Thursday, November 20, 2008

Love: What It Is.

I believe in love.

Sort of.

I don't particularly believe that love is one emotion or feeling. I think it's a combination of lust, infatuation, intense focus, friendship, attachment, and compatibility. We only call what's happening "love" when enough of these things are involved. And different combinations make the different kinds of love we talk about in our culture: puppy love, love for a friend, love for a baby, and finally, the stages of romantic love.

This might sound wrong, but even people who are true believers in love know that over the years love changes. It starts with what might be called romantic love and changes into compassionate love (Sinha, 2002). Romantic love, of course, tends to have elements of lust and infatuation, and perhaps, strongly put, obsession. Is it any more than this? I don't know, but I have my doubts.

Later, the love turns to a more friendship and attached phase, which we might call compassionate love.

Why am I being reductionistic? Aren't I the one who criticizes people who don't appreciate that there are higher level patterns?

Let me explain: I'm not saying we can't use the word love. I'm just saying that what we call love is a pattern of feelings (and beliefs, as I'll get to later) that are separate. Part of why I know this is that different hormones and neurotransmitters make the different feelings happen.

There are hormones that make us attach: oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is the same hormone that attaches mothers to children, which explains why some mother feel like they are "in love" with their babies.

Norepinephrine surges through us when we start getting into somebody. This hormone makes us focus on a single person very strongly. That's why we can't stop thinking about our new love.

Dopamine causes the intense pleasure we feel around that person.

There's a great podcast that explains all of this called "This is Your Brain On Love" from the excellent Podcast series "Radiolab." I highly recommend it. Very entertaining and interesting.

I imagine that in the compassionate love stage, the dopamine is still there, the oxytocin / vasopressin is still there, and the norepinephrine is reduced. Thank goodness. Can you imagine being obsessed with your love for your whole life? In fact, that's the idea I explored with my co-writer in my play Medea: The Fury, based on the Greek myth. The idea is that when Medea falls in love with Jason as a result of getting struck with Cupid's arrow, she never leaves the initial rush stage of love. So eleven years later, when they have kids and Jason is thinking of his career and such, Medea is still absolutely obsessed, lustful, and infatuated with him. Drives him crazy.

Let's look at the idea of love at first sight. I think just about everyone has had the feeling, upon seeing or meeting someone for the first time, a very strong attraction. I think we have also all felt, on some occasions, that after talking to the person for five minutes that attraction is reduced considerably. These cases are not remembered as "love at first sight." Why? Because it did not end up developing through any of the other stages that we associate with love (one of my Very Short Stories is based on this theme.)

Now, when you feel that instant attraction and then end up dating and getting very attached, then retrospectively you might want to call it love at first sight, even though it's probably the same exact feeling you had when meeting the other attractive people who ended up being jackasses.

"Love" is a problematic term, which is probably why some people don't know, and have to really try to figure out whether they are in love or not.

Love for your baby or puppy, or your parents when you are young, is made up of feeling good, attachment, and focus.

Love for your parent (as an adult) is feeling good and attachment.

Love for a new romantic partner (infuatuation) is feeling good, attachment, focus, and lust.

Love for a not-so-new romantic partner is the same with a reduction in lust and focus, with an increase in attachment.

Love for the song "Jump" by Kris Kross is just feeling good and focus.

I know there's a big philosophical literature on love that I'm ignoring. Sorry. This is something I've been thinking and talking about a lot lately with my friends, so I wanted to write about it.

Also, I'm in love.


Sinha2002: In Sacks, O. (Ed) 2003, The Best American Science Writing
. Harper Collins.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

altricious vs. precocious

Aaron Sloman pointed out in a talk I saw once (Sloman & Chappell, 2005) that certain species are "precocious," which means that they are quite capable of doing what they need to do in the world soon after being born. Certain birds start hopping around, looking for food seconds after hatching. Others are "altricious," meaning they take a long time to learn what they need to. Humans, of course, are altricious.  Paradoxically, our utter inability to take care of ourselves as babies is a key to our success. 

