Though Valentine’s Day is a valid enough reason to remember love, it would surely surprise most to find love getting discussed in a science column!
This is possible because, artists and poets, the traditional investigators of the subject like it or not, science is now making unpleasant inroads into love.
Science drew first blood by upsetting traditional seat of love in human body. Though poets still prefers pulsating heart, scientists insist that love sits in our solid-state brain. And love, they claim, starts with a rush of adrenaline, a stress-hormone that is secreted in state of fear.
The phenomenon of heart beating faster, a typical fear response, is also a precursor of love. Though similarity between onset of love and fear/stress appears strange, the fact that love leads one to the biggest decision (of procreation) of life, it is rational that it causes stress.
The next move of love is to capture the dopamine-driven reward circuit. Love causes a dopamine surge that abets euphoric happiness, and clubbed with another stress-hormone norepinephrine that increases focus and reduces sleep, what you get is a cocktail of heady feelings very similar to cocaine induced high, and just as addictive.
After causing addiction, love now moves to use serotonin to add obsession to it. Love causes serotonin to dip to the level that is found in OCD patients, forcing the infatuated to obsessively think of the person of desire.
After causing addictive attraction and obsession, love brings in oxytocin, the hormonal glue that binds two human by bringing a blissful sense of contentment when together. Every time love is consumed, oxytocin is released to form a happy association that constantly encourages one to consolidate the relationship.
Though I admit that the above description of neuro-chemistry is extremely sketchy, as many more molecules engaged in this process; but, at least theoretically, love seems like a cascading chemical reaction evolved by our DNA to entice us to replicate under a chemical illusion of happiness.
As neuroscience moves forward, we are becoming more capable of short-circuiting brain chemistry by the day, forcing us to contemplate over a curious possibility, i.e. can science reduce love down to its chemistry, and turn it into a pill?
It is a scary possibility capable of destroying social fabric, but science has always shown disregard for social concerns in its search for knowledge. And, with mind-boggling commercial benefit (who would not like to buy love over the counter!); the nightmare has potential to turn into reality.
But, while contemplating over the nightmare of love getting reduced to chemistry, one is also forced to wonder where hides the incurable romance, what causes unbearable longing or how love constructs the abyss of loneliness; and wake up to an almost poetic reality.
All the chemistry described above is not love, but mechanism put in place by evolution to assist replication, and thankfully, love is not about replication.
Love is an eternal Theseus ship sailing in the unbounded ocean of human neocortex that has limitless power of forming associations and constructing interpretations. This makes love more than the sum total of its chemistry, its biology or even all the poetry or art contributing to its collective construct.
Brain chemistry may limit love with its structure; but love’s meta-manifestation aided by neocortex allows it to remain infinitely complex. Every time love is borne by a brain, it is like forming a new pattern in a kaleidoscope. This makes each episode of love a unique experience for the person.
Love, like many other natural phenomena, shows us that however well we deconstruct it and gain control over its parts, the sum of all parts shall always remain unattainable.
Happy Valentine’s Day!