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If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a Rivalnym, it is a name coined here on Tinkered Thinking to address a certain class of word pairs that fall in a strange place between synonyms and antonyms. A rivalnym is a pair of words that are somewhat synonymous in literal meaning, but opposite in terms for the emotional valence we ascribe to the thing being described.

One example is ‘nervous’ and ‘excited’.

One is generally positive. Excited. And ‘nervous’ is generally the more negatively valenced. And yet, what registers our excitement? Our nerves. And when we are nervous, is it not because our nerves are in an excited state?

Certainly that description is undergoing a sneaky change in context, expanding and re-narrowing in on other details in order to create meaningful bridges, but it’s undoubtedly an accurate description of the words and the connections to their meanings. The curious phenomenon of the rivalnym arises only when we line them up against one another.

So what happens when we line up passion and addiction?

And to clarify, the specific version of the word ‘passion’ here would be ‘a passion’ . As in, something someone likes to do with intensity and regularity. This is not to make a specific comment on all the possible uses and definitions of the word ‘passion’.

One is certainly positive, and the other far from, but at the same time, there is an eerie similarity between the two. One thing to point out is that addiction has been studied far more specifically than passion, and so addiction as a word, a concept and a phenomenon is laden with an extra layer of medical, biological, and neurological associations. It would, however be a mistake to assume that such a detailed and studied set of associations couldn’t exist for passion. They are both phenomena of behaviour, meaning they both have a robust set of biological and neurological correlates. We just don’t know as much about those associations for passion.

There is a third word that aptly links up these two words and could perhaps replace one of them to create a somewhat equivalent rivalnym:


We might say that passion is a long-term obsession, since an obsession can and is often fairly fleeting. And we may say the same about addiction - that it is a long-term obsession. Though perhaps not an agreeable nor even willing obsession. And this may be the core difference. While people who are unwaveringly dedicated to their passion might invoke the choiceless associations of an addiction to underscore some sort of ethereal notion that it is ‘their calling’, ‘their purpose’, and what they were ‘designed to do’, there is still a much greater degree of freedom and choice between a passion and an addiction. Even if a passion is getting in the way of personal relationships and responsibilities, the difference between this occurring with a passion and an addiction is that presumably the passion will yield some kind of positive long-term result, whereas an addiction in the truest sense of the phenomenon has neither good short-term results nor long term ones, even though both are typified by an urgency to displace that can displace other things.

While the differences between a passion and an addiction v very well have drastically different compositions in the function of the brain, perhaps the relatable difference is best captured by a question:??What would happen if I sincerely wanted to stop?

The difference isn’t necessarily in whether or not the behavior can be stopped, but rather what that process of change would look like.

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Podcast Ep. 1058: Rivalnym: Passion & Addiction

Tinkered Thinking

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