Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Essence of Love

Thinking about the nature of love today. It's TheWife's birthday and I'm puzzling over how someone so strong, smart, gorgeous, and caring could end up in love with some awkward uber-geek with no fashion sense and a philosopher's salary.

There's no doubt that love is in part biological. Pheromones and neurological wiring are no doubt part of the story. When you first see your future beloved across the room, there is that rush, that "ooooh" moment. Surely, something anatomical is in play there, but that can't be all of it. Think about those people who have types that they find themselves attracted to. The explanation there is often biographical, psychological, or cultural. And then, on top of that, somehow so many of us end up with people who compliment our weaknesses, people who embody the virtues or abilities we miss in ourselves. Sometimes we can see this in the behaviors that lead us to attraction, but usually they are things you don't know until after you are intimately acquainted with the person. How is it that we tend to find ourselves attracted to people we later find out were right for us and whom we are right for? Some of it must be cognitive, there surely is some rational aspect to love, no matter how much we try to isolate the passions from reason. Sure, there's some hit or miss. Not all initial attractions end up being the real thing. But it does happen often enough to be odd. TheWife would probably use words like fate, but as an official member of the anti-metaphysical curmudgeons' league, I ain't buying it.

So, how much of love is pure animal biology, an accidental result of the need to procreate that has an accidental instantiation in our newly developed self-conscious brains? How much is psychological, a set of subconscious desires, fears, and insecurities we are trying to satisfy? How much is social construction, is the notion of romantic love a western construction designed to enforce gender roles or provide an unreasonable image to aspire to? How much is cognitive, is there good reason to to love and does good reason at all influence who and how deeply we love?