Saturday, November 27, 2010

Week 6 : Let's impress people with love !

It’s been five weeks now that we have been trying to give you some key topics to impress your guests. Talking about stunning subjects can make you sound cultivated. But as you may have noticed it yourself, every now and then, some people that know plenty can seem rather limited when it comes to real thinking. That’s why this week we’ll develop ideas about a question that may be very interesting to deal with during a dinner as it’s often the opportunity to meet and seduce people…And the question is :

Is Love blind?

To make a catchy treatment of this question we’ll oppose a philosophical and a scientific approach. We chose a text of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that deals with this question because he is famous so that your friends will not be lost during your “passionate speech”. The opposite answer to the question will come from a scientific research of neurobiology.

1712 - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, philosopher,
born in Geneva, Switzerland
One of the major French philosophers, and most of all the composer of 18th-century Romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote about it in his novel Emile: Or, On Education. This writing is a treatise about education and human nature. It is composed of five books about Emile’s life to illustrate his education. The fourth book is about adolescence, it is in this part that Rousseau broaches “sentiment”, said to be the last part of education, and raises the issue of knowing whether Love is blind. 

Here is an excerpt from the book that shows that Love cannot be blind for all the judgments it implies and that we’ll explain after you read the text. You also have the choice not to read it if you don’t have much time, however we advise you to just because it is remarkably written.

« The direction of the instinct is uncertain. One sex is attracted by the other; that is the impulse of nature. Choice, preferences, individual likings, are the work of reason, prejudice, and habit; time and knowledge are required to make us capable of love; we do not love without reasoning or prefer without comparison. These judgments are none the less real, although they are formed unconsciously.
True love, whatever you may say, will always be held in honour by mankind; for although its impulses lead us astray, although it does not bar the door of the heart to certain detestable qualities,
although it even gives rise to these, yet it always presupposes certain worthy characteristics, without which we should be incapable of love. This choice, which is supposed to be contrary to reason, really springs from reason. We say Love is blind because his eyes are better than ours, and he perceives relations which we cannot discern. All women would be alike to a man who had no idea of virtue or beauty, and the first comer would always be the most charming. Love does not spring from nature, far from it; it is the curb and law of her desires; it is love that makes one sex indifferent to the other, the loved one alone excepted. »

For those that understand the French language they’ll sure appreciate the beauty of this essay in its original version. We couldn’t not show you this. Plus, you can even show more off if you say you read it in French…

           « Le penchant de l'instinct est indéterminé. Un sexe est attiré vers l'autre, voilà le mouvement de la nature. Le choix, les préférences, l'attachement personnel sont l'ouvrage des lumières, des préjugés, de l'habitude ; il faut du temps et des connaissances pour nous rendre capables d'amour, on n'aime qu'après avoir jugé, on ne préfère qu'après avoir comparé. Ces jugements se font sans qu'on s'en aperçoive, mais ils n'en sont pas moins réels. Le véritable amour, quoi qu'on en dise, sera toujours honoré des hommes ; car, bien que ses emportements nous égarent, bien qu'il n'exclue pas du coeur qui le sent des qualités odieuses et même qu'il en produise, il en suppose pourtant toujours d'estimables sans lesquelles on serait hors d'état de le sentir. Ce choix qu'on met en opposition avec la raison nous vient d'elle ; on a fait l'amour aveugle parce qu'il a de meilleurs yeux que nous, et qu'il voit des rapports que nous ne pouvons apercevoir. Pour qui n'aurait nulle idée de mérite ni de beauté, toute femme serait également bonne, et la première venue serait toujours la plus aimable. Loin que l'amour vienne de la nature, il est la règle et le frein de ses penchants. »

In other words, one of the first arguments is that to love implies to prefer someone and we do not prefer without comparing. Comparison implies reason so love is not unrelated to reason thus love cannot be blind. Tastes are the result of your life experience; it is something that is proper to someone. All the more we grow up, all the more we distinguish what we really like or not.

