Monday, March 26, 2012

The brain on love

Diane Ackerman is a wonderful writer, I know her from having read her book A Natural History of the Senses as well as seeing her at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2007. That was the same festival where I saw Don DeLillo at the premiere of his play "The word for snow," but that is a discussion for another time.

I just came across an article by Diane Ackerman today in the NY Times: "The Brain on Love." It is astonishing how well she can weave through scientific facts and draw from them the most profound meanings. This skill is something I am constantly working on, and one I admire her so deeply for. I want to know, why does this matter? How can I show that this is important to everyone? It is something my professors say I'm good at -- making the case for why a particular topic is substantively compelling (as opposed to theoretically, i.e. it adds to the literature). Yet, I still think I have a lot of work to do in this area.

In any case, this particular article really moved me, the most substantial reason being I am currently madly in love and newly married. She makes the case that one of our fundamental emotional goals in life is to recreate the bond we had in infancy with our mothers. This is an argument first made to me by Erich Fromm is his seminal book The Art of Loving.  Whereas Fromm used philosophy and deductive reasoning, here Ackerman shows it through neuroscience.

The crux of the article comes here:

The supportive part is crucial. Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.

One cannot simply be in any relationship in order to alter your brain chemistry for the better, but only in a good one. I find that this lesson, although intuitive, is one that I must continuously be reminded of. I read Ackerman's book about 5 years ago, and it abounded with little wisdoms such as this, yet much of the efficacy of those lessons has melted away with time in me. It takes constant effort to maintain good love. For me, right now, it flows effortlessly. I want to love deeply, kindly, fully. I want to nurture and protect. Yet, there are moments of callousness, times where I am not empathetic but selfish.

I think the lesson here is to love totally and all the time. Not only in our romantic relationships (although they seem one of the only outlets in our individualistic society), but with everyone we know.

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