What’s up doc?
My favorite romantic movie… It’s a tossup between Bridges of Madison County, Before Sunrise and its sequel, Before Sunset. The thing these three movies have in common is the conversational intimacy with which the love story between the two leads unfolds. Both couples spend a lot of time talking, getting to know each other on a deep level. Sex is not a major theme in these movies, even though they are all deeply sexual. It is self revelation, in a way that is honest and vulnerable, that makes these movies superb romantic ideals in my book. I “love” these movies!
The reason I started with that is to emphasize that I appreciate the artistic expression that love often inspires. Granted, I may not feel this kind of love to the degree or with the intensity that others do, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get that it must be a wonderfully transformative and meaning-laden experience when it does happen. Experiencing love in its depths is apparently so profound that people everywhere, throughout history, have been moved to create stirring and stunning works of art. Indeed, I believe it when people say that this love is the very meaning of their lives. I get that and I accept that. I really do.
I just don’t need to turn love into something that it doesn’t appear to be, transcendental or otherwise. You may say that is not what you are doing, but isn’t it? Isn’t that exactly what you are doing when you insist that love is “mysterious?” And again, how can you know love is “mysterious” when you never actually got around to providing a clear and cogent definition of love? Are we talking about maternal, paternal or fraternal love? The love between friends? The love of country? Love of all humanity? Self love? All of the above? Or something “more?” Refusing to define love makes it easy to insist on its essential “mystery” I suppose. It’s a nice rhetorical trick that. Unfortunately it does not hold water rationally speaking.
Emotions like anger, fear, sadness and the like are easy to define and detect physiologically and have predictable triggers and accompanying reactions. Love, on the other hand, does not. Why is that? Maybe it is because love is not one singular emotion, but an amalgam of “lesser” emotions which can be defined separately and can be found in the larger animal world. The fact that we can see clear examples of lust, affection, care, bonding and even jealousy in other animal species indicates that “love” is not only entirely natural (which I know you agree with) but does not require anything special to explain it, talk about it or that makes it somehow off limits to scientific investigation. Yes, we can wax eloquently about love, but that does not mean that in reality, it is something other than what it is: a set of emotions generated by the brain and nothing more. I am not belittling the depth of the emotion when I say “nothing more” either. I’m just calling it like I see it.
I think you are the one who is not only guilty of making category errors, but of other blatant logical lapses as well. You miscategorize love by suggesting that it is something “ineffable”. You are placing an emotion that originates in the brain and turning into something “more” based solely on how it feels when you are experiencing it. A man high on LSD could make the same case, could he not? You also mentioned Occam’s Razor. You are the one forgetting that simple rule of them by elevating an emotion beyond its station. How is turning love into some grand something or the other parsimonious? Aren’t you needlessly complicating the issue, when a plain, straightforward and biologically grounded understanding of all emotions (love included) would be simpler and more in line with what we already know about the human animal?
And while I am on the subject of faulty reasoning, you commit four logical fallacies that I just can’t help but point out. The first is the appeal to authority. Referencing Planck, Eddington and Einstein no more makes your argument valid than referencing the bible validates Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti. The second was the false dichotomy you posed in the paragraph where you ask me to choose between my “color blindness” and the “deluded, guilt-ridden, masochistic” masses of people who live and die by and for love as a means of explanation and understanding of this subject. There are more than the two options you listed, which leads directly to the third and fourth fallacies: the appeal to numbers, or “bandwagon argument” and the straw man argument. Pointing out that millions of people believe and guide their lives by an idea doesn’t make that idea factual. Just because there are upwards of two billion Christians in the world doesn’t mean that their god is real and their bible is the absolute truth, does it? It is possible for lots and lots and lots of people to be just plain wrong, as history repeatedly demonstrates. And you knocked down an argument I was not even making when you suggested that I believe that love is what deludes the masses. In other words, you knocked down a straw man. I will say this though. It was a little impressive that you managed to make three logical fallacies in the space of a few sentences. You also committed the “scientific gaps” (science does not know everything, ergo you are right) and the “argument by fiat” (you are right because you say you are) fallacies, terms which I made up just now for lack of better phrases, but I won’t say much more about them as I think I’ve made the point about your lack of a logical leg to stand on pretty clear.
To oversimplify things for the sake of brevity (since I have already gone on way too long! :)), it is my opinion that romantic love is a combination of emotions/drives like lust, affection and care. The emotions are triggered by a combination of stimuli, both inside and outside of the brain. The magic neurochemical soup, which includes oxytocin and dopamine, gets to churning and badda bing, badda bang, badda boom, you are in love, madly, deeply, passionately. This magic soup and its aftermath compels people to have sex, conceive babies and often even gets them take care of the chaps until they enter that really ridiculous period known as adolescence. And wouldn’t you know it, all of this just happens to coincide quite nicely with the propagation of the species! Evolution at its finest! See doc, no magic, mystery or meaningfulness is required to explain or talk about love. The glory and majesty of love is no more or less real than any other emotional experience the brain generates.
