Our Hearts

IMG_6744The problem with the burgeoning, if thrilling, forays into the neurology of love and the study of the brain with its recipe of chemicals and influences both inborn and learned, is that at the end of the day—what do we know? It is not that we know nothing, of course we know a lot—oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine, serotonin, and all the attending receptors, neuropeptides and neurotrophins—we know the ingredients! But what does it make?

Love, as a topic of scientific inquiry, has long suffered from a reputation of frivolity as far as reasoned science is concerned, particularly romantic love. As Kayt Sukel relates in her book Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships, the attempts to approach romantic love while maintaining a vestige of objective scientific pride resulted in no studied structures of understanding and a lot of very dry synonms:

There was already ample evidence in neuroscience literature to suggest that love was a worthy topic of research. But the scientists never called it such, avoiding it like the dirty word it is. Instead they referred to the related topics of pair-bonding, monogamy, attachment, and mating behaviors (3).

Perhaps if we call it pair-bonding we won’t remember what fools for love we are. Nice try guys, but love is now a subject that is being given some serious attention despite the fact that many of us—those who come up with terms such as mating behaviors included—make asses of ourselves in allegiance to this essential aspect of our beings.

The science is new and inconclusive. Oh, but the temptations to conclude! To draw deep breathes of poetic justification over the mundane chemical imbalances precipitated by love.

Take neurotrophins, also called nerve growth factor (NGF), they are proteins involved in synaptic plasticity—which is the ability of the connections between neurons to change (36). In couples who report to be wildly in love, or “romantically afflicted” (ha. ha.), the levels of NGF in the blood stream are significantly elevated (37). Like all hormone hysteria associated with the event-encounter (as Alain Badiou terms it) of falling in love, the levels taper off and normalize after one to two years, but scientists can see there is a strong elevation during the seismic event of falling in love. What scientists can not yet tell us is—why? And to what purpose?

The rate at which hard-scientific analysis can devolve (or evolve, depending on your disposition) into straight-up poetry of speculation, at least for me, is enough to make one’s head spin. It is too hard to end with we don’t know. For goodness sake, these proteins are involved in synaptic plasticity!

Doesn’t it sound lovely and logical? Positively poetic? One falls in love and what is the first thing that has to happen? You must change. You must allow the other to change you. That our brains chemically pave the way for these changes to transpire on a synaptic level is beautiful. Love does that.

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7 responses to “Our Hearts

  1. Richard Marcus

    Sonnets from the Portuguese 14: If thou must love me, let it be for noughtRelated Poem Content Details
    BY ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING
    If thou must love me, let it be for nought
    Except for love’s sake only. Do not say
    I love her for her smile … her look … her way
    Of speaking gently, … for a trick of thought
    That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
    A sense of pleasant ease on such a day’—
    For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
    Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought,
    May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
    Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,—
    A creature might forget to weep, who bore
    Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
    But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
    Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.

    • Richard Marcus

      c
      Science Will Take Care Of Me
      Lyrics by Richard Marcus

      I.
      I’ve got an ache,
      I’ve got a pain,
      I’ve got MRI’s which show
      I could be clinically insane.
      I’ve got some parts
      Which are worn out.
      And in certain situations
      I am paralyzed with crushing doubt.

      CHORUS
      But science will take care of me.
      Science will take care of me.
      Every day the news is filled
      With discoveries to fix our ills
      Man-made body parts and pills
      Inventions, breakthroughs, new techniques
      Available in days or weeks.
      Science will take care of me!
      Science will take care of me!
      There’s nothing they can not improve,
      Nothing they cannot renew,
      Science will take care of me!
      Science will take care of me!
      So I never…ever have to worry.

      II.
      They’re finding ways
      To make me thin,
      They can take out
      What I put in.
      They’ll make me stop
      What I abuse,
      They drill in pins,
      They screw in screws.
      They cure disease
      It’s on the news.
      Computers in
      My running shoes.
      Computers in
      My running shoes.

      BRIDGE:

      DNA is magic.
      DNA will save mankind
      All they need is DNA
      That’s all they need so they can find:
      A cure for our worst disease
      And all our abnormalities
      The stem-cells which will make us well
      Except that we might go to Hell
      Not a place I want to be
      But…

      CHORUS
      …science will take care of me.
      Science will take care of me.
      Every day the news is filled
      With discoveries to fix our ills
      3D body parts and pills
      Inventions, breakthroughs, new techniques
      Available in days or weeks.
      Science will take care of me!
      Science will take care of me!
      There’s nothing they can not improve,
      Nothing they cannot renew,
      Science will take care of me!
      Science will take care of me!
      So I never…ever have to worry.

      III.
      They have machines
      To beat my heart,
      They’ll take my genes
      And grow new parts.
      They have machines
      Of molecules.
      Which have small brains
      And nano tools.
      We’ll live forever
      If we choose
      Computers in
      My running shoes.
      Computers in
      My running shoes.

  2. That NGF tapers off over two years might explain some things in my history. 🙂 I would love to know what happens to the fear-center Amygdala in love.

    Fabulously interesting. And yes Love does do that. Thank you.

    • Not to be an annoying nerd but yeah, I’m kind of an annoying nerd. Or maybe nerd-ish. I just used this and research like it for a novel. Ask Jessica.

      http://boingboing.net/2013/08/12/whos-afraid-of-the-amygdala.html

    • I think, as Richard’s attached article suggests, the amygdala is more complex, and much more mysteriously connected to other seemingly unrelated functions, than once thought. But it is very much the “sentry” part of our brains, serving a useful function in the flight or fight instinct. Interestingly, during orgasm (in both sexes) the amygdala is shut down a bit haha. One of the things I am finding most interesting in my research is not which areas of the brain “activate” under certain conditions, but rather, which areas deactivate—that can tell us a lot!

  3. Some consider love to be a sickness, even one with no known cure. As if we would want to be cured. Most of us want more….

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