Book Review: The Compass Of Pleasure by David J. Linden

The Compass Of Pleasure by David J Linden - Header

I am certainly no expert, in fact, I expect to spend portions of this review referring back to lecture notes and text books to ensure I get my facts straight where necessary; over the last few months I have been introduced to a broad, but generalised, world of neuroscience as part of my psychology degree. ERP, MRI, the prefrontal cortex; action potentials, synaptic responses, neural pathways I been told about it all, and hopefully, understood some of it.

It’s extremely scientific and took more than a few moments to get my head around the scale of everything involved. The idea of single cells, individual neurotransmitters and resultant systems designed purely for their use seems logical when drawn to fill an A4 sheet of paper, but when you start to reduce that back to reality, and realise it’s one entity within 100,000,000,000, the epic infinitesimal scale of the structure involved in something so power is truly mind-blowing.

Brain Regions - The Compass Of Pleasure by David J Linden

I find it truly amazing how something so complicated, so condensed, can be broken down into so many distinct parts. Perception, memory, vision, reward, all individual but overlapping, all acted upon by different neurotransmitter systems to allow us to feel, see, remember, and enjoy. I also find it fascinating how unbalancing these systems, whether artificially or biologically can have such a dramatic effect to the lives we lead.

Due to my battle with an eating disorder I take a special interest in anything relating to the pleasure/reward system of the brain. The way norepinephrine and dopamine work to allow us to feel happy or sad, elation or apathy. My system doesn’t work, for whatever reason, as it should. I live, to quote an old friend, having forgotten how to smile. David J. Linden’s book, The Compass Of Pleasure, is a specific look at how so much of our day to day lives, the choices we make and the consequences that follow, are shaped not by rational thought, but by our singular drive for pleasure. Our need to feel good.

Author - The Compass Of Pleasure by David J Linden

Linden works by concreting how the world around us manipulates the decisions we make by tapping into that basic desire. He presents examples of how companies play with our emotions to maximise their profits and why certain drugs and stimulants cause different reactions and addictions. I found the book easy to read although I’m sure it helped that it was covering topics I was also learning about and so the more technical jargon felt familiar. I wouldn’t say you need to be sitting in undergraduate lectures to understand the book, or get the most of out it, but there were times when a base knowledge of neurotransmitters and cell plasticity (i.e. drugs and the how cells evolve through exposure to them) was certainly useful.

I read the book, as I do with nearly all my reading, while eating breakfast, lunch and dinner; and in a book centred on neural pleasure, the most primeval source was bound to come up. Sex and orgasm getting their own, detailed, investigatory chapter. The book goes, logically, through the reasons for sex, the natural evolutionary desire to reproduce, to continue the species, but more importantly, it connects sexual intercourse to pleasure. It examined why we (humans) have sex for enjoyment. It questions why homosexual sex exists, after all, there is no reproductive possibility involved, and it highlights how this doesn’t set up as far apart from the animal kingdom as we may think. It was certainly an interesting topic to read through half sleeping eyes over my morning porridge!

Flamingo Heart - The Compass Of Pleasure by David J Linden

The book does, sadly, become a little repetitive after a while. Linden has attempted to mitigate this through a distinct structure to the order in which each element and idea is presented and it never got to a point that it went full circle and drove me close to giving up. It’s simply a case that it felt at times like beneath the surface of each idea is the same old story. The experience that causes pleasure may change, but the biological driving force is the same neural pathways, being ignited by the same chemical processes.

I can’t help but feel that as a book it doesn’t quite know it’s audience. It’s a bit too scientific to be a general read but it’s too simplistic and light hearted to be of real scientific value. Thankfully it doesn’t fall into being “self-help science” though. It’s not a book that’s going to revolutionise your thinking or doing anything other than make you smile, laugh and think. It introduces a fascinating topic with clarity and will scare you as to how much we shape our decisions and choices and life on the potential effects of increased or decreased pleasure responses. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it though, aside from the passage on homosexual Duck necrophilia, but ultimately, it’s not a book I’ll be citing in an essay any time soon.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

Comments are closed.