“It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reason can be found” John Nash, The famous theorist and mathematician, says in his Autobiography.
Science and Love have always been at odds with each other, mainly due to their failed attempts at defining the other using their own identity as a reference. Scientists, spiritual-gurus, engineers, literary greats and philosophers have spent generations trying to find either a bit of Science in Love or a bit of Love in Science. While their efforts didn’t lead to conclusive results, they do leave behind some famous quotes like the one you can see from John Nash.
There might be endless arguments about the rationale of Love or even its definition, but one can’t deny its effects. We have all felt it, given in to its charms, lost our minds, obsessively chased our objects of desire, and felt it increase our libido while having sex. They are, of course the more radical reactions that love draws from us. But Love also has a subtler effect, like when it catches you off-guard, or creeps on you while you are wandering the street on a Sunday morning or even shopping for supplies at a supermarket. Let us explore that a little more…
Before discussing names of biological chemicals and brain centres that interact in a complex way to induce that lovin’ feeling, let’s observe this phenomenon from an Anthropological standpoint. The best way to unravel ‘The science’ behind the magnificence of ‘Love at first Sight’ is to treat it as a Scientific Phenomenon.
Any scientific phenomenon returns predictable results in similar environmental conditions. The values of the variables involved might be different, but the result and the process are always predictable. Taking that into consideration, it was decided to put the hypothesis to test through a social experiment.
The pre-requisite of “similar environmental conditions” was already satisfied. All we need for that is a couple of humans, some oxygen (to survive), some sunlight, some gravity and the earth. Oh, we are lucky – we have all those! J
So the scientific master plan boiled down to simply interviewing people. Based on their response to the question of “Love at First sight”, it was hoped that some pattern or at least few inferences about Love could be drawn. The approach for the experiment was simple:
1) Scour the hip places, the theatres, the sea-front and the local trains.
2) Find people willing to talk.
3) Transcribe their responses; ignore the boring ones.
4) Select few interesting responses, from people who were radically different from each other in terms of culture, age, profession and race.
5) Form a scientific conclusion based on their responses.
The first person to be interviewed was Ravs A.K.A Mr. Strangelove (He insisted on using this name rather than his real one), six and half feet tall, 31 years old, IT professional, who described himself “As a collector of all things beautiful.” He had an assured and comforting air abut him. His poetic, lucid and fluid style of stating his perspective seemed to reaffirm the adage about not forming opinions about people based on their profession.
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Q. So Mr. Strangelove, what is your take on love at first sight? Do you think there is something more to it than a hormonal reaction?
A. Love at first sight may be many things but one thing it’s not is love. To me, to confuse it with what’s widely known as love would be a travesty. It is a far less complicated beast for it demands nothing. It doesn’t even demand an acknowledgement and that’s okay because you know it almost always happens again. You needn’t remember it unless you want to. It’s a beautiful beginning which has its own end, a pure poetic possibility and that’s all it is. A simple thing.
It’s definitely less real than reality. What is reality anyway? It has happened to me more than once and it feels good for sure. It can keep you dreamy for days, I know that makes it sound like a drug, maybe it is. It could happen like this – you are travelling in a bus, your mind divided between the book you are half reading and whatever is passing by outside the window, and there! Your eyes float across to a beautiful face across the aisle and something about her keeps you there – a certain light falling in a certain way upon her or an uncertain breeze blowing her hair across her face or the book she is half reading too and yes you are also curious about the book cover. You may or may not exchange glances but by then it’s already a mild yet heady mix of curiosity, desire and guilt for letting your gaze linger longer than you would normally permit. This state of sweetly coiled restlessness lasts a while until one of these things happen – you think of utterances and give up, your eyes meet and you decide that you have somehow offended the beauty and you give up, one of you get off the bus and you give up. You see giving up is the most essential part here. The aftermath is a state of ambient melancholy, a lifelong poetic condition. And yes it could happen in a thousand other ways too.
