Love on Campus

It’s just not what it used to be, even at the BYU, as shown in a day-before-Valentine’s-Day BYU NewsNet article, “The Evolution of Human Love.”

Here’s the article’s first salvo:

In recent studies, researchers have found evidence to suggest that romance is part of evolution and natural selection. In the Jan. 17 issue of Time Magazine, an article titled “Romance is an Illusion” explains how scientists used to think humans were unique in their language, tool making and foresight capabilities. However, scientists discovered that other animals do possess the genes necessary for these traits, and they also have the oxytocin chemical that is secreted during sexual intercourse. The chemical results in a “switching on” of reward pathways in the brain and causing a feeling of being in love.

I’m guessing this paragraph alone caused Valentine’s Day flower sales to drop 50% on campus. And calling love a “commitment device” will make any single fellow think twice before asking for a second date.

A BYU faculty member defends a more traditional conception of love and romance.

Tom Holman, BYU professor of family life, disagrees with the idea of love simply being an evolutionary process. Instead, Holman argues that it was placed in humans by God starting with Adam and Eve. In addition, Holman explained how love is manifest differently depending on the person and his or her life situation, which suggests how and what people love is a choice, not a force of evolution.

Asserting that love and romantic attraction are the result of conscious choice raises its own issues. But LDS leaders have pulled back from asserting the strong choice position. In the Same-Gender Attraction interview posted at the Newsroom, Elders Oaks and Wickman were asked about the LDS position on “nature or nurture.” Elder Oaks responded, “The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction.” Elder Wickman added, “Why somebody has a same-gender attraction… who can say?” They sidestep the whole question of origins. Whence cometh love … who can say?

23 comments for “Love on Campus

  1. Holman explained how love is manifest differently depending on the person and his or her life situation, which suggests how and what people love is a choice, not a force of evolution.

    I’m no scientist, but this doesn’t strike me as a particularly strong rebuttal.

  2. The chemical results in a “switching on” of reward pathways in the brain and causing a feeling of being in love.

    Hahaha! Back a million years ago when I was in grade school, the human party line was, human beings are different from animals because humans exhibit intelligence. Animals operate on instinct only. Instinct was imagined to be a something like an unreasoned and wholly compelling response to stimuli–you know, almost like what a machine does when you push a button and “switch it on.” Funny articles like this are written to amuse or meet a special subject deadline. Especially amusing to me is how the “scientific” angles are worked so that rather than expanding a definition of intelligence to include aspects of animal behavior, a few representative pop-sci articles are cited that reduce everybody to mechanics of instinct.

    I don’t take the BYU NewsNet article or the Time article nor any pop-sci article as being anything more than surface tension on a deep, deep subject. Certainly, there’s nothing about evolution that precludes choice. In fact, choice — intelligent choice at that — lies at the molten core of thoughtful evolutionary theory. (Which, by the way, is still evolving.)

  3. Our bodies aren’t horses that our spirits ride. Our bodies are as much us as our spirits are. I see no particular reason why, in the union of body and spirit, our emotions wouldn’t be expressed chemically or neurologically or be influenced by the same. What I don’t see any evidence for is that our emotions are *just* chemicals.

  4. Adam,
    True, It’s like saying the experience of tasting an apple is just chemicals because you can measure the chemical reponse in pleasure centers in the brain, ignoring the fact the apple is indeed real. Scientists are devoted empiricists though and don’t like the unobjective.

  5. What I don’t see any evidence for is that our emotions are *just* chemicals.

    Or that commitment is just a device. Or that it’s a solely human one. Really, I see no evidence at all in the BYU Newsnet article for anything, only a set of mildly engaging competing narratives, a variety of “he said she said,” except with science and religion.

    Another shortcoming of the pop-science referenced in this article: Its lack of curiosity, or wonder about what things might be becoming.

  6. Perspective isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. Conscious beings know that subjective experience is as real as flesh and blood (and cells and molecules). When we look scientifically at something from the outside, it is really easy to forget that we can only see the outside aspect of the experience.
    When we look introspectively at something from the inside, it is really easy to forget that we can only see the inside aspect of the experience.

    From the subjective inside: love is.

    From the objective outside: oxytocin is.

    If you get an injection of oxytocin, you’ll feel some of the things you associate with certain aspects of love. If you feel certain aspects of love, your body will secrete oxytocin. The objective and subjective are undeniably linked.

    Exploring the link seems to get less attention than you’d expect, either from religion or science.

  7. gf, your vocabulary differs somewhat from mine. In my vocabulary, perspective = narrative design, or the stories we make of our experiences and our intent in forging those stories the ways we do.

    I’m certain, though I’m not reading any at the moment, that there are writers paying better attention to the relationship you mention in both science and religion as well as in novels, poetry, etc. None of them, however, are referenced in the the BYU NewsNet article, only the easy, the drive-thru thinking that makes entertainment magazines. But we would do the author a disservice to try to make of her writing more than it is.

    While I’m not reading any meaningful evolutionary science or religious writing right now, I am reading Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature, by John D. Niles, which contains the following assessment of the problems we encounter when we form theories about what is or was:

    “Nothing more effectually blights research in any field of intellectual inquiry than a set of terms, hence an array of conceptual categories, that is incapable of matching the contours of the phenomena being discussed” (p. 15).

    A tension we probably suffer from most of the time in many of our sometimes clumsy opposable thumbs attempts to grasp experience.

  8. PK,

    I’ll add that to my list. Right now, I’m busy reading Ken Wilber, who has some ideas about the interrelationships and distinctions between subjective and objective views that can be illuminating, though I’m not far enough into his work to know whether I agree with it all or not. For me, even with usefully contoured terminology, sometimes I still run into brambles when I don’t see clearly the relationships between various ways of knowing and I mistake one for another.