And all of that was just that reason/rational/logic stuff. Don’t even get me started on my personal observations and experiences of love, both romantic and familial. Needless to say, when I look around at the people I know and at the world at large, I am not as enamored with all this talk of love being everything. I certainly don’t feel like I am missing out on something. I see a mess wherever I look when I see humans relating. Yes, I see laughter, joy, and even beauty. But I also see ugliness, hypocrisy, self delusion and rampant stupidity as well. Parts of my comments here have nothing to do with psychopathy per se and everything to do with simple reasoning. This particular paragraph however probably is a reflection of my “cold fish” demeanor, which is indeed tied to a cynical view of human relationships. I don’t deny that. But then again, what reason do I have to even attempt to think otherwise, as if I could anyway?
None of my interminable spiel is meant to convince you of anything obviously. Like I have said before. We are exchanging views and nothing more, although I have indeed found this conversation amusing. By the way, if you are attempting outwit me, think again my friend. It won’t happen. :)
Your letter is a good one which goes a
long way towards delineating not just your thoughts, but your
feelings about things as well.
I liked Before Sunrise at lot,
but Bridges of Madison County did not ring true for me. It seemed schmaltzy. Nevertheless, I see your point in referring to
those films: one can appreciate the intimacy of romantic love and see
the beauty in that intimacy without necessarily wanting to participate in it,
or even being able to participate in it. I had not heard that
idea from you in any of your previous posts, and so had been engaged
in using words to call forth in you exactly that appreciation, even though
romantic love was not really the focus of my interest, but rather the
kind of agape love which causes humans to care about
others, and so to embrace their human
weaknesses, instead of capitalizing on them. Now I see that my
efforts in that direction were probably unnecessary. You do grok it,
so it seems, but for you it ain't magic, and you probably wouldn't want to go there even if you could. I get that.
You are largely correct, I think, in
your analysis of the logical errors in my last letter. And I guess I
asked for such an analysis when I raised the subject of logical
mistakes by pointing to a category error in your views on love, but
my intention was not to move our conversation into a debate about
logical consistency. I have never tried, in this series of posts, to
mount a strictly logical argument aimed at convincing, but rather I have meant to evoke a
certain appreciation in you which I now see you already seem to have, at least in part.
For example, my mentioning the great
scientists' embrace of the mysterious nature of life was not,
as I see it, an an illogical appeal to authority, but
an attempt to show that some of the very best workers in the field do
not share your conviction that everything can be explained logically
or scientifically. I am sure you do not actually think that referencing
Eddington or Plank on the limitations of science is the same as
claiming Pat Robertson as an expert on contracts with Satan.
Eddington and Plank really are authorities on scientific
epistemology, so their views demand, at the very least, respectful
Now your present post contains a
paragraph with which you, having familiarized yourself with the
writing on my website, already know I agree. It is this one:
"To oversimplify things for the
sake of brevity (since I have already gone on way too long! :)), it
is my opinion that romantic love is a combination of emotions/drives
like lust, affection and care. The emotions are triggered by a
combination of stimuli, both inside and outside of the brain. The
magic neurochemical soup, which includes oxytocin and dopamine, gets
to churning and badda bing, badda bang, badda boom, you are in love,
madly, deeply, passionately. This magic soup and its aftermath
compels people to have sex, conceive babies and often even gets them
take care of the chaps until they enter that really ridiculous period
known as adolescence. And wouldn't you know it, all of this just
happens to coincide quite nicely with the propagation of the species!
Evolution at its finest! See doc, no magic, mystery or meaningfulness
is required to explain or talk about love. The glory and majesty of
love is no more or less real than any other emotional experience the
Yes. No problem there, Daniel. I am with you until
possibly the final sentence. There certainly must be an evolutionary
explanation for any human tendency, and a brain-chemical scenario for
any feeling or emotion. But for me--and apparently not you--that
explanation is not the end of the matter, but simply the
physical basis for a great mystery. I understand that you believe
there is no mystery--that all can be reduced to the "magic
soup"--and I admit there is not a logical refutation for that.
So you and I see things differently in this regard. But again, it was never romantic love that was the focus of my interest anyway, but the agape kind which is different, I think.
I was pleased that you moved beyond
logic when you said, "I see a mess wherever I look when I see
humans relating. Yes, I see laughter, joy, and even beauty. But I
also see ugliness, hypocrisy, self delusion and rampant stupidity as
well." I too see the hypocrisy and stupidity of human beings--(now is the time to reference Pat Robertson!)--and it ain't pretty.
But aren't hypocrisy and stupidity rather shallow kinds of ugliness
compared to the deep ugliness of the human predator who required
love and care to survive as a child, but now will not return the
favor? I don't mean you, Daniel, who, I understand, brings an
essential honesty to the project of living with yourself in some
reasonable way, but the kind of criminal psychopath who often writes
to "Doctor Robert," why I don't know.
As for attempting to outwit you,
Daniel, I would never even try. For one thing, you seem too well
armed--and too well fortified--for me to want to engage in such a battle. But even if I
thought I could somehow "win" (whatever that would mean) such a contest (likely to be
a Pyrrhic victory at best), I have no interest in that kind of
affair--neither with you nor with anyone else. I have my own
awareness--for what it is worth--and you have yours. One doesn't
trump the other, and cannot. In fact, exploring one another's awareness in
this way barely scratches the surface of our respective humanity, so how could a "victor"
ever be declared? Besides, compared to the immensity of the universe, what I know or you know is so tiny, so
limited, so paltry really. How could having a slightly larger share of that tiny
portion, the little we can know, ever become a source of