John Pearson thinks about... Love

My wife has put me in the dog-house. Leastways, if we had a dog (instead of two cats ) I’d be there. And the dog would most likely have been taken indoors and told how much she loved him - because he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, question the sentiment.

I have made the fatal mistake of not just questioning the existence of God but, worse still it seems, the nature of Love. I dared to suggest it is not some supernatural force between one person to another - between people and places, people and objects even - that we cannot truly understand or explain (and which, consequently, like God-matters, should not be examined too closely).

I am hurt - for this should not be interpreted as suggesting (as her indoors with the dog – if we had one - wrongly concludes) that I myself do not love her, our daughters and so on. As it happens, I do not in fact love the cats, though I can see how folk might, just as they might love food, holidays, money, cars.

It’s just that there is nothing mysterious or other-worldly about love - surely? It is born of familiarity, comfort and/or satisfaction (of whatever kind) with or from a person or object, a place, an experience. The act of loving (No, not just THAT act!) is born of chemical, mechanical and electrical responses and operations conditioned and driven by the factors just referred to. Both nature and nurture therefore, but nothing supernatural or incomprehensible -surely?

King Lear’s daughter Cordelia declares, with no malice I hope, that she loves her father "according to [her] bond".

It is this "bond" that determines and powers love. It is something we should be able to understand and work with. Thus it should be possible to show one party that they have cause, or a particular responsibility, to love another or, as in the case of the battered wife, can and probably should "let go". From our earliest days those from a happy home are taught to love and anybody denied this experience must find it a difficult concept. In this context, those inexperienced in receiving and learning to give love will find it more difficult relating to people (although easier with animals or inanimate objects perhaps?)

There are romantic images built on heart-centred rather than brain-centred reactions: "he/she broke my heart" and so on. Sweet maybe, but a load of cobblers! Your heart is that clever pump that keeps you going till such time as it irrevocably stops. It is your brain that tells you that you are "in love", "out of love" and so on: that amazing organ which through its chemicals and electronics - its strange powers of storage and recall - "logs on" to certain people, places, things, tastes, smells and so on. It can also "log off".

Those with Autism or Asperger’s syndrome provide the living proof of this last point surely? They are said to have difficulty forming and maintaining loving relationships ("Hmm, rather like you!", I hear her cry from indoors). Similarly the elderly, if they fall victim to dementia, gradually lose the capacity to feel or show affection for those to whom they owe it the most. In the former case(s) the machinery has failed to log on as it should, whilst in the latter it has logged off. In either case there's a fault in the wiring.

This is not to say that one should not work at it - that there should be no love in the world. I am not suggesting that we fight the tendency, which is bred into us or in some other way instilled,
of showing basic human care, both for those close at hand and the more abstract hoards of the starving in some foreign land.

I would hope that Richard Dawkins, so admirably clear thinking about "God" might agree with me about the above. As a scientist he should.

Can those who share my total dismissal of "God" remain all weak-kneed and silly about love?


Anonymous said...

John says love "is born of chemical, mechanical and electrical responses and operations". No John, love is born in language. And that of course is why your wife is rightly hurt by what you say.


Anonymous said...

"anonymous" ( who calls himself smitch, by the way ) says that love is "born in language" - and goes on to repremand me rather high-handedly I feel. Love is expressed (as are all things) using language, but that should not preclude us from asking WHAT love actually is.. Some might say the same of God, and WHAT he/she/it actually is.

Any other takers ?

John Pearson

Anonymous said...

A pennyworth on the piece:

What a delight to read such a sparky and well-crafted contribution! This is a thoughtful, honest attempt to look at Love Actually and to de-mystify it. To acknowledge that it is thoroughly incarnational - the result of highly complex interaction between body and brain doesn't make the experience of of its various manifestations (eros, agape etc.) any less AWESOME or WONDERFUL - surely?

Patti said...

Don't we have a false dilemma here? John says love is either "some supernatural force between one person to another...that we cannot truly understand or explain" or else it's "chemical, mechanical and electrical responses". His pairing of terms such as "mysterious or other-worldly" or "supernatural or incomprehensible" suggests that all natural things are quite comprehensible; it is only other-worldly things that are mysterious and incomprehensible.

I don't find the world like that at all. Things that have nothing supernatural about them still seem mysterious and incomprehensible. Their emotional impact seems quite out of proportion to the "chemical responses" that I'm sure are taking place at one level. I've argued elsewhere that music is this way; and love is probably the same. So I still hold out for the idea that things can be completely natural and this-worldly, and still astonishingly mysterious. If that's me being "silly and weak-kneed", well, so be it.

Zed El said...

Dear John,
It’s really simple: your wife is right and you are wrong.
The trouble you ran into is the effect of complex systems.
When a system gets very, very complex and I guess we could call human behaviour, all stupidity aside, very complex, so, when a system like that becomes very complex it becomes impossible to retract every thing that happens inside that system to a simple cause. ( look also at meteorology, informatics, chaos theory)
It is possible to make a list of connected parts of the system or a list of the things you expect to happen. It is possible to look at isolated processes and try to understand them. But that is something different than understanding the system entirely.
This is not the same thing as ‘anything can happen – nothing can be said about it’ but it feels a little like it.
Maybe I can put it this way: all laws are semi-liquid, but when we talk about them we treat them as if the were written in stone and coming fresh from Moe’s last debate with the big boss.
And then I haven’t even started about cultural paradigms and perspective.
To take a rather nebulous thing as love, make a pseudo-objective declaration about it and present it to a member of the opposite sex shows a degree of naiveness that makes one wonder how you managed to get married in the first place. You might not think so, but it was probably her doing.
When you have something complex as love, it really makes no big difference whether you call it ‘bio-chemistry’ or ‘divine’. They are just different words for ‘complex’.
Traditionally men and women have different approaches towards coping with the frustrations that complex systems give us. Women as a clichee try it with feelings, intuition, things like that. Men throw it on science, law, things with a clean structure. In other words: if you as a man try to rationalise and tell that to a woman who happens to be as traditional as you are yourself and who emotionalises it, you have a culture clash. Unless of course she thinks you are wisdom incarnate – which is unlikely because women like that need no doghouse.
You are betrayed by science. Science cuts everything in little pieces, analyses them and neglects telling us (most of the time) that the whole beast is a little different from the tip of its tail or the curves of its intestines.
The stupid thing with science is that you have to be a bio-chemist to know how much is not yet known or a psychologist to know how much can still surprise you. As a non-bio-chemist I can keep up the illusion that, although I might not know how bio-chemistry does it, the real people do know or will find out any day now.
This form of positivism keeps us from getting too frustrated and most of the time it works ok. Until you mix it with love. Then it gets you in the doghouse.

I hope the nights are mild and dry,