The Dope: a Mean Thing
Text by Josh Koenig
Originally Staged 6/21/2001 at "The Axiom Blackout Performance Cabaret" (produced by the Axiom Creative Collective) with Josh Koenig as the Scientist.
ON STAGE: A SCIENTIST in a lab coat with lecture notes and a flashlight. This is not your ordinary scientist: he has a distinctly subversive energy. He sets up a boombox, cues music (slowly-building fast paced techno, e.g. Underword's "Rowla"), and begins speaking to the audience as if it were an out-there convention or very advanced graduate working group.
SCIENTIST: Allright, Allright... Come on now, close your eyes for a second, we're going to be going on a little trip, we're going to go and find some things out about life and what makes it sometimes oh so sweet.
We're going to start out in our bodies, in our nerves, our nervous system, in the tiny fractional part of ourselves that lets us think and feel and sense the world around us.
Nerves are everywhere in your body, and although they work on electrochemical energy, it's not like wiring. Nervous tissue covers every bit of your skin (I'll bet you know what parts are covered the most) but is also run though all of your muscles, bones and vital organs, connecting everything up in the brain. It's all extremely complecated.
For the system to work, the individual nerves need to be able to connect with the others. But it's not like throwing a switch - no matter what it seems like you can't just turn your nerves off and on like a light. Any time two nerves meet, there is a gap, called a synnapse. You have to bridge that gap, so what happens is that a tiny chemical molecule called a neurotransmitter jumps from one nerve to the other, passing an impulse on.
The real trick is that there are a bunch of different neurotransmitters and each has its own message. That's why we're not really like computers: our circutry, so to speak, isn't just on/off. We're beyond binary.
We don't exactly know what the different messages of the various neurotransmitters are, but we have some general associations. For instance, we know that one, called Dopamine, is strongly associated with feelings of euporia, excitement and satisfaction. So right after you eat a good meal, or you get a hug, or when you're all excitied after talking to someone you're really hot for, chances are you've got thousands, possibly even millions of dopamine reactions going on all over your nervous system.
Psychoactive drugs work in some way on neurotransmitters. Cocaine, for instance, rapidly increses the amount of dopamine messages in your brain by blocking what is called re-uptake. See, when a sopamine transmitter goes over a synnapse, it has to return to it's home cell. Coke gets in the way, sending the dopamine back to deliver its message again. Amphetamines cause more dopamine to go out with each release, amplifying the signal. Most other drugs, coffee, nicotene, chocolate, affect dopamine levels in one way or another.
But the thing to realize is that with your mind the effects are exponential. Given the networked nature of the brain, anything that generally effects how it functions has that effect increased by feedback.
Here, open your eyes. We're going to crunch the numbers. You've got around 10 billion nerve cells in your brain. I'd give you the textbook reference if I had it but you'll just have to take my word for it. Now, lets say you get .01% of those cells cooking, that's 1 million hot synnapses.
Now any given Dopamine impulse is going in encounter around 2 or 3 hundred synnapses before it dissapates. Every time it hits one of these hot cells, it gets doubled. Remember the allegory about the chineese guy who had the rice on the chessboard, how he had the king start out with one grain, then two, then four, doubling the amount on each sucessive square?
Ok, you get the picture, except that here there are a million hot squares.
So, 200 synnapses per impulse, times .01%. Say there's 1 impluse per second to start off with (that's conservative by the way) and you only under the influence for 20 minutes, that's 12-hundred seconds, which gives us 24 hot nerve hits. 2 to the 24th, thats.... 16 million, seven hundred and seventy seven thousand, two hundred and sixteen dopamine impulses per second after 20 minutes.
I think that explains Robert Downy Jr's problem.
But, no, serously, this isn't just about getting coked up. What we're talking about is peak human performance brought on by chemestry. But mind over matter, right: you don't need cocane to have that much dopamine singing in your head, it's just really easy if you do.
Coke makes it mathamatically calculable, but this is really what's going on biologically in your most profound and organic moments of extasy, except that its even more complex because you've got a whole slew of other neurotransmitters and endorphins and dialated blood vessels and elevated heart rates... People say that drugs are physically addictive, and yeah that's true in some cases but that's not the point. The really addictive thing about drugs is that they can be shortcuts to the most perilous thrills of living, prybars to open the towering floodgates of pure experience that we keep so tightly under control because their full raging potential would burn us to cinders: the human mind machine overheating itself and bursting forth with terrible mad ferocious energy.
There's a certain point where your heart stops, literally and figuratively, where you die, both in the biological sense and the shakespearian, where the devine membrane seperating this world from the next reaches its point of maximum tension and, to borrow a phrase, you break on through to the other side.
music changes... something sad e.g. Air's "High School Lover... the SCIENTIST drops lecture papers all over, begins speaking earnestly, no longer manicly lecturing
And I don't want to go back. I mean, who would? Fuck me if I don't want to feel that feeling again and again and again - it doesn't matter what gets you there: we all crave that extatic unconsciously beautiful moment, a moment defined by unity and coordination of motion. It's never static: whether you're threading obsicles at high speed, or dancing the dance from which all dances have come, or just lying still as a god and feeling the celestial clockwork spinning all around you... you are there, you are an irreblacable part of what is happening and you are undeniably alive.
It's in tasting these heady fruits, in suckling at these distilled liquors of human possibility that we arrive at the point of "I can't get no satisfaction". Because once you're stung, that's a powerful hard itch to scratch, and the more you manage to do it the worse it gets. becuase you never really get off as good as you do the first time -- not the first time you do it, understand. The first time you do it right -- not that that stops anyone from trying.
And mayb in the end that's what's livable. Trying. Maybe it's about the journy. It's a cliche I know, but it's also true. Think about it. There's no story in a climax. It's the end. It's not something that can sustain you, because once it's over you're just waiting for the next one.
If you jump out of an airplane, you only speed up for so long. Sooner or later you hit terminal velocity and you're just waiting to pull the ripcord or hit the ground. There's a limit. A physical limit. Maybe that's why I like science fiction so much, the idea of hyperspace. I believe in the unbounded potential of the human mind, the human spirit, the human experience, and I want to keep accelerating. I wonder what happens. Thank you.
ks off flashlight, music ends, finis.