The second test subject was Anks, a 22 year old Fashion Designer. She had secured a degree from Parsons, New York. The discussion with her follows:
Q) What are your thoughts on Love at First sight?
A) I have always thought love at first sight is rare and magical. Others might say that love at first sight is nothing but mere attraction to the physical appearance, which is true, but a partial truth! It’s much more than that. Physical appearance does play a major role in any love story, be it at first sight or after 100 sights.
Coming back to the science of love at first sight, I remember reading somewhere that we communicate with other people with words, but the real language through which we connect is an unspoken universal language that is transmitted in form of vibrations and energy and our eyes are the windows to that language!
I have experienced that unspoken language with a friend, though it happened after years of knowing each other! I think the same thing happens, when someone lets you in his world instantly, at first glance, with such uninhibited sincerity that you can see/ and read their thoughts. You, then, respond in kind, offering them a brief but profound view of your life. Since all of that happens in few brief moments, the result is euphoric. It feels like Love, like giving in to a stranger unconditionally, by pulling down your guards.
Sure, this all sounds impossible and unreal, but only because it is not easy! It is tough to have that kind of wisdom, patience and a mind free from insecurities and negativities to be able to peep in someone’s mind and its even tougher to find someone who reciprocates, but when you get that person, it is love at first sight! Does it make sense? You know what I am trying to say?
There were more people with interesting perspectives: An author from Norway, A documentary filmmaker from UK and teen who had decided to skip High School, because he wanted to find himself.
After a study of all the responses, it was found that there were four common aspects to all the perspectives about love at first sight that were recorded.
First was the willingness to speak about Love. People were not shy, or inhibited. If anything, they were willing to include the most microscopic of details as if their picture about “Love at first sight” will get tarnished if they left anything out. It was as if that right at the moment of being suddenly hit by this unstoppable force, they became super-aware of the surrounding, and committed to their memory a mental picture of every sensual detail around them.
The second common aspect was how everyone spoke of the eye-contact: the first instance of gaze crossing paths, signifying the moment when the spell was set in motion. They all spoke about the unsaid words, and languages that only the other person would understand. They described the connection established through this exchange of gazes, and how it lingers on until the two souls manage to render the world around them mute.
The women from Norway had an interesting take on ‘Love at First Sight’. She said that in this phenomenon of gaze-exchange, subliminal messages are conveyed that can only be understood by the people involved. It is as if, a primordial connection is forged between them that can share experiences of the various reincarnations of the soul itself.
She was very convincing about her argument.
That’s another thing about people sharing their experiences of love at first sight. It sounds authentic and plausible. No matter how mystical or fictional their words appear to be, they always ring of the Truth.
The final common aspect was that even though not all of them were willing to call these experiences ‘Love’, all of them did feel something cathartic, something euphoric as if being suddenly hit by a wave of sensual awakening. Some chose to call it attraction, some called it love and some merely a unique experience. This, however, can be attributed to their mental concept of love, and what it should or should not be. For some, Love was absolute and lasting and for others it was fleeting. Some associated love strongly with relationships which last the distance, while others were happy to be dewy-eyed every time at the sight of starry-nights or the sound of the wind through the barley. Regardless of the varying definitions, they all confessed to feeling something unique, something that left a lasting imprint on their memory.
Even if someone doesn’t believe in love at first-sight, they still have a story to tell when asked to narrate such an experience. All such experiences have many common attributes, regardless of the setting or the people in question. The effects of this curious phenomenon seem similar and widespread in nature regardless of whether they are viewed as effects of Love or not.
While the findings conclude the Anthropological research about love, it doesn’t conclude the experiment. This is because for a scientific phenomenon, the process is as important as the resulting affects. We have dealt with the results and perspectives but there are more questions to be addressed.
1) Why does “Love at First Sight” happen?
2) What is the process of Love, its intricate journey from the eyes to the heart?
Science speculates over these questions and attempts to answer them.
