A Commentary On The Nature Of Love

What is love?

Baby don’t hurt me.

Before one can form their own opinions on the nebulous societal construct we name “love” the sentient being is assaulted on all fronts by others’ opinions. What I’m referring to is conditioning. Before we, as a writer-audience duality, can understand what love is as a form and concept, we must first understand what tends to prevent understanding at a higher level:

We are conditioned to think of love as an object. It has a cause and effect, as we are told. You feel affection for someone or something, and if the arbitrary level of affection is enough, it’s love. It’s advantageous to love them, they have a good job or other attractive qualities about them. The love is time-bound, both in the future tense and past; having loved someone for a long time makes it more meaningful (you’ve invested resources and economics dictates that you made this decision to occlude yourself from the other lovers rationally and with a purpose). You are invested for the future because no one wants to die alone and everyone knows it’s easier to pay for a house with two salaries. Your combined resources and talents will raise a good child, carrying on your genes and giving  your life meaning in an evolutionary sense.

But is love an object? We use a faulty medium to describe an ethereal and esoteric notion. Language in a Lacanian sense resides in the symbolic realm, and while a much more complex notion, is best described as the cave wall which the forms’ shadows are painted on by light in the allegory of the cave. To elucidate, there are forms – the features of true existence. We can only be privy to the forms through interpretation and separation: we separate sectors of reality based on properties for the purpose of description and common understanding. This is language. We commonly understand that one piece of reality is a chair based on common properties that separate it from other forms. It has four legs, but is not wide like a couch. Therein lies both the use and shortfall of language.

We as humans are programmed to view things as objects, as symbols – in the interest of the whole, it’s advantageous to be able to communicate clear and concise meanings rather than ambiguous and nebulous notions. It quickens communication between people when the things being discussed require no elucidation as to their meanings. It is the death of connotational ambiguity, and while this is expedient when discussing matters scientific, it spells disaster for more amorphous topics like emotion.

Truly understanding why this shortfall exists requires (while undermining the point I’m trying to make) exploration through metaphor. Love is foremost an experience one has on one’s own. It exists in the head, not on paper or as a product of society. Fuzzy feelings arise through physical and chemical aspects intrinsic to the brain. Were the brain in a vat, love is inside the vat, not the outside in the world (the implication of which being that love is not a thing exterior to oneself perfectly described with symbols but a form in and of itself).

The basis for language is separation. Distinctions of things from other things brings about understanding. Common impressions from the five senses lend meaning to words meant to describe the distinctions. Language gives lucid meaning to things exterior to oneself because for the majority of humanity, the sensory impressions are similar to a broad spectrum of people.

Language is kneecapped, however, when we attempt to describe intrinsic properties of the mind that are not clearly and similarly experienced by the rest of humanity. While we have a vague understanding of what love is and can narrow it down by adding adjectives, this is not useful in language’s express purpose: ease of understanding. Add to this that love has been merchandised, qualified, sold, and forced upon people and now no one knows what love exactly is.

People fall short in love for one major reason: love is intrinsic. In trying to describe it to other people they look for adjectives and qualifiers, thinking that to adequately describe what they’re feeling, they must explain its causation, correlation, implication, past, present, and future. They must quantify it, exemplify it, and prove it. People think without evidence of love it is impossible to be sure of its existence, and losing sight of love’s elemental nature, they spew it forth from the intimate and constitutive place it has in the human psyche into the realm of the symbolic. Symbolic love cannot be felt. It is cold and dead. Easily quantifiable, you can find evidence of it everywhere in people’s houses, it has clearly defined boundaries (it must: how would language describe it without difference?). This is when love is seen but not felt; observed, as with a microscope.

What I’m getting at is that people become so caught up in trying to describe love and make sure that it exists that they completely kill its purpose. Love isn’t things, money, and time spent – it’s something you feel. Describing and quantifying love and saying, “Is this real?” Is like riding a rollercoaster, stepping outside oneself, and saying, “Well, am I really having fun? What makes this ride fun?” Missing the point completely, people get caught up in description rather than experience. The way of the world is to live in the present. I’ll take listening to a song over a description of a song any day.

