Posted June 22, 2013

I’ve been working 10 hour days for two weeks including weekends, so bare with the line of thought that puts me on. I listened to a podcast episode about gambling and have heard various people go on about the skinner box. To understand what is going on in the mind of a gambler is to understand something about the mind in general.

It is a computer. A very complex one running on a different ruleset than what we think of as a computer, but still a computer. The mind is meant to solve problems, to identify patterns, to formulate hypotheses from previous stimuli and test those hypotheses to acquire knowledge. The scientific method is the mind, made philosophy.

When confronted with a hard problem the mind chews on it. We attempt to find the pattern. Positive results yield releases of feel good chemicals, which stimulate memorization and pursuit of further testing in that direction until the problem feels solved. Negative results release feel bad chemicals pushing the mind away from a potential solution toward more likely hypotheses. When the hardest problems have a solution we call this learning a skill.

Apply this to the skinner box, the fundamental mechanism behind gambling and you begin to understand the sensations they describe. Unlike a skill there is no solution, the pattern is random. It is random in such a way that the mind can think it has a solution, and there will never be one. The math is complex and designed for you to get a positive stimulus just as you thought you were going to get negative.

The time between theory and test is practically non-existent and the mind can endlessly attempt to solve it. The state of flow that people describe isn’t magic. It’s a continuous learning high. In a sense we’ve discovered a way to milk our brains to produce a perfect chemical cocktail.

The same mechanism that produces mozart, produces addicted gamblers.

This also applies to video games by the way. We are an extension, the grandchild of the gaming industry. Like most grandparents they have valuable life lessons to share, and ethically dubious advice. Which you you end up following is up to you.