Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Time To Love

May 23, 2007

A few months ago, maybe as much as a year, there was a lot of activity on this blog concerning questions of love and what it is. There still appears to be interest in the topic.

At that point we had a regular reader (“benedict s.”) who was always suggesting that we all read Spinoza, because he believed the philosopher had as many answers as we had questions. I believe he’s not blogging himself any more – and he seldom visits here, because, he tells me, he’s completing his book on Spinoza.

While I attempted to define love, or at least to confine it, isolate it and break it down, he gave us Spinoza’s simple and felicitous definition “Love is joy attached to an object.”

Being sometimes a contrarian, I thought I could do better. It never seemed to me that joy was synonomous with love, although joy could at times be a component of the complex emotion.

I reminded him of something I’d written several years before:

Love is a word that has baffled those of us whose mother tongue is English ever since there was such a language. For one word to encompass all the meanings of love is probably as limiting to the emotion itself as it is to the attempt to define it. This impoverished vocabulary may actually have contributed to the emotional restraint of the English. Mother love, romantic love, love from a grandchild, love of life, love of God – are these things the same?

Love is not necessarily an emotion. It is more likely the substance of the heart, the source, the sustenance of the spirit, the food behind all that is positive in human existence. It is unquestioning sacrifice, unrequited mercy, unsolicited grace.


In later discussions, the reader calling himself “Officious Oaf” asked what homosexuality was all about, and did it fall in the realm of the “normal” or was it an illness, aberration, or what.

I responded that to my way of thinking it was all about love.

Love itself is hardly usual, but it is normal. Normal madness, perhaps, that eventually evolves into comfort, support and well-being in the presence of a particular other person. I wouldn’t agree with Spinoza here, that it could be defined as “joy attached to an object,” since there is so much conflict within love that “joy” is only one facet of it. How about “madness attached to an object”? Clever, but hardly sufficient. Such a definition would have to incorporate the reality that, with time, the madness of true love abates to a dull roar and then spirals into acceptance.

The Spinoza disciple wrote this comment:

On a less serious note, what's this business with love being madness? I've heard poets say that, but just put it down to license. Love always seemed a joy to me. Still does. But there are sometimes confusions that attach themselves to particular loves.

I know a guy who has had three wives -- not at the same time -- and still loves them all. Same guy has had several other loves that he still loves. And I can tell you for a fact, all his loves still give him joy. Madness? Maybe. But in his private madhouse, they feed well.

To which I wrote this comment:

Love is passion, conflict, chaos, pathos, cosmos, peace, hope, sanity, madness, sorrow, and joy too. It engages and confronts every emotion possible, including desperation and pain. Not all love, of course, is any one of these things, and seldom is it all -- and probably never all at the same time unless it is really madness. Shall we say it is a complex emotion and leave it at that?

I have one more tangent to go onto here before I leave love behind this time, however – the concept of obsession. A sometime addict of the Dr. Phil show, I was intrigued at the mentally unbalanced man stalking his own wife as shown on the program over the past few weeks. His possessiveness and paranoia had driven her away from him, and yet he persisted in deception of himself and everybody surrounding him, in and outside the rehab facility Dr. Phil sent him to, all the while calling it “love.” I am reminded how often real madness is attributed to love, and how seldom, in our rush to allow everybody one love for his or her own life, we have screened the use of the very word love. There are those of us who are tied to people for a lifetime through obligation, dependency, or need – at times theirs rather than our own. Sometimes when we say “I love you,” we actually mean something else entirely, but we are more comfortable normalizing ourselves with the one emotion everybody is expected to understand.

Few of us really do understand it. I had an emotional crisis myself about 15 years ago. I had been “in love” many times in my life but had never quite gotten my mind around what was happening in my heart. I was attracted to people who had no love to give, yet I assumed what I was getting was enough. Worse, I assumed it was the best I could have. In my therapy and support groups, I tried to understand and recapture the feeling of love, to identify it. My heart’s search kept taking me back to the same time, place and people – my grandpa and my auntee (great aunt), and myself the toddler on their knee. Then I thought of my own daughter. I knew the closest I had ever had to love came from these sources and I cherished that reality. That would always be love for me.

