The Compass of Pleasure Book Summary - The Compass of Pleasure Book explained in key points
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The Compass of Pleasure summary

David J. Linden

How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning and Gambling Feel So Good

4.1 (143 ratings)
14 mins

Brief summary

The Compass of Pleasure by David J. Linden is a fascinating book that explores the science of pleasure, including the mechanisms behind drug addiction, sex, and chocolate. It offers insights into how our brains seek out pleasure and why some people are more susceptible to addiction than others.

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    The Compass of Pleasure
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    Pleasurable experiences activate the brain’s medial forebrain pleasure circuit.

    What’s your preferred source of pleasure? Whether it’s legal, illegal, something you can talk about at the dinner table or something taboo, pleasurable activities all share one thing in common. They activate the pleasure circuit in the medial forebrain. So although you might view an orgasm, eating a slice of chocolate cake or injecting heroin as rather different events, the science behind them is essentially the same.

    The human brain contains several interconnected structures that allow us to feel pleasure. One of these structures is the ventral tegmental area (VTA). When we experience something pleasurable, the neurons in the VTA release dopamine to the amygdala. This is the part of the brain which controls our emotions.

    Dopamine is also sent to the dorsal striatum, a structure that is responsible for learning habits. So when you eat a delicious slice of chocolate cake you’ll both enjoy it and want to eat it again – and again. Our attempts to repeatedly experience certain kinds of pleasure lead to habits and addictions.

    In this way, our medial forebrain pleasure circuit is a strong influence on our behavior. Scientists have examined this relationship through studies where the pleasure circuit is deliberately stimulated.

    One of these studies was highly controversial, and its findings have been contested to this day. It took place in the 1970s, at Tulane University, by Dr. Robert Galbraith Heath. He wanted to discover if a homosexual man could derive pleasure from heterosexual intercourse by electrically stimulating his pleasure circuit.

    Heath implanted electrodes into the subject’s brain and claimed that later in the study, the subject had changed so much that he was able to ejaculate during intercourse with a woman in the lab. Heath also said that the subject even had a sexual relationship with a married woman after the experiment concluded.

    Despite its limited scope, this study shows that direct electrical stimulation on the brain’s pleasure circuitry can be highly influential to short-term behavior.

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    What is The Compass of Pleasure about?

    The Compass of Pleasure (2011) explains what seemingly different experiences, from taking heroin to giving to charity, from overeating to orgasm, have in common: their impact on our brain’s pleasure circuitry. These blinks reveal the way pleasurable experiences rewire our brains over time and explain the true nature of addiction.

    The Compass of Pleasure Review

    The Compass of Pleasure (2011) by David J. Linden explores the fascinating world of our brain's response to pleasure and addiction. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • It offers intriguing insights into the neural mechanisms underlying pleasure, helping us understand why we crave certain experiences or substances.
    • The book explores a range of real-life scenarios to illustrate the impact of pleasure on our behavior, making the content relatable and engaging.
    • With a blend of scientific research and personal anecdotes, it presents a well-rounded perspective on pleasure, making the book both informative and captivating.

    Best quote from The Compass of Pleasure

    Theres a neural unity of virtue and vice – pleasure is our compass, no matter the path we take.

    —David J. Linden
    example alt text

    Who should read The Compass of Pleasure?

    • Anyone curious about the influence of neurology on our daily lives
    • Those interested in the mechanisms of addiction and how to undo them
    • People seeking healthier sources of pleasure

    About the Author

    David J. Linden is a professor of neuroscience at John Hopkins University and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Neurophysiology. A popularizer of brain science, he is also the author of The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams and God.

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    The Compass of Pleasure FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Compass of Pleasure?

    The main message of The Compass of Pleasure is that our brains determine our experiences of pleasure and addiction.

    How long does it take to read The Compass of Pleasure?

    The reading time for The Compass of Pleasure varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Compass of Pleasure a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Compass of Pleasure is a fascinating read that explores the science behind pleasure and addiction. It offers insights into our brain's reward system and how it affects our behavior.

    Who is the author of The Compass of Pleasure?

    The author of The Compass of Pleasure is David J. Linden.

    What to read after The Compass of Pleasure?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Compass of Pleasure, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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