Some thoughts on ADHD

Riffing on a comment I left thereabouts:

The H part of ADHD can be cured in most aspie-leaning cases by cutting gluten and casein. The ADD part can be medicated through heavy doses of caffeine (this is less dangerous and more effective than prescription stimulants full of God knows what).

In both cases, the question remains whether curing either trait is a good idea (high-energy folks will make better entrepreneurs, athletes, etc., and ADD folks are better systems thinkers, creators, etc.), and I see a lot of people advocating for “acceptance” and such, but the facts on the ground say these are important tools for getting by in modern life.

Disclaimers: “Hyperactive” means high-energy to the point of dysfunction in everyday life, ditto for “inattentive”.

Comment on: The Boyhood Battle

There’s the application. But what causes this nonsense anyway?

I’ll start with inattention. The M0 virus is in ascendancy, and modern life is therefore extremely boring.

We propose that the subjective experience of boredom is a first level safety mechanism analogous to pain, that has evolved to keep humans moving about so that they can discover and exploit their environment. This safety mechanism could itself prove fatal in siege situations, such as having to hide quietly up a tree until a predator leaves. So a second safety mechanism has evolved to place a human into a partially conscious standby mode after the human has been bored long enough that it would have moved on if it possibly could. The level of the neuroinhibitor dopamine in the human’s brain rises. This induces a subjective experience of self-absorbed well being, while rendering the human quiescent but sufficiently conscious to notice when it is safe to move, by deactivating an entire layer of cognition, functionally described below as the “Exploitation of Feedback in Cognition”.

There is an important difference with respect to the endorphin case. Excess dopamine is secreted after a period of boredom, not for an initial period. While an human cannot manufacture more endorphins without subjecting itself to stress of some sort, excess dopamine can be produced by simply continuing to do nothing interesting! Therefore a human that is kept in a bored state for long enough to rebalance its brain chemistry will become hooked on its own dopamine and be able to feed its own habit by simply boring itself! While tolerance may ease some of the debilitating consequences of being in standby mode, it does not even begin to compensate for the lost faculties.

The driver organ is therefore a positive feedback loop whereby a human hooked on its own dopamine (Secretion) will perform boring behaviours to stimulate dopamine production (Constraint). As with other addictive situations, the higher the usage, the greater the craving, such that the positive feedback loop will always tend to increase boring behaviour and levels within the bounds of the possible.

So what happens when a person somehow hasn’t developed the ability to produce dopamine in response to a low-stimulation environment? They will either self-stimulate or go to sleep and conserve energy. As has been observed many times before, the problem with ADD people isn’t that they have too little attention, it’s that they have too much and nothing interesting to spend it on. They are constantly overproducing adenosine which is telling them “Hey, nothing interesting is happening, let’s take a nap.” Caffeine is antagonistic to adenosine, which is why it’s so useful for promoting focus in a boring environment, by removing one of the important consequences of understimulation.

A funny thought occurs to me: what if we did an experiment where we strapped mice down in a windowless classroom for seven hours per day, with only a break for lunch? I think they would literally die from understimulation in a couple of months, tops. I bet the addiction to boredom thing is a very recent evolved trait.

Another problem is that in the absence of dopamine to dampen arousal and muscle activity, the brain will release acetylcholine. This chemical says “Hey, nothing is happening, let’s reflect on something more interesting.” In mass it has the effect of inducing full-brain simulation activities like 3D visuospatial manipulations, playing out imaginary scenarios, holistic system thinking, etc. These tasks require a lot of focus, chemical energy, and a lot of pre-existing gray matter to act as a neural network. Put the same person in a high-stimulation environment which fully engages their perceptual neural network, like a full-contact sparring match, and they will pay attention just fine. In the same high-stimulation environment, a person without the same perceptual faculties will experience acute stress from overstimulation.

Low adenosine is a common culprit in folks with very high energy- the types who only sleep 4 hours per night- they have less adenosine floating around in their brains telling them it’s time to slow down, chill out, maybe take a nap. They simply lack mechanism for being tired. These are your hyperactive kids. The best-case scenario, for most people, would be to experience a lot of adenosine at bedtime and then none at all during the day: work hard, play hard, sleep harder. Problem is, nature doesn’t have an ecological niche for people who sleep heavily at night and switch on like robots at 6 AM. For starters, they’d get eaten during the night. And if they didn’t then they’d be running around wasting calories at times when energy conservation would make more sense, and starve. It seems that for hunters, the thing to do is conserve energy most of the time and then hyperfocus for short periods of environmental overstimulation (high adenosine strategy), and it seems that for agricultural types the thing to do is spend energy at a high constant rate for a consistent, slightly higher return (low adenosine strategy). So what we see is that most people either have a high or a low baseline of sleep chemical which only fluctuates slightly.

Of course, modern life is boring for all types of people. It’s just a lot more boring for some of us. And so we self-stimulate by occupying the weirder parts of the internet and making up pseudopsychological gabbledegook. Here’s the part where I remind you that I’m speaking in concrete terms like “It is this way” because I’m describing how the system works in my head, when my real feeling on it is more like “Eh, maybe this is how it is, whaddya whaddya?”

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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3 Responses to Some thoughts on ADHD

  1. slenkar says:

    Tell me if you get this:
    After doing something boring like attending a boring lecture,
    or sitting still in a boring social situation
    I get uninhibited
    But being in a boring job is different
    a lecture only lasts an hour and then there is the release of it being over.

    A job lasts so many hours that I go into that state of full brain stimulation instead.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      I can’t say, because I rarely get bored during lectures (post high school) and I’ve never really had a boring job. Well, I have, but I’ve never had a boring job where I wasn’t allowed to self-stimulate by reading a book or something between tasks. Even when I was in the McDonald’s drive-through they’d let me bring in a math book and work problems between orders.

  2. Pingback: “Willpower” is chemical energy available to the white matter network | Aeoli Pera

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