The Chemical Formula of love

For Greeks, love was multifaceted. They categorized love as Romantic or Erotic love, Motherly love, Affectionate love, Selfless Love, Consummate Love, Fatuous love and so on. But for the modern world, love is simply a chemical in the brain!

With the advancements in neurosciences and computer cybernetics in the first half of the twentieth century, science is now convinced love is some chemicals produced by the brain. Jak Panksepp, an Affective Neuroscientist, comments:

Recent brain investigations suggest that social bonding is rooted in various brain chemistries that are normally activated by friendly and supportive forms of  social interaction. As will be elaborated in this and the ensuing two chapters, such urges are controlled by neuropeptides such as oxytocin and prolactin, as well as endogenous opioids such as endorphins

Scientific research has repeatedly shown that when we are in love the brain secretes various neurochemicals. The deep association of neurochemicals and the feelings of love has led some to even brand these neurochemicals, like  Oxytocin is called ‘The Love Hormone’, or Dopamine is called ‘The Happiness Molecule.’ Then there are other neurochemicals like the Vasopressin, Epinephrine, Serotonin along with the reproductive hormones like testosterone and estrogen that shoots up when you are in love.

But one wonders, Is this cocktail of brain chemicals, Love?

Some famous scientists and philosophers of science are of the opinion that no matter how much we try to understand love by studying the brain and its chemicals, still we would not understand a bit about it.


For two simple reasons.

The Experience

First, love is feelings and the experience of those feelings of love. No amount of chemical analysis can provide even the slightest and the faintest bit of that experience and feelings. Curtis White, in his book The Science Delusion writes:

Among brain researchers, the problem that Goldstein is concerned with is known as the why should neural events “feel” like anything at all? Why should looking at a “magnificent” seascape sunset be more than the simple registering of the visual fact? Where does the feeling of magnificence come from?

Chemicals might cause a the physical symptoms of the whole experience of love but the chemicals are not in itself ‘the experience.’ In fact the causation of experience from chemicals is still a ‘Hard Problem’ in the consciousness studies. No one has a clue how to bridge the gap between the two, the chemicals on one hand and the experience on the other. Goldstein, a novelist, philosopher, and a science writer, writes:

Sure, consciousness is a matter of matter—what else could it be, since that’s what we are—but still, the fact that some hunks of matter have an inner life—is unlike any other properties of matter that we have yet encountered, much less accounted for. The laws of matter in motion can produce this, all this? Suddenly, matter wakes up and takes in the world? Suddenly, matter has an attitude, a point of view, a fantasy life? 

But even if one fine day science discovers the chemical causation of the experience of love, it would still not comprehend the ‘experience’ per se. Discovering causation and experiencing the phenomenon per se are two different things, just as knowing that piano is an instrumental cause of the music does not automatically gives the experience of the music. The experience of love is yet another reality, a subjective reality of more immediate and intimate concern to our lives that cannot be explained in pure physical and chemical terms. Percy Bysshe Shelley , a very influential lyric and philosophical poets, writes

… we want the poetry of life; our calculations have outrun conception; we have eaten more than we can digest. The cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave.  

The Human Factor

Another reason for the failure of brain chemistry to define love comes from Fredrich Hayek’s book, The Counter Revolution of Science:

“Against all this the persistent effort of modern Science has been to get down to “objective facts,” to cease studying what men thought about nature or regarding the given concepts as true images of the real world, and, above all, to discard all theories which pretended to explain phenomena by imputing to them a directing mind like our own.”       

The point is humans are not machines. They think. They have goals, ideas and purposes and they choose between alternatives based on those ideas and values. Moreover their ideas and values keep on changing with time and knowledge.  

Hayek points out that how people act and reciprocate and have relationship and love in certain situations depends not just on policies  and laws and systems made by man but on their personal subjective idea and goals and purposes in mind. In other words, love and social bindings and relationships cannot be quantified, measured and predicted in advance. They are random and cannot be captured in a scientific ‘law’ or a ‘theory.’ Hayek is prompt to mention in his book that many have tried to do so but failed, especially in economics. There is a ‘human factor’ in all the social dealings, including dealings of love, that cannot be ignored.

