By Shenny Pieries, 1 February 2013
There’s the transcendent sense of tenderness you feel toward a person who sparks your interest. There’s the sublime feeling of relief and reward when that interest is returned. There are the flowers you buy and the poetry you write and the impulsive trip you make to the other side of the world just so you can spend 48 hours in the presence of a person who’s far away.
People compose poetry, novels, and sitcoms for this emotion: Love. They live for love, die for love and kill for love; it can even be stronger than the drive to stay alive.
In the words of Jason Silva, “Love is listening to a beautiful song that induces a cathartic emotive transcendence. Love is what you want to stretch on forever. Love is the beauty and promise of immortality but also the joint morning of lovers that know that they might die…”
We are only bestowed a very limited time on this planet yet we spend majority of it seeking, searching and yearning for love. We want to be enchanted, enraptured and evoked by it but what scientists, not to mention the rest of us, want to know is, why? What makes us go so ‘head over heels’ crazy over love? Why would we bother with this elaborate exercise in fan dances and flirtations, winking and signaling, joy and sorrow?
Love is a basic human emotion, but understanding how and why it happens is not necessarily easy. In fact, for a long time, many people suggested that love was simply something that science couldn’t understand.
Presuming love has a nature; it should be, to some extent at least, describable within the concepts of language. Does it exist and if so, is it knowable, comprehensible, and describable? Love may be knowable and comprehensible to others, as understood in the phrases, “I am in love”, “I love you”, but what “love” means in these sentences may not be analyzed further: that is, the concept “love” is irreducible, an axiomatic or self-evident, an apodictic category perhaps.
The epistemology of love asks how we may know love, how we may understand it, whether it is possible or plausible to make statements about others or ourselves being in love. The claim that “love” cannot be examined is different from that claiming “love” should not be subject to examination-that it should be put or left beyond the mind’s reach, out of a dutiful respect for its mysteriousness, it’s awesome, divine, or romantic nature.
If love does possesses “a nature” which is identifiable by some means-a personal expression, a discernible pattern of behavior, or other activity, it can still be asked whether that nature can be properly understood by humanity. Love may have a nature, yet we may not possess the proper intellectual capacity to understand it-accordingly, we may gain glimpses perhaps of its essence as Socrates (an Ancient Athenian Philosopher) argues in The Symposium, but its true nature being forever beyond humanity’s intellectual grasp. Accordingly, love may be partially described, or hinted at, in a dialectic or analytical exposition of the concept but never understood in itself. Love may therefore become an epiphenomenal entity, generated by human action in loving, but never grasped by the mind or language.
Why do we love? It has been suggested above that any account of love needs to be able to answer some such justificatory question. One way to understand the question of why we love is as asking for what the value of love is: what do we get out of it? One kind of answer, which has its roots in Aristotle, is that having loving relationships promotes self-knowledge insofar as your beloved acts as a kind of mirror, reflecting your character back to you. Of course, this answer presupposes that we cannot accurately know ourselves in other ways: that left alone, our sense of ourselves will be too imperfect, too biased, to help us grow and mature as persons. Another reason why it is good to love, reasons derived in part from the psychological literature on love: love increases our sense of well-being, it elevates our sense of self-worth, and it serves to develop our character. It also, we might add, tends to lower stress and blood pressure and to increase health and longevity.
Aristophanes, an ancient Greek dramatist, presents his conception of Love in the form of a myth. Humans once had four legs, four arms, two heads, and so on, he says. Some were male, with two sets of male sexual organs; some were females; and some were hermaphrodites, with one set each of male and female sexual organs. We were twice the people we are now, and the gods were jealous, afraid we would overthrow them. Zeus decided to cut us in half to reduce our power, and ever since we have been running all over the earth trying to rejoin with our other half. When we do, we cling to that other half with all our might, and we call this Love.
And Solomon claims: Ultimately, there is only one reason for love. That one grand reason…is “because we bring out the best in each other.” What counts as “the best,” of course, is subject to much individual variation. This is because, Solomon suggests, in loving someone, I want myself to be better so as to be worthy of his love for me.
Finally, what I must admit is that there is no single particular conclusion that justifies the reasons why we love, the craving we have for it or the sole definition of it. But to simply put:
“Love is the answer to the problem of human existence but it doesn’t solve the problem of human existence.” –Jason Silva.