Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Love and "Chemical Cocktails"

In today's BBC News, we have a story by someone who obviously is not a reader of The Digital Cuttlefish. Specifically, the story asks the question "Is love just a chemical cocktail?"
It is said that love is a drug. But is it just a drug?

That is the contention of Larry Young, a professor of neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Writing in the respected scientific journal Nature, Professor Young argues that love can be explained by a series of neurochemical events that are happening in specific brain areas.
In truth, Dr. Young does give lip service to the role of evolution, although he really appears to be more satisfied with his proximate causation--specifically, oxytocin.

I've seen this before, at a conference. Very cool, of course, and very incomplete. And again, to give him his due, Dr. Young does not disagree.
He believes there are other chemicals involved in strengthening that bond - it is just a matter of doing the research and finding out which ones they are.

"I'm sure that we are just beginning to tap the surface," he said.

"There are hundreds of signalling molecules in the brain - they all act in different brain areas.

"I think one day we will have a much better understanding of how all these chemicals interact and act in specific brain areas that have specific function that give rise to these complex emotions."
Mind you, I am utterly convinced that he can find every single chemical involved and still have an incomplete explanation. A complete proximal explanation is no ultimate explanation at all.

And then...
Having put poets firmly in their place, Professor Young will have to take on the arguments of scientific colleagues who might take issue with his view that love is all down to chemicals.
Them's fightin' words.

You've seen the Evolutionary Biology Valentine's Day Poem, I am sure. (IF not, go read it. Now. Before you continue.)

These verses are just for the BBC story...

The latest suspect, oxytocin,
Floods the brain when we draw close (in
Some perfumes they’ll add a dose, in
Hopes of that reaction)
The chemical increases trust,
So hopes are that it may, or must
Produce a love that’s more than lust
Or “animal attraction”

But oxytocin, too, controls
The bonding seen in prairie voles
Which act as if they pledge their souls
To one and only one;
Their cousins, though, the rats and mice
Behave as if they don’t think twice
And if some nearby rodent’s nice
They’ll surely have some fun

The differences twixt vole and mouse—
Why one’s a catch and one’s a louse—
If chemistry you would espouse
As why, I disagree—
The chemistry’s not why, but how
One rodent keeps its marriage vow
And one seeks out new fields to plow
Not why at all, you see.

(These would go between verses 2 and 3 of the original.)

Gotta run! Buy my book, link my site (to "cuttlefish"--see the comments to my previous post), be well, yadda yadda yadda...


1 comment:

#1 Dinosaur said...

Long time fan (and book purchaser) here (who also blogrolled you months ago, though perhaps you missed it:)

I don't see an email contact on your blog. Please email me (not-dead-dinosaur-at-msn-dot-com, no hyphens.) I have a request/offer for you.