There is an evolutionary pressure to make brains bigger. Bigger brains means smarter brains, in general. Not always, of course, but even in human beings brain size accounts for 16% of the variance in intelligence (Hoppe & Stojanovic, 2008). Anyway, this can't go on forever. Know why? Because if human brains got any bigger, women's pelvises would be so wide they would not be able to run very effectively. So giving birth to a baby, particularly the baby's head, is very painful-- even life-threatening. If I might anthropomorphize evolution for a moment, it tries to get the biggest head it can through the biggest pelvis it can handle. I speculate that the result of this is that the human brain couldn't come with everything it needed. The strategy it adopted was to have the brain learn stuff after birth. Now, in industrialized societies, death in childbirth is not a big scare, but the fact that kids can learn so well helps us a whole lot, because we would not be able to change the world like we are and have the new kids be able to adjust if they'd come without an incredible ability to learn. Lucky us! 

I just read something that supports the idea that even individual differences in the altriciousness might account for differences in ability. Turns out the smart kids younger than 8 years of age have an unusually thin cerebral cortex. But by the time they are in late childhood, they have a thicker cerebral cortex (Shaw et al.,  2006). Perhaps these kids are smarter because they are more altricious than their peers. 

If all this is true I would predict that gifted children are actually less competent in the world before age 8, since, being less precocious, they start with less, but learn more. 

Pictured: A baby, perhaps angry that he's so precocious.


Hoppe, C. & Stojanovic, J. (2008). High-aptitude minds. Scientific American Mind August/September 2008, 60--67.

Shaw, P. et al. (2006). Intellectual ability and cortical development in children and adolescents. Nature, vol. 440, pp676--679.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Moral Reasoning in Democrats and Republicans

On election day I would like to recommend this fabulous TED talk.

It's about studies of morals in liberals and conservatives. It outlines the five factors, and shows that liberals don't care much for two of them. Fascinating.

Monday, November 03, 2008

My Art To Appear at the Carleton Art Gallery

Three of my works will appear at the Carleton Art Gallery from November 7-10, 2008 in St. Patrick's Building.

Here is the text from the website:

Date: October 22, 2008

Art from within

The Carleton University Art Gallery is preparing for a totally new type of exhibition – a show comprised one hundred per cent of pieces submitted by the Carleton community.

The exhibition, entitled HERE, was created in an effort to attract non-art history students, as well as staff and faculty members, to participate in the gallery in a hands-on way and to celebrate the art that can be found here on campus, within our own community.

Katy McIntyre is the shows’ project coordinator. As an art history master’s student, she’s helped organize exhibitions in the past through class seminars and received the opportunity to curate this show through the art history practicum program. “I'm a bit of a gallery rat: I love to visit the gallery regularly and enjoy the art. So, when I heard about this kind of show, I jumped at it,” says McIntyre.

“The show is called HERE because it is an opportunity to question what being a student, staff or faculty member here, at Carleton, is really like,” explains McIntyre. “Already, we've received work submissions from students influenced by the scenery around Hog's Back and a painting about Ancient Rome with a new twist. It's clear that students want an opportunity to creatively respond to the experience of being a Carleton student.”

Submissions have been pouring in all week and McIntyre expects there to be over 50 artists in the exhibit, making for a substantial show. She adds that the variety of submissions include sculpture, mixed media assemblage, painting, photography, and drawing, along with subjects ranging from academically inspired works, including a painting of Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome, to works about nature.

“We've received submissions from students, staff and faculty, so we know the show will already be representative of the Carleton community,” points out McIntyre.

The HERE exhibit will take place from November 7-10, 2008 in the gallery, St. Patrick's Building. Everyone is invited to the opening reception on Friday, November 7, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


There is a strong opinion in science that rigor, particularly mathematical, is very desirable. I would like to share a bit of a book review I found today.

Let me conclude this review of this
important book with a personal note.
The first paper in the book (originally
presented in 1985 and published in
1986), lays out the basic ideas of
this simple, non-mathematical approach
to designing control systems for
mobile robots. Brooks points out that
this paper, which was severely criticized
for its lack of mathematical rigor,
is his most cited paper.

Published in Bekey (2000), which is a review of Cambrian Intelligence:
The Early History of the New AI 
by Rodney A. Brooks, MIT Press, 1999.


Bekey, G. A. (2000). Cambrian Intelligence: The Early History of the New AI by Rodney A. Brooks. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Volume: 4, Issue: 7, p291.