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We need a new demotivational poster: "Science. A quick way to mess-up all those great love poems."

The definition of rational isn't very controversial: "having reason or understanding." The definition of reason is straightforward as well: "a statement offered in explanation or justification... a rational ground or motive... a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense; especially : something (as a principle or law) that supports a conclusion or explains a fact."

But then there's love...

In Plato's Euthyphro, we are prompted to answer: do we love someone because they are lovable, or are they lovable because we love them? In modern-day science, we shun the philosophical aspects and look at the chemical profile of brains. And - wouldn't you know it? - love has the same chemical profile as a mental illness.

Ask twenty people what love is and you'll likely get more than twenty answers. As one Braincraver noted: "Many would tell you that love is something beautiful and powerful. They might tell you that it is inexplicable and entirely irrational. They would be right on some accounts. Love is a very powerful response that can make life quite beautiful. But, love is not at all irrational or inexplicable."

love romance my normal approach here is uselessAccording to science, she's right. A common support for the contention that love is irrational is the high divorce rate. Also, we're known to do what can only be described as crazy things when we're in love. But love appears to meet the definition of rationality when scientifically studied. Although we might feel love in our hearts, it is the brain's reward regions that light-up on an MRI. And for good reason.

Science suggests that "romantic love engages a motivation system involving neural systems associated with motivation to acquire a reward rather than romantic love being a particular emotion in its own right... the results lead us to suggest that early-stage, intense romantic love is associated with reward and goal representation regions, and that rather than being a specific emotion, romantic love is better characterized as a motivation or goal-oriented state that leads to various specific emotions such as euphoria or anxiety."

In other words, according to science, love is about acquiring a particular value or reaching a goal (i.e., reward) rather than just being a feeling. And we can even objectively measure it through technology.

If love can be defined through science, is it rational? What role does science play if everyone defines love differently? Can science really get at the qualia, or raw feeling, of love? Is there an objective standard for love? Does science prove that unconditional love is a baseless idea? Does describing love from a scientific and technical basis degrade the idea and feeling? What is your "operational" definition of romantic love?

One of Fisher's central pursuits in the past decade has been looking at love, quite literally, with the aid of an MRI machine. Fisher and her colleagues Arthur Aron and Lucy Brown recruited subjects who had been "madly in love" for an average of seven months. Once inside the MRI machine, subjects were shown two photographs, one neutral, the other of their loved one.

What Fisher saw fascinated her. When each subject looked at his or her loved one, the parts of the brain linked to reward and pleasure-the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus-lit up. What excited Fisher most was not so much finding a location, an address, for love as tracing its specific chemical pathways. Love lights up the caudate nucleus because it is home to a dense spread of receptors for a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which Fisher came to think of as part of our own endogenous love potion. In the right proportions, dopamine creates intense energy, exhilaration, focused attention, and motivation to win rewards. It is why, when you are newly in love, you can stay up all night, watch the sun rise, run a race, ski fast down a slope ordinarily too steep for your skill. Love makes you bold, makes you bright, makes you run real risks, which you sometimes survive, and sometimes you don't...

Donatella Marazziti is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pisa in Italy who has studied the biochemistry of lovesickness. Having been in love twice herself and felt its awful power, Marazziti became interested in exploring the similarities between love and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

She and her colleagues measured serotonin levels in the blood of 24 subjects who had fallen in love within the past six months and obsessed about this love object for at least four hours every day. Serotonin is, perhaps, our star neurotransmitter, altered by our star psychiatric medications: Prozac and Zoloft and Paxil, among others. Researchers have long hypothesized that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have a serotonin "imbalance." Drugs like Prozac seem to alleviate OCD by increasing the amount of this neurotransmitter available at the juncture between neurons.

Marazziti compared the lovers' serotonin levels with those of a group of people suffering from OCD and another group who were free from both passion and mental illness. Levels of serotonin in both the obsessives' blood and the lovers' blood were 40 percent lower than those in her normal subjects. Translation: Love and obsessive-compulsive disorder could have a similar chemical profile. Translation: Love and mental illness may be difficult to tell apart. Translation: Don't be a fool. Stay away.

Of course that's a mandate none of us can follow. We do fall in love, sometimes over and over again, subjecting ourselves, each time, to a very sick state of mind. There is hope, however, for those caught in the grip of runaway passion-Prozac. There's nothing like that bicolored bullet for damping down the sex drive and making you feel "blah" about the buffet. Helen Fisher believes that the ingestion of drugs like Prozac jeopardizes one's ability to fall in love-and stay in love. By dulling the keen edge of love and its associated libido, relationships go stale. Says Fisher, "I know of one couple on the edge of divorce. The wife was on an antidepressant. Then she went off it, started having orgasms once more, felt the renewal of sexual attraction for her husband, and they're now in love all over again."

Psychoanalysts have concocted countless theories about why we fall in love with whom we do. Freud would have said your choice is influenced by the unrequited wish to bed your mother, if you're a boy, or your father, if you're a girl. Jung believed that passion is driven by some kind of collective unconscious. Today psychiatrists such as Thomas Lewis from the University of California at San Francisco's School of Medicine hypothesize that romantic love is rooted in our earliest infantile experiences with intimacy, how we felt at the breast, our mother's face, these things of pure unconflicted comfort that get engraved in our brain and that we ceaselessly try to recapture as adults. According to this theory we love whom we love not so much because of the future we hope to build but because of the past we hope to reclaim. Love is reactive, not proactive, it arches us backward, which may be why a certain person just "feels right." Or "feels familiar." He or she is familiar. He or she has a certain look or smell or sound or touch that activates buried memories.

True Love


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Oct 26, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=664

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