It’s a hard hole to get out of. Most people need this mutual evidence to really confirm what’s going on. “Do you love me?”  But the mutualistic nature of symbolic love is to feed off evidence available to both parties. The symbolic mind thinks, “These things are present. The necessary items are here to qualify that, yes, this is love.” When the evidence is gone, then so too is the symbolic love dead. Real love died long before it though, when it was made symbolic.

The reliance on evidence stems from language’s use. Mutual understanding of a symbol is based on spoken or unspoken aspects agreed upon by the interlocutors. Symbolic love needs mutual evidence, and in its fragility, two partakers in symbolic love strive for adequate sustenance to maintain the time-bound item. The need for reciprocal love can stem from many things (read: personality defects), but above all reciprocation is needed for the maintenance of linguistic symbolism by way of a separate observer. Reciprocation confirms its existence and health. Lack of reciprocation means it does not exist or has died.

The way to truly enjoy love is to return it to the mind. It exists in your head. Don’t try to quantify it. You don’t need to show evidence of it to others. Sheltering it in the mind grants it a sort of indominitableness beyond a symbol. Experience it, live it, and enjoy the time you spend with what you love rather than creating a symbol and missing the point entirely.

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The Magnificent Durability of the Human Body

Today, my usual daily bicycle ride to maintain my cardiovascular fitness and leg strength for my school-year sport of crew, my normal routine was interrupted to a large degree (to use euphemistic terms). During one of my high-speed intervals on one of the many bicycle/pedestrian paths around my house, I saw about 100 feet in front of me an older woman with an accompanying Beagle. As I approached the couple, the woman began to draw the dog towards her, apparently preparing to let me by, but within five feet, she let her dog go, prompting me to swerve off of the path.

This is where things get interesting. My eyes see my front wheel canted, trying to regain their grip on the pavement, but sliding in the post-rainstorm moisture. The eyes also are tuned into the odd slanted orientation of the horizon – a major roll and position cue in the brain. The fluid in the Superior Semicircular Canals of both my ears registers to my brain that I am severely off balance, slowly falling to the left. All of these signals are routed to the “emergency call center” of my brain – the Amygdala. Recognizing the immense danger my body is now subjected to and trying to initiate the “damage control protocols,” my Amygdala sends the “Fight or Flight” signal that we all are so used to hearing about to my Hypothalamus. The Hypothalamus is the “fire station” to the Amygdala’s “911 switchboard,” and routs the Fight or Flight message to my Adrenal Glands (which are directly above my kidneys). I would like you, my reader, to consider now the incredible speed with which this signal is routed… By the time my Adrenal Glands have received the signal to function, it has been less than a second!

My flustered Adrenal Glands have now begun to produce the Catecholamines Epinephrine (medical for Adrenaline) and Cortisol. Both of these hormones are “stress hormones” and play specific roles in our bodies. Cortisol deals with extended stress (like work) and counteracts insulin to supply you with increased blood sugar in situations where you might need it, and has an auxiliary use in the brain, where it stimulates the Hippocampus (the memory center) to make “higher definition” or more pronounced memories of the incident. Adrenaline is that instant energy boost you get when you are “flustered,” and increases heart rate drastically and stimulates the release of glucosamine in your muscles – the fastest and most powerful energy source your muscles have.

I have just hit the cold, hard, wet pavement. The Utricle (basically a human accelerometer) in my inner ear slams forward and informs my brain that, indeed, a collision has occurred. My hip hits first – a powerful impact injury along with the bite of gravel that scrapes skin away. Then my center of gravity shifts toward my torso and I slide for nearly ten feet on the top of my shoulder before coming to a stop on the ground. My bout with gravity has been settled and I have lost. It’s time to take inventory and go home.

I stand up. I feel no pain. The woman asks me if I am okay, if I need a ride home. I respond simply, “yeah, no I’m fine.” The Adrenaline and Cortisol coursing through my veins imbue me with incredible strength, but this is not the important physiological event in my body – Episodic Analgesia (a lack of pain) has been activated in my brain. My brain has “stopped” interpreting pain signals; it has determined pain is of no importance right now, that survival of the organism (yours truly), is of the utmost urgency. So I quickly and calmly reach into my First Aid Kit and pull out several alcohol wipes to clean my wounds, and I am surprised when I feel only the touch on my skin, and no pain whatsoever, no sting, no caustic burn of the alcohol.