Moreover, we all have different minds that’s why we process what we see, what we learn in different ways. You will never like exactly the same things as someone else because you haven’t had the same life. And at the same time, have you ever experienced the fact of being surprised to love something or someone? It means that even if you realise that with Experience you become more aware of your tastes you are not conscious of the entire process.

To conclude, the sentence “We say Love is blind because his eyes are better than ours” means that if we know what we prefer, we don’t always know why. Because we know our tastes are developed during our life it means they are the result of an education. And as we said previously, what we like or dislike is proper to ourselves in a way that is not conscious so that we don’t understand. And when our Reason is excluded from understanding Love we believe erroneously that Love is unreasonable, blind.
This thought leads to the famous quote of Blaise Pascal “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”. Many other things can be said about this text but I focused essentially on answering our weekly question.

Now, let’s see what science has to say about what love triggers on our brain with two groups of neuroscientist that figured out that love was blind though their experiments on men and women.
A study led by New York neuroscientists on the effects of love on the brain consisted in observing trough MRI the brain zone affected by the vision of the beloved. Mostly female responded drastically by activating the brain zone of the “motivation and reward” system just like drug consumption. It implies also the inefficiency of the judgment system.

Concerning men, a Canadian experiment consisted in choosing between getting an amount of money immediately or a bigger amount but later in the year. The best choice would be to choose the bigger amount. But during the experiment, men were shown attractive women pictures and women attractive men pictures. Only some men failed in choosing which made the scientists think they were unable to think appropriately about the situation as long as they were attracted to a woman. 
We can conclude from those studies that scientific community can be easily incline to believe that love is blind or at least that is put blinkers on our eyes. 

With these two symetrically opposed points of view you have now a basis to confront with your friends about this question. However never forget to give your personnal opinion on this passionate subject. If we had to discuss about love in such terms we would consider the the real question as to redefine love. Is it just a feeling? A notion ? An utopia ? Could it be different things according to people? Is it when Passion and Reason meet or split? Enjoy the diner...


Science. 2003 Nov 21;302(5649):1320.
Society for Neuroscience meeting. Caudate-over-heels in love
Proceedings of the Royal Society B december 2003

1 comment:

  1. Well, that is a tough one, guys...
    What is funny here is that you use examples where philosophy proves, through theoretical associations, that love is in fact based on a reasonable assessment of a situation, whereas the scientific arguments you bring forth here do not seek to disprove the rather artificial statement "Love is blind"-a statement which is rarely explained by most people through reasonable arguments. Isn't science supposed to rationalize more than philosophy does? That's not the case here...
    Anyway...As I mentioned above, it is a tough one. I think that love can be blind--when we talk about love at first sight, for example, there is a deep form of blindness involved in such an unexplicable feeling. Loving someone you don't know can have highly perilous consequences; but in terms of the causes, there are explanations but no certainties, really. Now, if we talk about the love that grows with time, then reason certainly comes into play--this is a mature form of love in the sense that love grows oftentimes because two people share common features, common goals, common principles, etc. So the answer to the question "is love blind?" certainly could be put this way:"Well, it depends." What is quite intriguing though is the "why" behind it all. However, can we really manage explanations to the different forms of love that exist? Science, philosophy, literature have tried to do so and I think that we need the accumulation of reflections on the subject to really get an idea of the multifarious elements that come into play when one falls in love, the numerous environmental components that make us who we are and participate in formulating the kind of person we would fall in love with.
    Another "blindess" which we could discuss here is the blindess to the outside, the fact that when we are in love, we focus quite intensely on the object of our attraction and we forget the rest of the world. The scientific explanation is that we have less serotonin than we should when we are in love, and so we become obsessed. The funny thing is, the lower level of serotonin is what happens to people with obsessive-compulsive disorders...So love might be blind, but mainly it is a bit crazy.