Hayek got Nobel prize in social sciences for his ‘Human Factor.’

Love is in other words, beyond rational scientific inquiry. And any attempt to do so would be ‘abuse of reason.’ The point is if love is beyond rational scientific inquiry and cannot be bound in laws and theories, how can love be explained by mere dead chemicals and dead neural circuit that are the result of those sceintific inquiries and that themselves follow strict scientific laws and theories?      


So why science is trying to understand ‘love’ in this convoluted and weird way?  

The tendency of twenty-first century science is to apply its scientific method to ‘all of reality’, often termed as Scientism. One classical example of scientism is the Theory of Everything. But the name is clearly misleading and the claim that TOE will explain all of reality is obviously false. Theory of Everything cannot for instance explain why gravity exists in the first place. Or why blue is blue and red is red. Erwin Schrodinger, a great physicists of the 21st century who won noble prize for his contributions in Quantum mechanics,  states:

‘I am very astonished that scientific picture of the world around me is very deficient. It gives us a lot of factual information, puts all of our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart that really matters to us. It cannot tell a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to know the answers to these questions but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.’ 

Even after two powerful reasons that love cannot be translated in terms of neurochemicals and brain circuitry, still scientism adamantly wants to prove that love is a chemical. “It is a just matter of time and powerful enough AI computers!” Scientism argues.

Artificial Happiness

The down side of scientism is that public is getting confused. People at large think that science has found how we feel and behave. Science magazines promote love and feelings as a function of brain and its chemicals.   

The result.  

When people have problems with relationship or sexual problems or depression or stress or they simply want to have fun, the first thought is to get a ‘magic pill.’ And doctors too, spontaneously treat their patients with these magic pills, that contain exogenous neurochemicals, and they hardly care for their real life situation and their innate mental desires.

As a result patients become drug dependent. Of course, to some extent drugs help, but at the same time, according to Dr Ronald W Dworkin, MD Anesthesiologist, patients lose the ability to introspect and are unable to perceive their deep, dark desires within and the real problems of their life. They, in turn, as Ronald puts it, opt for an ‘Artificial Happiness.’       

Not a New Finding

The findings that chemicals have relation to loving emotions and mind as a whole was also known to our ancestors.

For example, according to Mundaka Upanishad, Ayurveda, and Bhagavad Gita,  the type of food you eat makes your personality. Some foods make us serene and peaceful. Some others angry and passionate. And yet some others lazy and frustrated and depressed. Food is therefore divided into three categories: Food in Mode of Goodness. Food in Mode of Passion. And food in Mode of Ignorance.  The types of food in each category has a its own unique chemical composition that effects the brain in diverse ways releasing different types of neurochemical. The neurochemicals in turn alters the personality of the person.  

Some scriptures state that the cook’s consciousness enters the food and that in turn affects the consciousness of person who eats that food. And that is true.  

But then there are some raw foods and herbs that affects the personality of the individual. For example, some herbs like Asvagandha and Shilajeet and sea foods like Oysters and  certain kind of fishes are strong Aphrodisiac (increases sex drive) in nature and are examples of food in mode of passion. Again, alcohol and drugs like opium are strong hallucinatory and depressive substances and are example of foods in mode of ignorance. And foods like coconut, banana, milk, ghee are foods in mode of goodness that promotes peace and feelings of caring and positive love.   

So along with the consciousness theory, it must be admitted that certain substances affect our personalities and emotions, love and lust by the very nature or their chemical composition.  

Thus the relationship of chemicals and love was known to our ancestors. You are what you eat. It is not a new thing which is explained by science today. Of course, now we know that the same chemicals that are in food, along with many other chemicals, are also found endogenously within the brain. But in either case, there is a direct relation of chemicals and love.

So, What is Love?

The surprising fact is although knowing the relationship of chemicals and food, our ancestors however did not conclude that those chemicals create love and that there is a chemical formulae of love. Why?

For the simple reason that the experience of love cannot lie in dead matter and dead molecules. Dead is dead and live is live. And the crucial difference between the two, live and dead, is that of ‘experience.’ This does not need science but common sense.  

