ART & ORGANISM
WE ARE VORACIOUS in our pursuit of knowledge and can be deeply pleased by obtaining it –
– Irving Biederman and Edward Vessel (2006) called us “INFOVORES”. The term offered was to characterize our pursuit of information. We are more-or-less urgently motivated to acquire information. They based this proposal on evidence that as with other motivations, pursuing it is pleasurable. “They claim that the neural pathways through which we learn about the world tap into the same pleasure networks in the brain as are activated by drugs like heroin. They say that, for humans, only the basic urges of hunger, harm avoidance and the need to find a mate can distract us from this info-craving
(p 247 in: Biederman, Irving & Vessel, Edward A. (2006) Perceptual Pleasure and the Brain. American Scientist. 94(3), 247-253. [PDF] http://cvcl.mit.edu/SUNSeminar/biederman_vessel_amsci06.pdf)
How does information give people a high? a pleasant sense of lightness ? A sense of tension resolved ? The key is a type of chemical receptor known as a mu-opioid receptor, which is found on the surface of some brain cells. Like other opioid receptors, it is activated by heroin, morphine or naturally produced substances called endorphins, and is found in areas of the brain that mediate pain and pleasure. Mu-opioid receptors are also found in areas that process sensory information and memories. They occur in increasing numbers along the neural pathways in these areas, from the early stages where the brain processes basic things like colour to the later stages of conscious recognition.
Areas that become active when the brain is trying to interpret the information can be identified “…whether that is an image of an object, or words on a page, or the song of a bird. Biederman and Vessel suggest that when this happens, the endorphins that stimulate mu-opioid receptors are released, causing a feeling of pleasure. What’s more, because the number of mu-opioid receptors increases further along the neural processing pathway, information that triggers the most memories and conveys the most meaning to a person causes the greatest pleasure response. –New Scientist Magazine issue , published 22 July 2006 [link]