Now I have two grandsons, and when I think of them I am overwhelmed with how much love there is in the world. They show me love with every movement, and I love the opportunity of loving them. The love that goes back and forth between us has a great deal of joy in it, but it is enriched by concern, tenderness, and commitment.

As a single person, I admit there is always the possibility of romantic love around some corner -- the hope of ending my days with the love of my life. Ah, come on, I say to myself. The days you have left are few and the possibility of a certain relationship – a one and only – ever coming on the horizon lessens with every passing year. And what on earth would you want that for now? All the questions keep coming back.

In all the previous discussions, I seem in all too big a hurry to drop the subject. If someone cares to elucidate the topic for the rest of us, I’ll keep it afloat as best I can.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Funny I just commented on this question on another site.

How would you define love?

My simple answer was "That's what we have poets, artist, dancers and musicians for."

Here...I will, as always point out the necessary exclusion of philosophers.

You can’t and shouldn’t logic your way in Love…what would be the point?

Mary Lois said...

I think that's what your comment was on this post in its previous incarnation, anon. But you weren't so anonymous then.

sinjap said...

don't want anyone to think i'm anti-love or a hopeless cynic, but i read a theory somewhere about love and it seems credible...some scientists had done some tests(don't know where i get this stuff since i'm constantly reading everything i can get my hands on)

anyway, they did some tests and came to the conclusion that when you are attracted to someone (just romantic love addressed here) you are actually attracted to the chemicals in them...somehow your body knows what it lacks and then it is biologically drawn to someone who has an excess of those certain chemicals...sounds good to me...i'm more inclined to believe that romantic or any kind of love for that matter has more to do with an evolutionary yearning (to have kids and then nurture them) or some biological basis (the chemical attraction thing)

sorry if that makes me a killjoy but i've done enough amateur psychoanalysis on myself and others to seriously doubt that the "love" of byron and shakespeare really exists

Mary Lois said...

If you're younger than 90, sinjap, you are too young to be that cynical. I think if you're over 90, the same applies.

I'm here to tell you that it ain't all chemical, although some of it is, and it ain't all about having babies, although some of it is. Here I agree with the anonymous commenter that poets and artists are more in touch with that elemental force, love, than philosophers and logisticians. Is there such a thing as a logistician? Anyway, you know what I mean.

tangerine said...

I'm not a poet or a logistician either one, but I'm looking for love all the time...and I find it too!

Bert said...

I came up with a theory when I was in high school, about how love was simply nature's way for less than alpha males & females to breed.

In my theory, we humans were just smarter herd animals, akin to a pack of monkeys or apes, whatever... And the dominant males picked the choicest females to mate with. Non-alpha males and females, while wishing they were alphas, came up with "love" to make themselves feel better about their non-alpha breeding. In this theory, alphas don't ever fall in love because they don't need to, they always get what they want when they want it...

I was very cynical even then, as I watched quarterbacks going steady with cheerleaders...

So love is just an excuse to breed when nature would rather you didn't.

John Sweden said...

Not cynical Just boring…all science is in the end boring and ultimately inaccurate in human terms. So why am I saying things like "science is boring"...for an Artist it's pretty much a lower level of thinking. Actually we all recognize the value difference as expressed in the phrase “That wasn’t science…it was ART”. Whenever we want express the idea that something has been taken to a much higher level of sophistication, whether it is the design of an experiment in quantum physics or explaining a simple or complex set of reationships, that level is described as ART.

The Flying Monkey Boy Geek Science of Social Darwinism is always trying to sound intelligent by dragging their ill-conceived experiments to prove that all of human activity is somehow a fixed and predictable part of nature. Their basic argument is that once logically know everything on physical and chemical level we will be able to predict everything on human level. It will never happen. With our first painting and the first poem, human beings left the physics of nature far behind.