Of course, how those chemicals affect our mind that is another issue. And also how mind affects our brain chemistry, that too, no one understands. In other words, the experience of love in the mind mysteriously causes some brain chemicals to be released and the same chemicals given in form of artificial exogenous drugs somehow effect the mind, the mental experience and the feelings of love. This mysterious interaction between the mind and the brain still survives to this day as the Mind-Body Problem (or to better put it the Mind-Brain problem).

Perhaps, one explanation might be that the chemicals bring changes in the body and the brain, and almost instantly the mind perceives those changes and produces corresponding feelings and experience of those physical changes. There have been hypothesis of this kind in the past, but is there any evidence? 

The same data that the science uses to say that chemicals are love can also be interpreted in a different way to come to a different conclusion. You only have to be open minded!

It is well documented that the exogenous neurochemicals in form of medications and drugs do not produce the desired and a uniform effect in all people. The effect of these medications and drugs depend on the mood and the innate desire of the patient. For example, oxytocin will not produce lust in all patients. Only if the patient has an innate desire for sex the drug acts, otherwise not. The effect of these chemicals largely depends on the internal mood and the innate desire of the patient.

It is also observed in many patients that after some time the drug simply stops acting. Doctors give it a fancy name ‘Drug Resistance’. But what can be equally said is since the patient did not have the right internal mood or an innate desire, the chemical changes in the body that drug was producing did not bring equal changes in the mind, since the patient did not want it to happen.   

This interference of the innate mental desires of the patient on the action of the medications suggests that the mind is separate from brain and its chemicals and has the capacity to block the action of the medication and good science should be open to such suggestions.

Why Love is Still a Chemical?

Even after alternate theories and powerful reasons why scientism does not dissolve and why todays scientists still think love is a chemical. Curtis white states quite forcefully in his book The Science Delusion:    

“Of course, this conclusion [that love is not chemical] is what science wants to deny, mostly because it is ever vigilant against any form of spiritual or extra-material reality. Unfortunately, science’s options are poor. It can deny that the problem is a real problem (Russell); or it can say that this is someone else’s problem (the theologian’s or the poet’s—a very bad faith claim since it has no real respect for the work of theologians and poets); or it can say, as Seung does, that in time (and with powerful enough AI) science will explain it all mechanically, but in the meantime you should just continue to think of the self as bio-mechanical.” 

Now this ‘…you should just continue to think of the self as bio-mechanical.’ is scientism in full action. Science has not proved that love is a chemical and yet asks us to believe it! This is dogma.

Saying love is  chemicals is almost claiming that science has solved the Mind-Brain mystery and that science has uncovered how brain makes love, or creates the mind as a whole, in its dark, mysterious cervices.  This is full blown scientism, or perhaps, worse than that, a lie! 

In his book, Why the Mind-Brain Problem May Never Be Solved, Dr. William R Uttal, a Cognitive Scientists from university of Michigan, has this to say:

There has been a failure of substantial magnitude in all efforts to answer the question-How does the brain make mind? This continuing failure has not inhibited scholars and scientists from confidently, perhaps even dogmatically, expressing their views. 

Other philosophers have made the same point in similar words. McGinn (1989), for example asserted:

We have been trying for a long time to solve the mind-body problem. It has stubbornly resisted our best efforts. The mystery persists, I think the time has come to admit candidly that we cannot resolve the mystery, (p. 349)

Donald Kennedy (2004), a distinguished neuroscientist in his own right and editor of the highly empirical journal Science, apparently joined these skeptics when he said in a recent editorial

… it seems so unlikely to me that our knowledge of the brain will deepen enough to fuse it with the mind  

Good science should say that they have found a correlation between chemicals and love, that’s all. Nothing more and nothing less. Like a good scientists, Dr. William frankly accepts the limitations of science:

To reiterate, the issue is: How does neural activity represent or become mental activity? My thesis is that answering this question is an unobtainable goal because of deep-seated flaws in all of the different approaches to theorizing or “explaining” in cognitive neuroscience.

But he is just one loner in the ocean of academic world, which is seething with infection of scientism.  

Anyway, let scientism do whatever it wishes. If it wants to remain blind, her choice.

As far as we are concerned… let us experience PURE LOVE…… AS IT IS!

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