Monday, July 30, 2007

More on rewardism

Before I could even make it to the shower today, my mind returned to this casual hypothesis of awhile back about how the extraordinary smarts of humans might have evolved from a simple dopamine reward system. I was reading this review of a book by Read Montague, which as paraphrased by reviewer Andy Clark seemed to be suggesting something similar in Why Choose this Book?

Coincidentally, Oliver Sacks' musicophilia story in the New Yorker suggested to me something these reward proposals might help to make sense of: Patients turn to music when their brains cease to reward kinds of contemplation that have ceased to signal "the reward center," which might be expected from a circuit-scrambling seizure or electric shock. But the former connections were highly personal and presumably the product of a whole life history. They're liable likewise to be elaborate, having had a whole life to adapt and to optimize. So an adult brain suddenly starved of reward might not reestablish these same links, but might wire up something new, and perhaps like a child craving sweets or like an addict, it might be expected to pick the quick fix. For coherence in contemplative sense making, music strikes me as the sweetest stuff there is.

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