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8.6. How The Brain Does It


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 8. The Motivating Fire > 8.6. How The Brain Does It

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At a fundamental level, the brain has a simple carrot-and-stick biochemical system of forcing us into action, as illustrated in Fig. 8.6.

Brain motivation starts with the subconscious limbic ‘leopard brain’ system, where incoming stimuli such as low blood glucose levels leads to a basic urge being passed to the cortex. The cortex then translates this urge into a desire for something specific, which gives us a conscious motivation towards a particular goal. When the limbic system detects that we are satisfying the urge, it rewards in two stages: first we get to feel satisfaction that eating is the right thing (‘That’s right! Keep doing that!’) and then, when we have eaten enough, we feel fulfilled (‘Well done! That’s enough for now.’).

Urges tend to have a feeling of ‘emptiness’, whether it be an empty stomach, the empty feeling of loneliness (‘Get protection from others! Find a mate!’) or the urge to create (‘Prove yourself worthy!’ ‘Meet your goals!’). The limbic system needs to see action, such as eating, before it rewards the conscious mind (so the act of eating is satisfying, but intravenous feeding is not). The cortex is rewarded with internal opiates, such as dopamine, that literally make us feel good (yes, we are all junkies from birth!). The final reward of ‘fulfilment’ is the serene feeling that the emptiness has literally being ‘filled until full’.

This urge-desire-action-reward loop also works for more complex drives, such as control and identity needs. We can utilize this effect in creative situations by consciously avoiding unproductive distractions and setting up desired goals that lead to urges and rewards for the actions we really want.

Fig. 8.6 The neurological carrot and stick


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