The Chemistry of Meaning: The Inner World Meets the Outer
The biochemistry of meaning section dares to re-perceive an age-old question through a modern lens: what if our quest for meaning was built into us? What if it was something more than mere metaphysics, but a real biological imperative to interact with the world in a relationship we call “meaningful?” What if this was the clue to mental health, political progress and even a modern religious worldview?
Delving into the depths of modern science, we synthesize a picture of human nature and the needs and drives of the cultural brain that even science hasn’t caught up to. It is an image of ourselves that newly explains our best and worst natures and helps us move from one to the other. That is because meaning is designed to pull us into something bigger than ourselves – a complex adaptive system, or what you and I might call culture and society. When this cultural meaning evolves, we move from our worst nature – ideology, ignorance, mental ill-health, power abuses and injustice – to our best one – big aspirations, inclusive community, moral fairness and leadership. By understanding how to harness meaning as an evolutionary force, we can lean into its direction with what we call purpose.
Take a trip into the rabbit hole of our biochemistry and chase the secrets of Chemical Meaning across four subsections:
Dopamine is the high of love, the hope of a future, the dream of what could be, but it can also be a hard-to-appease god demanding stimulation, change and novelty. Feed your brain with richness, opportunity and positive expectation and you will feed your willpower and passion; fail to do so and you may never get out of bed again.Read more →
At birth, oxytocin floods mother and child with a chemical foundation of trust, belonging, community & identity… or without it, creates an autistic-like mistrust of others, paranoid fear and feeling of being alone in a crowd. At best, a societal glue of mega-families; at worst, a xenophobic cleaver that rends societies apart.
Serotonin is the key to the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s because cooperating and playing fair keeps your serotonin rosy and high, while being cheated has a dark downward spiral – a single-minded and aggressive focus that will only be appeased when you punish the defector.
Men have thirty-to-sixty times more of it while women are more sensitive to it; women find it attractive and men find it distracting. Testosterone is a chemical of leadership, control, self-respect, power & games, but with a dark side: dominance, competition, judgment and inequality.