Vanity thought #189. Infatuation.

Continuing on the subject of love, actually on the subject of falling in love – how does that work?

We have experience, wisdom of the ages, science and religion all giving somewhat contradictory answers.

Anyone who have ever fallen in love at first sight knows the feeling. It hits you like a ton of bricks, it’s completely out of control. You can somewhat control symptoms and your behavior but you can’t lie to your heart. There’s certain inevitability and finality to it – resistance is futile.

I guess in this aspect it’s the same as young people first realizing they are gay – one would never find inner peace until he accepts the fact that he is in love, or gay. It’s something that can’t be swept under the rug or washed with bleach.

How one would act on such impulses is a totally different subject I’m not going to touch on today, though.

As love grows we learn more about it and we can observe it and discuss it and ponder and pontificate. That’s when wisdom of ages comes very handy. Love has been defined in great many ways but one striking feature of it that persists is selflessness. It’s especially prominent in eastern religions with their promotion of universal love and kindness. Personally I could never relate to that, I still have no idea what they are talking about. Lucky me – their love is the epitome of impersonalism and that would be a suicide according to our philosophy.

In the west, on the other hand, various definitions of love grow out of observing interpersonal relationships. I don’t recall anyone giving any praise to loving the universe but everyone knows about Romeo and Juliet. Love, especially between men and women, is given such a prominent stage that the sheer amount of examples makes it incomprehensible, I bet an average person on the street would give some cliche definitions like “Love is all you need” that don’t make much sense anymore.

Interestingly, defining love is easier if we start talking about what it is not – we describe love in relations to other feelings. There’s less sexual element than in lust, more attraction than in like and so on.

And then there’s science. Scientifically speaking, all of the above is absolute nonsense. From the traditional biology’s POV “love” consists of three stages characterized by release of certain kind of chemicals in the brain.

First there’s lust, testosterone/estrogen driven, it transforms into an attraction with its own set of chemicals. At this point people develop deeper, “romantic” kind of feelings for each other. Finally there’s attachment – sex drive is gone, romantic interests is gone, people stay with each other out of habit.

Evolutionary speaking, each stage plays its own role. Testosterone driven stage is for attracting best females, romantic dopamine stage is for securing services of a single, dedicated partner, and oxytocin influenced attachment is needed for raising children until they reach independence.

It sounds about right and I agree with this model but it totally misses some very important features of love like selflessness and sacrifice and unconditional desire to please the object of your affection.

The omission is even more striking if you consider that biology leaves no place for love between friends, or between family members or between servants and masters of various kinds. In all our human history love has always been bigger than the need to safely procreate.

Then there’s psychological explanation of love, but psychology is not science, strictly speaking. It can’t be successfully reduced to interactions between atoms and molecules and various formulas and equations.

Then there’s neuroscience that studies our brains and monitors our brains’ activities and responses in various situations. Their findings are incorporated into the biological model but they’ve made quite a few observations in the past decade that deserve special attention. It was them who discovered the release of certain chemicals in the brain at various stages of love and it was them who discovered that same areas of the brain are engaged in processing some aspects of love and religious devotion.

Then scientists looked at the DNA and found love and religion genes. Not religion genes per se, yet, but the genes responsible for our capacity of attachment and morality, for example.

Their findings led them to believe that religion is nothing but another manifestation of our desire to love and be loved. Great, I’ve learned the same thing at, probably, my first lecture on Krishna consciousness when MRA scanners hadn’t even been invented yet.

At this point scientists declare victory while we can congratulate them on catching pretty fast, but they still have a whole lot to learn.

My first argument against their narrative is that they can’t establish for sure whether chemicals cause love or love causes these chemicals to be released in the system.

They, of course, have been feeding people hormones for ages to “correct” their bodies’ sexual behavior, and there’s viagra, of course, but I haven’t heard of a single case where pills actually caused anyone to fall in love. Hold on, I take it back, it happens all the time but not in the sense scientists would want to.

Imagine they found chemicals that cause the feeling of being full, in a sense of being not hungry, and they also found how to stimulate certain areas in the brain that cause the person to feel as if he is enjoying great food. Imagine they applied both of these to simulate a dinner.

Would it recreate the symptoms? Sure it would, but would it substitute eating? Unless they supply the actual nutrients all those symptoms won’t be able to sustain the body.

Similarly, what makes them think that running electrical currents through certain areas of the brain would make person to love God? At best they would recreate a symptom and it would only be a temporary solution. Imagine they create a God pill like that – you take it and you feel as if you are in heaven. Hold on, they had pills like that fifty years ago already, didn’t work out very well, did it?

There’s another major problem with scientific approach – even if, or when, they find how to reproduce religious feelings in people’s brains they would still need to provide external stimuli to make it work while people’s actual devotion is causeless.

Most of us need churches and temples and masses and lectures to evoke our religious feelings but true devotion doesn’t depend on any of that. In fact we reject devotion that depends on external stimuli altogether. It’s not real, it’s only a shadow of the real thing.

So again, when scientists are proud to announce the proof that external symptoms we experience from time to time during our religious practices are not real and don’t come from God, we can say to them: “Duh! Thanks, Captain Obvious, we knew all along, thanks for reminding us again”.

Sometimes their arguments like that are very convincingly presented in respectable publications and they might shake our faith.

Well, two things – they are specifically designed with a goal like that, just like advertising is designed to provoke attraction to a certain brand or product. Religion or not but as long as we have material bodies they will respond to these kind of arguments/propaganda.

Second thing to keep in mind – these arguments display certain known propaganda tricks to appear more convincing then they really are. Most often they defeat religion as they imagine it themselves – they are fighting battles with their own imagination and they, predictably, win.

I’ve seen a few articles like this and they all fail to address religion as practitioners see it themselves and they fail to consider religious explanations for their findings, too. They really are arguing with themselves there.

They might find DNA evidence for the propensity towards religion and they might explain it as another expression of evolutionary battle for survival of species but that would only explain desire to engage in bettering our karma. We don’t put much value on karmic aspirations and our ultimate goal, love of God, is completely anti-social and self-destructive, as far as evolution is concerned.

They’ve been studying alcoholism, drug abuse and addition for a lot longer than brain imaging and still they have absolutely no idea how to explain this desire for self-destruction in evolutionary terms. I don’t see them explaining the need for selfless, evolutionary unrewarded devotion any time soon.

Even if they do find the basic inclination for love of God in our DNA and learn how to simulate it artificially, the basic problem will still remain – true devotion is causeless, it doesn’t need any external resources, you don’t have to go to work whole week to get a devotional pill on Sunday.

True devotion is not only causeless, it’s also unstoppable, we can’t take a break from it and do something else, it’s simply not possible to turn it off.

In the biological model the first two stages of love are temporary, the second, romantic stage, usually last only a couple of years at most. That’s not what happens with Krishna prema.

In ISKCON we had an experience with drugs being used as a substitute for devotion once, it didn’t end very well at all, even if external symptoms were very convincing and probably genuinely felt.

Bottom line – all these studies and all my efforts to refute them focus on what love of God isn’t and they’re of limited help if I want to find what loving Krishna really is.

Luckily, I should be able to resume my chanting tomorrow, can’t wait to get back into that routine again.

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