human nature, you need an alloy of copper and nickel that is 24.26 millimeters in diameter and 1.75 millimeters thick. You need a quarter.

You need a quarter to go from happiness to sadness, or the reverse, when you insert that coin into a slot machine. In the six seconds between the drop of that quarter and the pull of a lever, in the face of so many sights and sounds; between the blur of the payline and the nearby ringing of bells; between the smell of cigarette smoke and the ambient noise of the casino itself, of the whir of spinning wheels and the whoosh of falling water; between these six seconds of sensory overload, your brain releases dopamine—the chemical that can turn a citizen into a commander in chief, or cause a person to lose command of reason and restraint.

Such is my summary of 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, by Daniel Z. Lieberman, M.D. and Michael E. Long.

Long is himself a physicist by training and a writer by trade, whose fluency with science is equal to the fluidity of his prose. Along with Dr. Lieberman, the two show how a balanced equation does not—and never will—translate into a balanced human being.

Balance requires toil and exertion. It is not the sum total of an equation but the essence of life, whose goodness is not a good reducible to a pill doctors can prescribe or a potion patients can swallow.

We are also too complex to reduce ourselves to a single chemical, a point Long and Lieberman issue throughout their book.

By giving us the dope (pun intended) on dopamine, The Molecule of More highlights efforts to moderate dopamine, rather than the virtue of moderation itself—which is no virtue, not when we need leaders, statesmen, and giants.

Let us hope we find them.

Let us hope they want more of what is best, starting with liberty and justice for all.

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