Even if you were able to know all of the “infinite” variables of genetic, hormonal, chemical and physical stimulations and reactions of one human being at one given point in time you would still have to deal with the very human issue of the sum of human perception is a much greater variable than the whole and that each human moment is unique and un-repeatable. Now artists and poets know this and work with, and at, this level human comprehension everyday.

Here’s a simple test you can take to demonstrate why that would be true…Take five sheets of letter size paper. Take one pencil and on the first sheet draw a stick figure. Turn the page over and take the second sheet and draw a stick figure on it...and turn it over…and proceed in the same manner for the other three sheets. Now place them all in front of you face up. You will see that they are all different in terms of size placement and physical relationships etc…etc…Yet they are all the products of precisely the same genetics, same brain structure, same hormonal balance, and same physical structure operating in two minute span of time. If any want further proof, try it again…this time trying to copy the first one without looking…and for further proof try it again looking…

Now this is about as simple it gets…now try to imagine these differences magnified through the multiple lenses of the immense and infinite complexity of the average human being’s existence. Science will "never" provide the answers through structure, as each human being is totally and uniquely different from all others past, present and future. This makes the comparisons between them not only inaccurate but actually dangerous because of the stereotypical assumptions and prejudices that have been given a thin veneer of scientific truth. The horror stories of the applications of science to human beings and their affairs are a legacy that should serve as caution to all who would entertain such thoughts...Remember these are people still trying to get the weather consistently right seven days in advance…and that is a purely physical phenomenon…So for any of them to claim they have a genetic answer or valid chemical explanation to human development and relationships much less love seems highly implausible...

There’s a great book written by the late Biologist and Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould titled “The Mismeasure of Man”…which is an historical analysis of the measure of intelligence…Great writer and a good read.

Science will never realize it’s “full” potential until it raises itself to level of Art. That is also true in business or any "human" endeavor.

That human potential is the real difference between "mind vs. heART".

sinjap said...

"love is just an excuse to breed when nature would rather you didn't"

bert, what a great line...can i use it?

mr. sweden, there is a time and place for scientists and their experiments and there is a time and place for artists and their "art"...both are necessary and uniquely human...do you think the cavemen were more excited after they made their first cave drawing or after they first produced fire? easy one

one more curious thought...why is is that so many artists, musicians, writers throughout history have been drinkers, used other drugs, or just been a little crazy? you never read about galileo or einstein going on binges...not that there's anything wrong with it, just something to think about...maybe, they were trying to alter their minds just enough to get the same feeling as love so they could create...works for me :-)

Mary Lois said...

From my intense study of drugs -- alcohol in particular -- I can attest that its overuse is frequently an attempt at pain management.

Come to think of it, so is love.

sinjap -- why the quotes around the word "art"? Do artists not produce art? Or are they too drunk to tell?

Bert Bananas said...

Mr. Sweden, I hope you weren't confusing my offering as an example of 'science'! I don't think individual humans have the necessary RAM or HD storage to open the files wherein human truths are explained. Which is another way of saying we'll never completely understand ourselves, no matter how long we make our comments.

If LOVE were a carnival, each of us would speak of the carnival based on the rides we took and the booths we visited.

Sinjap, my proclaimed reason for existing is to have my utterances passed on to future generations, so please, take freely; all I have is your. (My unproclaimed reason for existing, which if you quote me later I will deny, is to spread my seed...)

Officious Oaf said...

John, right on my good man, with your separation of the physical and the sublime, known in common circles, among other things, as art, that field of human activity whose very essence is found outside the box of the scientist’s quantitative and qualitative mind. If it were not so, art, in all its forms, would be reduced to applying the factors in an existing equation for ‘good’ and any nincompoop would become an instant producer of ‘good’ art. Such obviously doesn’t work that way.

