This kinda love

Valentine's spirit

This kinda love

This Valentine’s Day, will you send me a thorn if I ask you to kill that red heart symbol off your head? That symbol ain’t the real heart. Will you hose me with hate mail if I tell you that the human heart is ugly as sin? Yes, it is.

A mere hollow, cone-shaped lump of muscle the size of an adult clenched fist tucked in the middle of the thorax. Sitting smug at the level of thoracic vertebrae T5-T8. This thorax sure does not sound as pretty as red satin home for the heart. The heart certainly cannot sing. It does not mutter the name of your love in every heartbeat. Perish that song-in-the-heart thought. Hastily. Love or not, the heart knows just one rhythm — lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. That’s the real sound of a heartbeat. Not a Mozart symphony. Instead, a trite lub-dub, mimicking the sound of a workaholic machine. Science further kills the romance by naming lub-dub a dreary S1-S2 (Sound 1, Sound 2). Imagine this. You are all mush. You lay your heart on his chest and all you hear is a synchronised S1-S2, S1-S2, S1-S2, S1-S2. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Science can croak romance. And how!

Okay, I have let science slaughter love. So, today, let’s stick to science. The science of love. Put the red rose back in the vase. Suspend our belief in the magic girdle of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Let’s ignore the sinuous curls of Venus, the epitome of love. Push back on the book shelf the iambic pentameters of the lovelorn poets. Set aside the fact that Sanskrit has 96 equivalents to the English word love. For a change, let’s put love through the fMRI scan.

Hey, wait, wait. Do not rush to pillory me for this. I am not the only one. Of late, analysing the science of love has become a serious pursuit. Wearing white lab coats and hunched over data, psychologists, biologists and anthropologists are debunking myths about love and probing the whys and hows of that four-lettered emotion.

It is the chemicals, love

It is not the twinkle in her eye or his broad smile that makes you fall in love. It is an irresistible cocktail of chemicals that entices our brains to fall in love. You think you have found a partner. Truth be told, you are just a happy victim of Nature’s way of keeping the species alive. There is not just one love chemical. Several chemicals that work through the brain during different stages of love.

Helen Fisher, cultural anthropologist of Rutgers University (USA), believes that the human species has ‘evolved a specific brain network’ which has created an ‘innate circuitry of love’. Heart is not the beginner of love. Brain is. It all happens there. Having studied ‘love’ for decades, in a recent ‘Science Behind the Love’ study, Fisher categorises three stages involved in falling in love — lust, attraction, and attachment. Each stage involves different types of chemical reactions within the body (specifically the brain). Lust is the first stage of love and is driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen — in both men and women. Three main neurotransmitters are involved in the second stage (attraction) — adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. For attachment (third stage) that keeps couples together, hormones oxytocin and vasopressin go on an overdrive.

In a 2000 study, Semir Zeki and Andreas Bartels of University College London, concluded that at least two areas of the brain become more active when in love — the foci in the media insula (the brain associates it with instinct) and part of the anterior cingulate cortex (associated with feelings of euphoria).

No apology. It is your biology

Are you the hopper? One-not-enough kinds? Do friends nudge-nudge because there is no superglue that makes you stick to one partner for long? Is monogamy an alien concept? A smart Alec said: Don’t give an apology; it is your biology. Psychology Today finds fault in the practice of monogamy and brazenly posits that monogamy is not natural.

Biologists believe that only 3 to 5% of mammals, including humans, can be monogamous. Prairie vole, the fluffy rodent, is the most famous monogamist in the animal kingdom but meadow voles, their close cousins, are promiscuous. Neuroscience blames it on the testosterone levels that are correlated with monogamy or promiscuity — courtship behaviour in females is more dependent on increased steroid hormone sensitivity in certain brain areas, rather than elevated blood hormone levels for hormones such as testosterone. So, if monogamy is not your thing, pick your brain. It certainly lacks enough receptors for hormones oxytocin (cuddle hormone) and vasopressin.

Does it itch? Does it last?

It is the itch that the sultry Marilyn Monroe made famous. The Seven Year Itch. A break-up milestone in most marriages. Evolutionary biologists have concluded that intense romantic love lasts just long enough for partners to meet, mate and raise a baby into toddlerhood. This, only if you stick to the theory that love/sex is basically for procreation. But not every couple shrugs and walks away. Alone. Anthropologist Fisher suggests that for some, intense romantic love lasts for decades. Try running the love — and brain — of long-lasters through an fMRI and the scans will reveal that their brains resemble those of newly-in-love couples. With a big difference: the long-term partners showed no activity in their brain associated with obsession and anxiety that newly-in-love couples feel. Science explains it — the long-lasters have particularly high serotonin, the neurochemical credited for mood management.

Are you mad?

Know that obsessive lover? Madly in love? The one who does crazy stuff? Is he mad? Neuroscientist Louann Brizendine (author of The Female Brain; The Male Brain) agrees with William Shakespeare, who said that love is akin to madness. ‘Infatuation-love is now a documented brain state’, says Brizendine, and scientists have corroborated that sex hormones may be related to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Female vs male brain

Man’s brain lies below the belt. Heard that before? Sure. Do not blame him if he lusts more than he loves. Men have two-and-a-half times the brain space devoted to sexual drive in their hypothalamus. Sexual thoughts flicker in the background of a man’s visual cortex all day and night. Studies have shown that men think about sex on average every 52 seconds, while for women it is once a day. Women don’t always realise that the penis has a mind of its own — for neurological reasons. Once a man’s love and lust circuits are in sync, he falls just as head over heels in love as a woman.

Perhaps even more so. The difference in a man and woman’s idea of love has been defined by scientists through a catalogue of genetic, structural, chemical, hormonal and processing brain differences between the two genders.

This Valentine’s Day, pay attention to the lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub of your heart. Perhaps the heart is singing someone’s name. Listen to it. Fall in love. Stay in love. It is love that makes the world go round. Didn’t we all learn that in kindergarten?

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