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Are there any studies that point out that we could have a device in the future or drug that could give us endless amount of pleasure by stimulating or blocking processes in the brain or nerve system?

Drugs and alcohol end up saturating receptors in the brain. Is it known inside out how this mechanism of rewards / saturation / abstinence work in the brain and how it relates to consciousness?

It is well known that you cannot have the same amount of pleasure by repeating the same action over and over again but is it truly known how that works? Would it be possible to reset the receptors in the brain to accomplish this?

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  • $\begingroup$ Biological receptors will saturate after some time. So my guess is it will not be possible (unless some mutant). However, at the end it will become philosophical question about what do you call "pleasure". After experiencing constant "pleasure", you might feel it as normal. $\endgroup$ – Dexter Aug 29 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Dexter are there any serious studies getting into detail? Would it be possible to desaturate the receptors or to block the pain signals sent from the body? Are there any theoretical potential possibilities? $\endgroup$ – PbxMan Aug 29 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ I have little knowledge of neurobiology but I can point out to some similar results in the cell biology. There are constitutively activated GPCRs which always keep signal ON. So theoretically it is possible but concept of "pain" or "pleasure" is multidimentional and their mechanism is complex and not as simple as activation and deactivation. There are some medical conditions where person do not feel any physical pain. $\endgroup$ – Dexter Aug 29 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE! We encourage you to do some research on your own and ask questions informed by what you have already learned. ——— Please also take the time to go through the tour and then the help pages starting with How to Ask questions effectively on this site. Thanks! 😊 $\endgroup$ – tyersome Aug 30 at 20:18
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Of course.

There is a famous set of experiments (Milner & Olds) in biology that basically started modern behavioral research in which a wire was inserted in to a rats brain allowing for direct electrical stimulation of the pleasure center. as long as the current continued the rats experienced extremely high levels of pleasure. To the point they were unwilling to engage in any voluntary behavior, including seeking food and water, even when right next to them if it would interrupt the pleasure. You could keep stimulating the pleasure center until the rats died of thirst.

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  • $\begingroup$ As long as the experiment is legit and there were no flaws in it this is valid answer. Deep Brain Stimulation could potentially create a "miracle drug". $\endgroup$ – PbxMan Sep 1 at 11:11
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What we call pleasure is effectively the way that we have evolved brains that learn to do what promotes survival and reproduction. Animals get pleasure when we do things that contribute to our survival and reproduction, like eating certain foods or mating; this makes animals (including humans) tend to repeat the behaviors that led to those rewards (of course, just because something is pleasurable doesn't mean it evolved to be that way for the same reasons as other attributes).

We already have ways to "create" pleasure: to do so, you activate the brain receptors artificially that normally are used to inform the rest of the brain that you just did something "good": heroin works great. So do amphetamines, cocaine, MDMA, etc: drugs of abuse. That's why they are drugs of abuse: they hijack the brain's reward system to make taking the drug pleasurable and therefore encourage future behavior to achieve that pleasure.

In animal models, we can also be more direct and use electrical stimulation in the brain to do the same thing: stimulate in the medial forebrain bundle and animals will learn to do whatever led to the stimulation (German & Bowden 1974), even to the point that the reward is saturated (Waraczynski et al 1987) and to the exclusion of other normally pleasurable activities: for example, water-deprived rats will lever-press instead of drinking water (Morgan & Mogenson 1966).

There might be usefulness of these approaches in treating certain types of depression, but otherwise "endless pleasure" seems to not be all that pleasurable due to adaptation and because pleasurable stimulation is relative.

Summary

We can already artificially stimulate the areas of the brain involved in "pleasure"; the result is not great in the long term.


German, D. C., & Bowden, D. M. (1974). Catecholamine systems as the neural substrate for intracranial self-stimulation: A hypothesis. Brain research, 73(3), 381-419.

Morgan, C. W., & Mogenson, G. J. (1966). Preference of water-deprived rats for stimulation of the lateral hypothalamus rather than water. Psychonomic Science, 6(7), 337-338.

Waraczynski, M., Stellar, J. R., & Gallistel, C. R. (1987). Reward saturation in medial forebrain bundle self-stimulation. Physiology & behavior, 41(6), 585-593.

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  • $\begingroup$ With drugs and alcohol receptors get saturated. The pleasure is temporary not permanent. $\endgroup$ – PbxMan Aug 29 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @PbxMan Right. Pleasure is "change in reward level"; so, to get more pleasure you have to get more reward. Drugs and electrical stimulation can go all the way to the brain's maximum representation of reward. At that point, there can be no change in reward, so, effectively, no pleasure. Waraczynski is an example. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Aug 29 at 15:55
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I think that if you have endless pleasure (with marijuana for example I've read this here) you will not know you have pleasure so it won't exist anymore because you do not know the difference. So could be but you do not realize so is it still pleasure then? Maybe this answer is more philosophical then scientific.

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  • $\begingroup$ Funny I was told that in the philosophy SE. philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/65609/… What makes you not have the same amount of pleasure with the same thing over and over again? Is that known from a neuroscientific point of view or it is all theoretical $\endgroup$ – PbxMan Aug 29 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @PbxMan My answer already touches on that, but in general, if you have more questions you should ask them as individual, researched questions, and not ask more questions in comments. You've already edited your answer to include a lot more than it originally did. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Aug 29 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause it's just the same question. I added a bit to clarify that it's not a simple question. I'm expecting somebody to post a couple of links saying "if we could do X.... yes or not"."or we don't know how conspicuousness works yet..." If you feel there is a better formula to ask what i mean please let me know. I'll close the post. $\endgroup$ – PbxMan Aug 29 at 19:13

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