Too, you’re right about the human being more than a complex mix of molecules. While human behavior has a degree of predictability, forecasting with absolute certainty is out of the question, for the human being has a variable in him- or her- of ‘free will’, that vitally important tool which allows him to rise to heights that no other animal can, and it is at the higher levels that the non-physical part of his being is nourished through ‘good’ art, and repulsed with ‘bad’.

For Bert and sinjap- Being animals that we are, we can not escape the instincts that we have as “comes-with” as part of the survival design of our species. Therefore, it is entirely logical that the youthful vivacious good looking cheerleaders of the world are attracted to successful quarterbacks, handsome or ugly, of the same world and vice versa. Why do you think the big strong Alpha male gorilla gets the pick of gals in his troop? Being non-‘free will’ endowed. both he and they are simply responding to instincts, that something that causes the juices to flow, making them want to “go do it.”

Having said that from a physical or scientific level, we must include the higher level, otherwise our quick look at ‘love’ would not be complete. We have all heard the expression, ‘finding our soul mate’. There is something to that, in fact that is where the true nature of love lies; all the other is a combination of societal programming, convenience, fascination, and lust.

Because of the duality structuring of the dimension we live in, we are only partially complete as a human being. It is that innate longing for completion that we search for that other half of ourselves. As hot blooded youth our desires are dominated by instinct, but as we ‘mellow’ we begin to realize that instincts have left us less than fulfilled, thus our search for completion, for ‘true love’, begins. Some find it and some don’t…the reasons are varied. For those who don’t, is all lost? Of course not, we learn to compensate. For the believers in reincarnation, you get another shot at it next time around. Happy hunting, you love hunters of the world.

Mary Lois said...

And yet another kind of love rears its head -- the love of one soul for another.

But is there such a thing as a soul? Let's say there is. Does this part of man need a "mate"? Why? Maybe he's better off overcompensating in other areas, such as creating works of art, or achieving in business, or conquering nations -- for his whole life -- rather than attempting to meet the needs and fit his own puzzle pieces to those of another soul. Seems another topic for a post when I'm feeling profound.

John Sweden said...

Sinjap…it is an easy one, the first painting wins hands down…and that is because that painting moved the human mind beyond the three dimensional physicality of this world to the two dimensional symbolic reality of another. A very magical, life altering and profound experience. The ability to imagine and manipulate things that don’t physically exist is the province of Art.

”The act of painting is not a duplication of experience but the extension of experience on the plane of formal invention” Stuart Davis 1894-1964 American artist

Everything uniquely human including science and religion comes from that first painting and the ability of humans to recognize themselves in or empathize with nature and to symbolize that recognition. It is such a magical and a powerful experience that we take great care in our use of it.

How powerful and magical and threatening a force is it…Consider the Muslim religion, the Jewish religion and the Protestant brand of Christianity all consider the creation or artistic representation of god a grievous sin and heresy. And many a so-called modern man is still afraid and uneasy to have their pictures taken or souls captured on film.

Leonardo DaVinci pointed out that “ART is the Queen of all Sciences bringing knowledge to All the Generations of the World”.

Art is the human connection and bridge between the inhuman and incomplete worlds of science and spirituality.

The arts are powerful relational languages that science is just now beginning to tentatively, learn to use in order to gain a better understanding of the increasing and very complex relationships necessary for further scientific inquiry in the fields biochemistry and genetics, and I guess eventually a higher understanding of love…;-)

If you don’t believe me…check out this site to find what you’ve been missing in both science and art…

http://www.leonardo.info/

The ability to use fire or technology on the other hand is more akin to a chimp peeling leaves off of a stick to get at some termites…Interestingly enough they never use the stick to draw in the dirt…if they did they might be able to grasp the use of the stick…for firewood.

Steve said...

I don't think I have ever seen it expressed better... powerful words and feelings Mary Lois!

Soul, entity, thought...

enough time wasted wasted looking for it, enjoy it in the here and now with it all around you.