Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love Is In The Where?

Today is Valentine's Day, the day of love. Some cynics would like to relegate this day to the trash bin, but not so fast, I say. Isn't it great to have at least one day a year that extolls the virtues of love?

Even TIME magazine got into the act last month with a whole issue dedicated to The Science of Romance (January 28, 2008.) It is certainly news to me that every little sideways glance, longing, desire, acceptence of foibles, and mundane settling into love orginates in the brain. Scientists even know exactly where and why the feeling of love originates: "The more scientists look, the more they're able to tease romance apart into its individual strands--the visual, auditory, oolfactory, tactile, neurochemical processes that make it possible." A quick roadmap looks something like this:
  • A spot in the base of the brain creates dopamine which regulates intoxicating reward. "It creates craving, motivation, goal-oriented behavior--and ecstasy." Ecstasy, we know that's important in romantic love.

  • A little higher up in the brain that intoxicating dopamine signals serotonin to get pumping, but more importantly, oxytocin is produced as well. That's the hormone that floods the new mother and binds her forever to her infant. Surprisingy, it floods the new father as well which bodes well for the new family. In the case of romantic love, the binding obviously has another motive.

  • Then, on either side of the brain shrimp-like structures get into the act. This small but potent duo stores the mundane habits, like riding a bike and creates the glue that binds a couple after the other chemicals have done their work and are long gone.

I've often said something must be going on to get a male and female to fall for each other because the sexes really have little in common. Now, I find out it's natural opoids, the same potent chemicals that regulate mood, ecstasy, and craving plus the most powerful binding hormone known to man. Humans really don't stand a chance, do they? TIME sums it up like this:

"Nature doesn't really care if we experience the thrill of falling in love or not, but it deeply cares that we make a lot of babies and stick around to raise them. The problem is, human babies require an awful
lot of care--18 years or more. When we first reach sexual maturity, we scan the world for people to mate with. When we find someone [through our nose as it turns out,] romance focuses the scattershot attention. Compassionate love then bonds us to our partner. . ."

So nature is quite pragmatic when it comes to humans and mating. If thought came into play to any great extent, it might depress the mating instinct. After all, animals don't have to contend with thinking about mating, they just do it. So what better than to rig the human system so that we think the other person makes us feel good, looks like a million bucks and has no flaws whatsoever. Who ever said we were in control? It is now an incontrovertible fact that in love we are not. But, it took no scientist to tell us that, did it? All we have to do is look around.

As might be expected, if chemicals set-up the love process, they can also bring it down. Alcohol and drugs, even adrenaline, heighten the initial cravings and passion, but fade quickly. The message here? Sober up before picking a mate, or the effects of the love-chemicals might stop at stage one without cascading to the binding step two and habit-making step three. Or not. We've all known people who serially enjoy the natural, opoid high of stage one with no desire to move on to actually bonding with a mate. Addiction is addiction where ever it lurks.

Our brain plays tricks on us when convincing us to mate-up. After all, sex researcher Jim Pfaus said: "You think someone made you feel good, but really it's your brain that made you feel good." But, there's more to feeling love for another than procreation. On a higher turn of the spiral, love for one translates eventually into love for all and is an essential component of the inevitable evolutionary process of consciousness. It is literally the glue that binds the universe into a whole--and our wee brain generates the first conscious experience of love so that humanity can actively participate in the pageant of creation.

So, even though love starts with tiny brain chemicals and structures, it eventually binds us consciously to the entire universe. Think about that the next time you look over at your snoring spouse; it is through him or her that we gain a gateway to our divine destiny. These slumbering spouses deserve a kiss for that, don't you agree?

Of note: My Mom and Sister sent me thoughtful Valentine's Day ecards from a great Website that according to the site's narrative espouses gratefulness as a universal experience that can fulfill our contemporary longng for unity. It goes on to say that "our world needs a shared perspective that creates cultural cohesion and gives meaning to people's lives. All creative periods in history have had such a unifying vision." As part of that vision, inspiring ecards are available to send friends, relatives, and whoever needs a loving message sent electronically. Check out this site! I feel sure you will be glad you did.

The gorgeous flower photo is courtesy of M. Huffman. Thanks so much!

Today's Weather Report: Although snow was falling this morning with about two or three inches of accumulation, the sun then popped out for the remainder of the day. Lovely and must have been in the 20's because it did not feel particularly cold outside.

No comments: