Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love, Dust, and Ashes

With a peculiar admixture of St. Wuventines Day and Ash Wednesday churning about in my head, I found myself reflecting yesterday on an infographic on page one of the WaPo's Science and Health section.

"Love is in the Mind, Not the Heart," it proudly announced.  The graphic explored the neurology of variant forms of emotive response, wrapping up the concept of love in a neat package of chemicals and transmitters.

Attraction?  That thrill of love's first kiss, that whirring surge of excitement when you both realize that the other feels the same way?  That's a heady cocktail of dopamine, noradrenaline, and seratonin.

Sustained attachment?  The gentle contentment of a couple comfortable together after decades, or the deep heart love you feel for your child?  That's an output of oxytocin and vasopressin, the evolved neurochemical response of a social creature.

Now, all of that is true, and measurable.  But just as there are places where faith can stumble, let me say that despite science being a big bucket of awesome most of the time, this is one of those places it flails about miserably.

You can approach love this way, sure.  But it's clumsy and mechanistic, completely divorced from the experience of love.  You've missed it, and missed it completely.  It's like that smart but clueless friend who goes to see a brilliantly acted Shakespeare comedy, and insists on spending the entire time deconstructing the semiotics of meaning underlying patriarchal Elizabethan culture.  They don't laugh.  They aren't participating, or allowing themselves to engage.

And yes, we are mortal beings, creatures woven up of dust and ashes.  But sorting diligently through the dust will not bring you closer to the reality of the experience.  Analyzing the carbonized proteins of the ashes will not make your encounter with another being any richer.

It does not deepen our humanity, not in any way that I can perceive.

Ah well.  Nothing's perfect, I suppose.