What Is Love?

I love the panels, interviews, and insights presented on The Institute of Art and Ideas channels. In this segment, I am familiar with the host, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, who has put this all together, and two of the panellists, Iain McGilchrist and Donald Hoffman. I am not familiar with Eva Jablonka or Michelle Montague. This is an interesting conversation on consciousness, but I am commenting on McGilchrist’s position on love and how science can never capture the essence or dimensions of it because it is subjective and experiential. I’ve cued the video clip below to just prior to his response to provide he view with a set up.

As I’ve been saying for some decades now, I believe that love is a weasel word in the realm of justice and freedom. It’s an archetypal extreme, but it doesn’t mean anything more than trebled or analogical references.

McGilchrist resorts to the age-old, you don’t know it if you haven’t experienced it. This was famously captured by the US Supreme court’s take on pornography, “I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.” This is used with God and faith as well. So, bollox, really. They’ve got nothing. And if you haven’t experienced it, then you aren’t a member of the club, and it’s your loss. Rubbish.

From the transcript, Iain tells the viewer (edited below for clarity),

“Love is a very real experience. and you only know it when you’ve had it. But it’s something that science can only refer to physical correlates of—rather ineffectively… But it’s not the same as knowing what love actually is.

“And the same is true of consciousness. It’s a subjective phenomenon, and as such, it’s not open to the kind of science that that i think is being required.”

Notice that this is the same defence asserted by religions. If you are seeking evidence, you are barking up the wrong tree. The evidence is that you can experience it, but this is not a shared experience. The shared experience occurs when people who feel they have had a similar experience can gather together and compare notes and share stories like they were participating in a 12-Steps program. Hullo, my name is Bukowski, and I’m an alcoholic.

Love is a delusion. Consider the notion of romantic love —just one of several purported flavours of love. What do we mean by this? We mean that we are very attracted to and emotionally attached to some other entity. Let’s limit this to other people. We care for this person and about what happens to this person, and we’d presumably like to remain a partner with this person. Generally, there would also be a sense that the other party reciprocates this feeling, but unrequited love is another aspect.

Given this state, we can measure hormonal changes, pupil dilation, and other physiological changes. And if we want to label this state love, then great. In practice, that’s what we’ve done. But so what? All we’ve really done is to take a bundle of descriptions and collated them into a nebulous term.

There are a couple of perspectives on this type of love. There is the person who senses their own feelings about their experience of love, as in “I love X”. Then there is a target of this love who may experience that they are loved by someone. Finally, there is the observer that might assess that Y loves X and or vice versa.

But what does this really mean? Is it just that Y like X very very much and has painted a picture of a future than includes this person? That Y has constructed some narrative storyline that includes X? That there is likely some lust involved in this particular flavour of love? Is love more than this? Is love more than just a shortcut? Is it just an acronym for “Likes Other Very Extremely”? Alright, I’ll stay out of the acronym construction business and end this just now.


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