My front tire wobbling, I ride home quickly and hang my bike up before heading straight to the shower. The pain is quickly setting in and I am breathing shallowly and shaking – the pain has stimulated the release of more adrenaline. My wounds are bleeding, but due to another miracle of the human body, are closing up – the body’s temporary solution to the bleeding, Platelets (think of them as little gobs of glue in the bloodstream), are sticking blood cells together to stop the flow of blood and close up the pressurized system that has been ruptured.

After my shower, the systems on alert in my body have calmed down and I am stinging all over my right side. The wounds are weeping and I take Acetaminophen to dull the pain, sit down at my computer to write this post, and wait for my wounds to dry and scab over.

Considering the fifteen mile-an-hour crash my body had taken, falling five feet and sliding ten, I would say that my body’s defenses have more than risen to the challenge. I sustained two six-by-two inch abrasions and one long scratch on my forearm, and am still recovering, but I feel great! The ingenious design of my body has ensured my survival to another day… and I expect it to be be tested many times more.

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My first post – Deep Thought on Where Our Inventiveness Comes From.

Sitting at a stoplight, a large black pickup in front and sedans flanking me, a thought began to materialize in my head. Like many of my musings, the surroundings have little effect on the contents of my thoughts, and I zoned out knowing I had at least five more minutes at this light.

This little musing began to snowball in my head, gaining both mass and intricacy, and I realized this was something I’d have to ponder for quite a while before coming to a conclusion. The idea that had gripped me was simply this: had all of the great inventions of the 20th century been truly of our own brilliance, or had we been (consciously or unconsciously) following a blueprint built within our bodies?

Think of three of arguably the biggest inventions in the past 100 years – the microphone, the camera, and the transistor. The microphone is simple – A membrane that vibrates in response to sound waves and translates these waves into electrical signals. Sound familiar? It’s the middle and inner ear! The design is almost the same, except for the fact that the brain has no Preamp. Even Laser Microphones need a vibrating membrane or object to pick up sound from, and Directional Microphones are microphones with the addition of a sound-focusing parabolic mirror – The outer ear!

The camera should be an easy one now that you have the hang of it. A camera works by focusing light rays using a lens onto a photoreceptive material. This material then converts the light rays into electrical signals based on the wavelength received. This, my friends, is also the human eye, in its most basic definition. The human eye does just this, but it also carries these signals in a “live feed” via the optic nerve to the brain, much like a common Webcam does to a computer.

The last invention on my list is the humble transistor. The most fundamental piece of all electronic equipment consists of a positive (the collector) and negative (the emitter) terminal and another terminal (the base) which tells the transistor when to activate. The activation happens when the base receives a voltage – the current passes through the transistor when the voltage is received and the circuit is closed. This most fundamental piece of computer circuitry bears a striking resemblance to the most fundamental piece of human circuitry – the Neuron! The human neuron functions much in the same way as the transistor, save for different terminology. The neuron receives a signal through the synaptic gap with neurotransmitters. This signal is turned into an electrical charge and travels down the Axon of the neuron until it reaches the dendrites. Each individual dendrite has a specific action potential (the voltage at which the neurotransmitters fire), and this is how signals travel through the body. But back to the neuron, once the action potential voltage is reached (sound familiar?) the signal is sent and the “circuit” is “closed” and the neurotransmitters sent.

So here is the question that I pose to you, the ever-valuable reader and cohort-in-thought – Are these inventions the result of our conscious or unconscious realization that we are built with “invention shortcuts,” or are we truly the world’s greatest inventors and we have managed to mirror natural selection in our efforts to create the best tool for every situation? These are the thoughts that tend to keep me up at night, the type of thoughts where an answer to the essential question that lies therein would be next door to cathartic to behold.

And that, my friends is my Red Light Thought of the Day. 🙂

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