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Saturday, October 31, 2009

What's Love Got To Do With It?

Love, passion, lust -- all of these terms are familiar to most humans; however, finding accurate and concise definitions of the words is a daunting task. One thing most people agree about is that passionate love seems to fall dramatically as a relationship grows past a certain point. At this point, people are hard pressed to find reasons for the decline of passionate emotion. This post explores possible reasons for the lost sting of Cupid's arrow.

 Ancient Philosophy and Desire

In Greek thought, eros connotes desire, longing, disequilibrium, and is generally sexual in nature. Yet, in Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus, eros begins with a person as its object, and soon becomes transferred from the particular person to his/her beauty. Then, eros finally gravitates towards immaterial objects such as the form of beauty itself. This desire for immaterial beauty is a recollection of the vision of forms such as those of justice, wisdom, and knowledge that the soul of a person was able to perceive on the "Plain of Truth" in its previous life. The Plain of Truth is the place sought by the soul with help from the gods to find where the noblest part of the soul may receive nourishment. (John Opsopau, www.cs.utk.ed, 2006)

Plato believed bodily beauty induces remembrance of this state, called anamnesis, and enables the soul to begin to climb the ladder back to spiritual truth. The philosopher, the poet, the lover, and the follower of the muses (or creative artist) are all inspired by the divine power of eros, which dictates the passionate pursuit of the truly real, pure intellectual light, through beauty, wisdom, and the arts. (

The Biology Of Love and Passion

The current knowledge of the neurobiology of romantic love remains somewhat scanty. In view of the complexity of a sentiment like love, it would not be surprising that a diversity of biochemical mechanisms could be involved in the mood changes of the initial stage of a romance. (Thomas Lewis, F. Amini, and R. Lannon, A General Theory of Love, 2000)

In particular, many scientists have begun to study the action of genes, neurons, and chemical messengers such as hormones and pheromones. The trouble with human subjects is that ethical concerns rule out genetic manipulation, which would be required to deconvolute the interactions of many genes. (Michael Gross, Chemistry World, February 2006)

Most biological models of sex tend to view love as a mammalian drive, much like hunger or thirst. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University and a leading expert in the topic of love, relates, "There is no human culture on Earth that has been proven not to know the phenomenon of romantic love." If it is universal, scientists argue, there must be a biological basis for it. In other words, it cannot be simply a cultural tradition like cricket or opera.

Fisher divides the experience of love into three partly-overlapping stages: lust, attraction, and attachment. Lust exposes people to others, romantic attraction encourages people to focus their energy on mating, and attachment involves tolerating the spouse long enough to rear a child into infancy.

Lust, the initial passionate sexual desire that promotes mating, involves the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen. These effects rarely last more than a few weeks or months. Attraction is the more individualized and romantic desire for a specific candidate for mating, which develops out of lust as commitment to an individual mate forms.

The Brain In Love

The Love Drug

Recent studies have shown that brain scans of those infatuated by love display a resemblance to those with a mental illness. Love creates activity in the same area of the brain that hunger, thirst, and drug cravings do. New love, therefore, could possibly be more physical than emotional. Scientists say over time, this reaction to love mellows, and different areas of the brain are activated, primarily ones involving long-term commitments. Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, suggests that this reaction to love is so similar to that of drugs because without love, humanity would die out.

According to Dr John Marsden, head of the National Addiction Centre at the Maudsley Hospital in London, love could be as addictive as cocaine or speed. During attraction, the brain releases dopamine, giving the same reaction that taking cocaine or speed would create. "Attraction and lust really are like drugs. They leave you just wanting more," he said. (Ananova, November 24 2003)

Much the same as the efficiency of drugs, the effect of the first flush of love is temporary. "Scientific research reveals the first flush of love lasts only between three and seven years," Marsden added.

The findings also investigate links to love between people's smells and facial features. Dr Marsden's research revealed that "sex is booby-trapped" to make people bond with their partner. "Your body has evolved over millions of years with one aim - to go forth and multiply, so while having kids may not be on the agenda just yet your body has a few tricks up its sleeve to drag you in that direction," he said. More research on smells and facial features is sure to come.

According to the recent research the more people have sex together, the more likely they are to bond.

Pavia University researchers in Italy say the powerful emotions that bowl over new lovers are triggered by a molecule known as Nerve Growth Factor or the so-called "love molecule." The Italian scientists found far higher levels of NGF in the blood of 58 people who had recently fallen madly in love than in that of a group of singles and people in long-term relationships, reports Reuters news. (November 30, 2005)
The BBC (, November 30 2005) reports that the team looked at alterations in proteins known as neurotrophins in the bloodstreams of these men and women aged 18 to 31. The research published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology finds it is not clear how falling in love triggers higher levels of NGF, but the molecule clearly has an important role in the "social chemistry" between people at the start of a relationship.

After a year with the same lover, the quantity of the 'love molecule' recedes. It's not that people are no longer in love, the BBC says, quoting report co-author Piergluigi Politi. "The love became more stable. Romantic love seemed to have ended," he says.

This research places a lifespan of just two years on lust. After this, the chemical that makes new lovers irresistible to each other seems to disappear from their systems.

If it's a consolation, researchers say, "As the passion fades away, a 'cuddle hormone' apparently kicks in, helping the couple to survive the loss of that first spark of romance." (, November 30 2005)

The scientists found neurotrophins had been replaced by oxytocin, which they nicknamed 'the cuddle hormone', in those who had been together for several years.

Oxytocin is a chemical known to induce labour and milk-production in pregnant and new mothers. However it also seems to thrive in couples enjoying long, loving relationships. The results were reported in the journal Chemistry World, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

"If lovers swear their feelings to be ever-lasting, the hormones tell a different story," biochemist Michael Gross said in his report. "It shows that different hormones are present in the blood when people are acutely in love.There is no evidence of the same hormones in people who have been in a stable relationship for many years. In fact the love molecules can disappear as early as 12 months after a relationship has started to be replaced by another chemical glue that keeps couples together." (Michael Gross, Chemistry World, February 2006)

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