The answer to ‘Why Love happens?’ is pinned on Evolution and the Primordial need to reproduce. Reproduction is the ultimate mode of survival. Survival entails that not only reproduction happens, but the offspring is tended to until it is ready to survive on its own. While sexual chemistry helps with reproduction, the feeling of love and commitment helps in the optimal raising and nurturing of the offspring. Scientists have already conducted several experiments to test this hypothesis.
They have observed and conducted experiments on mammals like the Prairie Vole, which is known to form Monogamous relationships. Apparently, they bond for life after a mating process that lasts for 24 hours. After conducting experiments on Prairie Vole and other monogamous mammals (which form 3% of the mammal population) scientists concluded that monogamous relationships or even Love at first sight for such mammals is related to the reward centre of the brain. This is the part of the brain that urges these mammals to keep doing pleasurable things.
In 2000, to prove that humans might have inherited this “Love Circuitry” from mammals, Scientists went a step further. Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College, London, took students who were supposedly madly in love and subjected them to MRI scans while projecting the images of their loved ones. The Objective was to find active areas of the brain of a person in love. The results revealed that the areas of the brain of people in love that were active, were different compared to people in an ordinary relationship. These areas were different from the portions of brain that respond to strong emotions like rage or fear. On the contrary, these aread were responsible for gut feelings, and euphoria induced by drugs.
Further researches have shown that when a person falls in love chemicals are released that trigger feelings of euphoria, bonding and excitement. (These include dopamine, oxytocin, adrenalin and vasopressin). The receptors of these hormones lie in the reward centre of the brain. Passionate Love is in essence an addiction of sorts. It is product of the reward centre of the brain. This is the same area that responds strongly to addiction, which involves cravings, motivations and withdrawals similar to those present in Love. Passionate love seems to be at its most intense during the start of a relationship and then morphs into a calmer attachment. Both of these stages are associated with the reward centre of the brain.
So basically, a person can become chemically rewarding to the other. Love at first sight, might happen when people are able to decide within a fraction of a second how attractive they find another person. This can be a subjective decision, brought about by physical and behavioural cues. The process of this decision is specific to the person and not easily understood.
There have been other interesting findings. For example, men tend to fall in love faster than women do. This is because men’s ‘Love Circuitry’ tends to be triggered faster by visual cues. This is also why Pornography is more popular among men than women.
The other finding was that contrary to popular belief, Love, Lust and Commitment involve very different brain networks. So theoretically, one can feel the euphoric feeling of love towards one person, harbour feelings of strong commitment towards a second person and have an intense sexual chemistry with a third person. This possibility of feeling love, lust and commitment towards different people gives rise to conflict in relationships and marriages.
One finding in particular, answers the most pertinent of all questions: Can love at first sight last? The answer seems to be yes. A test was conducted on couples who had recently found love and on a couple who fell in love at first sight twenty years ago. The MRI scans revealed that the same region was active in both of these cases. This region was again the Reward Centre, which acknowledges pleasurable activities and urges us to repeat it. However, there were other old couples for whom this area was not active.
So even if ‘Love at first sight’ doesn’t last, such experiences may keep on repeating with different people, owing to its exhilarating effect. That being said, we don’t seek ‘Love at first sight’ consciously; it ‘happens’ with any person that offers us a strong prospect of long term chemistry and enjoyment. The element of surprise of stumbling upon such a person adds to the intoxication, which — at least according to science — drives this phenomenon of ‘Love at first sight’.
It seems as though this Love at first sight is an addiction that can last a lifetime, provided it continues to pleasure and stimulate us. Sometimes it morphs into a calm, comfortable feeling of familiarity, at other times it just dissipates after the initial surge of ecstasy and jubilation. As of now, it is unclear what exactly makes it behave the way it does, why it grips us at the oddest hours, why it leaves us longing for more and why it turns us into the most daring adventurers. No matter what science uncovers, it seems improbable that one can predict Love and the time and place of its spectacle. It is either random or is intricately orchestrated. Regardless, of the process, we all have the capacity to love at first sight. The love circuitry is hard-wired in us. It lies dormant, waiting for the time when love chooses us.
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