Sunday, 27 February 2011

Are emotion like Love only neurotranmitters in our brains

Recently, I attended a college lecture having to do with the neuroscience of sex and drugs. According to the lecturing professor, love and lust simply amount to the neurotransmitters oxytocin and dopamine, and are simply used for what he calls 'pair-bonding' between males and females. After the lecture, I asked him if he felt his statements were dehumanizing; he stated yes, he did, and that reductionism is a wonderful tool for helping us see the utter predictability of human behavior. Now, about a week later, I've found a new study suggesting that 'love at first sight' is purely neuroscientific, as the human brain is designed to form a base opinion of another person within a few minutes of meeting him or her. Now I don't know about others, but I find these claims to be unsettling; does this mean that my love for others (family, friends, etc.) and vice versa have no real significance, that they just happen because I suddenly experience an influx of oxytocin? I've read 'Questions of Truth' and really appreciated its critique of philosophies like reductionism and scientism, so I ask: how do you feel about those claims that emotions like love only amount to the neurotransmitters in our brains?

NB Response: There is no doubt that our bodies influence our minds and behaviours. But almost nothing about biology or neuroscience is simple, and anyone who tells you that X & Y "simply amount to the neurotransmitters A and B" is either joking, oversimplifying ridiculously, or doesn't know what (s)he is talking about.

All the studies of that kind ever show is that there is a statistical association between X and higher levels of A (etc...) and typically the correlations are quite modest (and the p-values are often not much less than 5%).

It is clearly useful, for both biological and other reasons, to form some kind of opinion about another person very quickly indeed (friend or foe for example) and certainly some aspects of human behaviour can be predicted with a high probability. But even if 99.9% of all human behaviour could be correctly predicted 99.9% of the time (which is nothing like the case) then you would have no way of knowing what individuals people would be doing in a few days.

Lust is certainly influenced by our bodies, but love is by definition an act of our minds, and these can never be predicted with certainty. Mutual love even less so!

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