Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain. For a long time, it was seen as the chemical of hedonism – the reason for ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’. While it is still responsible for those things, the latest research suggests that it is also a critical component of cognition. Dopamine allows the brain to detect patterns, to pick apart causations and correlations and figure out what will happen. It allows us to make predictions about reality, and as such, it’s a necessary aspect of making sense of the world. – Jonah Lehrer
This explains the “high” I get whenever I engage in extremely interesting literature in academia. It’s that brief flash of genius which seems to make a paper sing, clarifies your thought, opens up a vision you never saw before. It is the rational enlightenment that philosophers have infused with emotional tinglings and ecstasy. The Eureka moment, the cracking of the Sherlockean puzzle, Kant’s synthesis of the a priori and empirical which enables us to organize, categorize, perceive, and analyze the form of our sensual experience at a level incomprehensible to any other species than our own.
Behavioural economists like Thaler, Ariely, and Lehrer all argue that emotions have a large part to play in important decisions. They argue that bringing emotion (without abandoning reason) into heavily weighted life choices actually helps us to make better choices. These economists revive the usefulness of Plato’s analogy of reason controlling emotions and the appetite, but all working as team to make conscious decision-making and exercise self control when faced with biases, immediate returns, and a status quo.