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Wednesday, April 20th, 2005
3:55p - Love (unh!) What is it good for...
Mostly the preservation of the species, actually. Given the disturbing number of my friends, acquaintances, FOAFs (sorry, Mr. Safire, I know that ought to be Friends of a Friend, so the s is in the wrong place), SOAFs (Siblings of a Friend), and FOASs (Friends of a Sibling) who are getting married, I've been thinking about love. Being me, I've been doing so in rather unromantic terms.

So, what's love for? Well, it seems that drives get separated fairly often. By this, I mean that there are certain basic function which any animal must perform: surviving and reproducing, basically. But if a particular behavior is very important to one of those drives, it can split off and become a separate drive in its own right. For example, eating is so important to survival that hunger develops, a drive to eat separate from but supporting the drive to survive. In many predators, hunting then splits off from eating -- watch a cat stalk one of its toys right after dinner and you'll see what I mean. These make evolutionary sense -- an animal that hunts only when hungry may be unable to catch anything, and starve. If an animal hunts whether hungry or not, it can fail to catch its prey on occasion and still be well-fed.

The reproductive drive undergoes a similar process. In mammals, infants require care after birth, and so a drive to nurture develops. Humans parents often become distraught when their children move out, even if the children are able to support themselves. The goal of reproduction (creating offspring capable of surviving and passing on the genes) has been served, but the parents retain the drive to nurture.

Thus, we turn to love. Humans require an incredible amount of nurturing to reach full adulthood -- more than a decade for sexual maturity, and nearly 20 years to reach full adult size -- in addition to which we survive on the basis of culture, which can only be passed down through intensive instruction. We need our parents to be deeply involved in our lives, and they need to be certain of one another's help. It becomes very important to human survival that parents be strongly attached to one another, and to their children, and the drive to do so splits off from the reproductive drive.

Thus, love, or "pair-bonding" as my psych and physical anthropology texts books called it. It begins as a means of ensuring successful reproduction, but at some point in our development, it splits off and becomes a drive in its own right. Just as most of us (whenever discussing basic human drives, I must always remember the example of Tristan, and thus make caveats) do not eat to survive, but rather because we are hungry, and because it is pleasurable to do so, so also do we love, not in order to have sex and make babies, but because we must, and because it is pleasurable to do so.

Of course, since love is tied to the reproductive, not the survival, side of the organism (and now that I think about it, didn't survival split off from the reproductive drive?), one can live without it, or find alternate means to fulfill it (love for one's fellow man, basking in the love of an imaginary father-figure, etc.)

I cannot emphasize enough, by the way, that love only began as a means of cementing reproductive relationships. It has become an end of itself -- eating is not restricted solely to the starving, nor love only to those pairs intending to reproduce, or capable of reproducing.

current mood: contemplative

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