  9. I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction of emotions and physical response, never completely accepting the “love is biology” argument completely. I do, though grant that emotions and those chemical/neurological responses are linked.

    And as to love being a choice, I’m pretty convinced that the initial decision to love does start with choice, and is reinforced by all those chemicals and hormones, which then interplays with our conscious mind, which then chooses more intimacy, which in turn triggers more of the physiological and neurological response. That’s why love grows, IMO.

    Also, the reverse is true. I don’t think people fall out of love, they choose to stop loving. My ecclesiastical experience with several couples in crisis has convinced me that a huge element in the divorce process is that one partner decides not to be in love any more, and then the justifications and rationalizations start, which begins the downward and opposite spiral of “falling out of love”. Thoughts of the significant other no longer bring pleasure, and trigger negative responses.

    All of this I am saying is from my personal observation, and seems to fit well with our understanding of agency, and the importance of coming to this life for a mortal body. Perhaps this mortality is required for us to really learn how to love in all of it’s aspects, and that is part of why we will be yearning for the resurrection and being reunited with that physical body, an effort to be whole again.

  10. PK (#3), I’m not sure most biologists would agree that “choice … lies at the molten core of thoughtful evolutionary theory.” There was a strain of evolutionary thought in the late 19th and early 20th century that went under the general heading of “vitalism” that thought goals, desires, and general striving moved and guided evolution on an upward path. With the emergence of genetics in the 20th century and its incorporation into natural selection that approach was discrdited and the role of choice became much more problematic. Perhaps there’s something hiding in your modifier “thoughtful” that I’m not picking up clearly.

    dpc (#6), that’s what good theories do, they explain things.

  11. Dave, I’m as concerned about whether or not “most biologists” would agree with me as I am about whether or not I’ll agree with myself in five years. I am very much interested in what the rhetoric people use to construct theories about “reality” tells us about their narrative designs.

    IMO, genetics is in its Newtonian, deterministic stage of theoretical development. There are yet more new things under the sun, or at least, old things we might yet see anew.

    I use the modifier “thoughtful” here to mean “contemplative.”

  12. Dave–if you count sexual selection as choice then I am pretty sure there are some credible evolutionary biologists who would consider choice to be at the heart of evolutionary theory. Darwin gave us natural selection, but he was also very interested in sexual selection. There are many characteristics of animals and humans that are much better explained by sexual selection than by natural selection. For instance, bright coloration in some birds. It’s much easier to evade predators if one blends in with the surroundings, so why do so many birds have bright plumage? Probably to attract mates. Why are these displays so compelling? The thought is the handicap is an indicator of superior genetic quality–an individual capable of evading predators while still being more brightly colored than other individuals must have superior genes. You can apply the same principle (called the handicap principle) to a lot of human characteristics, too–including our big brains. Why are we so smart? why do we waste so much time doing art, making music, or telling stories to one another? The thought among some is that again, an individual with the free energy to devote to brain development and the free time to devote to such energy-wasting endeavors must be genetically superior. A genetically superior man will attract similarly genetically superior women, who can then choose to mate and produce genetically superior children. The thing is, human babies need a lot of extra calories early in life in order to develop big brains that will later be attractive to other, big brained humans, so there’s definite selection in favor of mates who not only have the good genes themselves, but also the proclivity (or good sense) to stay with a mate long enough to help their offspring become as smart as they are genetically capable of being.

    sorry to be so long-winded. I think it’s kind of a cool idea, myself :)

  13. Fwiw, the first thought I had after reading the entire post was, “I’m glad the apostles generally have stopped speculating about questions like this.” “Who can say?” is such a great answer for someone whose calling is not as a biological scientist.

  14. Very interesting summary, Kristine N. I’m sure that line of thinking is especially popular with … artists, musicians, and storytellers. I wonder if bloggers fit under the “storytellers” category? I think blogging definitely qualifies as an “energy-wasting endeavor.” Somehow I’m not sure the “blogging as a fitness signalling activity” justification is going to fly compared to mowing the front lawn as a fitness signalling activity, but I’ll give it a shot.

    Threre’s also the argument that a man who’s willing to make a large, non-productive and non-recoverable investment as a sign of his affection — specifically, buying a diamond ring — is engaged in a form of fitness signalling to the target of his affections. I’m just throwing that in so the non-artists of the world know they still have a chance as long as they’re willing to ante up at the jewelry store.

  15. Um, actually it’s most popular with scientists. I suspect most artists, musicians, and storytellers like to think they’re doing something higher than simply trying to attract a mate or advertise their good genes.

  16. #13
    Actually, a good theory doesn’t explain things, it predicts things that can be falsified. That’s the ultimate usefulness of a theory. There is a great article written by Dobzhanski about what a theory is and isn’t – I recommend it to everyone interested in the influence of science.

  17. I’m sorry, I mis-cited the article I was thinking of, and misspelled Dobzhansky’s name. The article is actually by Karl Popper, and there is a link to it on stephenjaygould dot org, or you can just type in falsifiability theory in google and it will take you there. Although Dobzhansky is great, too. He wrote an article called “nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

  18. The study of Anthropology is how man is like an animal/how he is not like an animal. The study looks at man moving from a state of “Nature” to a state of “Culture”. In doing this, there becomes a mixed state of “Natural Sexual Selection”, to “Cultural Sexual Selection.”
    Each type of these selections has it own rules and goals. Many times these rules and goals will come into oppositions the other’s. Rape is okay in Natural Selection, not in (most) Cultural Selection. “Personal Love”, has come very late to this process. ( Per Anthropology).

  19. As Love existed before the world was created, I think we would have to agree that Love can not be biological, but must be a choice made by intelligences.

    This also means that all intelligences are capable of love- not just humans.

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