|Lots of Love for you|
What is this thing called love
HOWEVER PUNCTUATED, COLE Porter’s simple question begs an answer. Love’s symptoms are familiar enough: a drifting mooniness in thought and behavior, the mad conceit that the entire universe has rolled itself up into the person of the beloved, a conviction that no one on earth has ever felt so torrentially about a fellow creature before. Love is ecstasy and torment, freedom and slavery. Poets and songwriters would be in a fine mess without it. Plus, it makes the world go round.
Until recently, scientists wanted no part of it.
The reason for this avoidance, this reluctance to study what is probably life’s most intense emotion, is not difficult to track down. Love is mushy; science is hard. Anger and fear, feelings that have been considerably researched in the field and the lab, can be quantified through measurements: pulse and breathing rates, muscle contractions, a whole spider web of involuntary responses. Love does not register as definitively on the instruments; it leaves a blurred fingerprint that could be mistaken for anything from indigestion to a manic attack. Anger and fear have direct roles — fighting or running — in the survival of the species. Since it is possible (a cynic would say commonplace) for humans to mate and reproduce without ) love, all the attendant sighing and swooning and sonnet writing have struck many pragmatic investigators as beside the evolutionary point.
|What is love?|
So biologists and anthropologists assumed that it would be fruitless, even frivolous, to study love’s evolutionary origins, the way it was encoded in our genes or imprinted in our brains. Serious scientists simply assumed that love — and especially Romantic Love — was really all in the head, put there five or six centuries ago when civilized societies first found enough spare time to indulge in flowery prose. The task of writing the book of love was ceded to playwrights, poets and pulp novelists.
|Love never fails|
But during the past decade, scientists across a broad range of disciplines have had a change of heart about love. The amount of research expended on the tender passion has never been more intense. Explanations for this rise in interest vary. Some cite the spreading threat of AIDS; with casual sex carrying mortal risks, it seems important to know more about a force that binds couples faithfully together. Others point to the growing number of women scientists and suggest that they may be more willing than their male colleagues to take love seriously. Says Elaine Hatfield, the author of Love, Sex, and Intimacy: Their Psychology, Biology, and History: “When I was back at Stanford in the 1960s, they said studying love and human relationships was a quick way to ruin my career. Why not go where the real work was being done: on how fast rats could run?” Whatever the reasons, science seems to have come around to a view that nearly everyone else has always taken for granted: romance is real. It is not merely a conceit; it is bred into our biology.