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Friday, November 28, 2014

Blame the brain for love, not the heart

There have been some recent opinions in the Daily Lobo about love, relationships, dating and other aspects of interpersonal interaction beyond friendship. I’ve agreed with some points and disagreed with others, but all in all I’ve enjoyed following the debates. I also wanted to ante up my two cents on the subject and perhaps inject a more clinical thought on love, the heart and human beings.

The heart is an organ; no more, no less. Like the kidneys and liver, the heart has a vital function in our body: to pump blood through our system and provide oxygen and nutrients to cells. Its job is vital, no doubt, but its job remains firmly planted in our circulatory system, and while re-oxygenating our brains, it provides no more input than that.

But the brain! The brain is an organ too. The autonomic nervous system controls vital functions like breathing while we remain completely unaware. It controls systems in our bodies including organs such as the heart. Electrical charges, truly, spark about firing our central nervous system. Chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin fly about, controlling responses like pleasure and grief. We don’t control their production or release, which is a job for the brain. Imagine, an organ with aspects we can’t control that can make and release all the needed things required to make it, and us, feel pleasure beyond description.

Aspects of the brain we can control are thought, imagination, daydreams and more. We can craft monsters and gods, and given the right autonomic chemical and electrical stimulus, can craft soul-mates. It contains memory which alone can prompt more autonomic responses we don’t control like regret, joy — even physical arousal. The remembering of events and interactions from our past can cause palpable physical responses. It can cause you to feel high, literally.

Tied together in our head is a system we can’t control that is responsible for intense emotional stimulation and a system we can control that prompts it. People meet and, for whatever reason, sparks truly do fly and chemicals marinate their brains, and these intense feelings lead people to ascribe those feelings to the other person. Memories are created, thoughts and imagination run wild, prompting acute feelings towards the other person — and love is born. Depending how long sparks fly and chemicals saturate us, everything from crushes to soul-mates are manufactured.

The heart had no real doing in these events except pumping these chemicals around in our blood stream, helping pulses to race, the stomach to flip and skin to tingle. The brain and its ability to move our senses is the organ responsible for this. It’s the subconscious provider of all the organic chemicals and sparks to provide impassioned emotion and the conscious part we control that can ascribe these feelings to another. The same can happen with a song or movies, the difference being people don’t end up weeping into a bowl of cereal over a song.

Because with all of these good chemicals and sparks come an equally powerful, opposite set: misery, loss and heartache, to name a few. The same system that can cause a person to feel joy can also cause them to ache. And, sadly, the conscious aspects of the brain can use the same memories and imagination that brought happiness earlier, to bring sadness later. A phrase or a single word that prompted elation or laughter now has an adverse effect.

They say “think with your head, not your heart,” which actually is the only option, as the heart can’t think; only the brain can. The heart wasn’t meant to control such an enormous responsibility in humans and shouldn’t bear the brunt of such a controllably uncontrollable part of our thinking for which it’s not responsible. Maybe the saying should just be, “think with your head.” Or just “think.”

Live and meet someone, enjoy the rush of chemicals and electricity. Feel the complex and incredible emotions human beings are capable of having. Have a crush, fall in love, but think a little. Be cognizant beyond the intangible emotions of the tangible facts. Be realistic about the other person, be realistic about yourself. Enjoy the similarities and be aware of differences, the core differences that can cause the adverse emotions to flow. Be prepared to enjoy it while it’s there and let it go when it’s gone.

Sooner or later, the brain will release the right chemicals at the right time in the presence of the right person. If good chemicals and sparks are prompted between each other, you’ll have love. If one or the other stops prompting these responses you won’t have love.  There’s no need for more mythic descriptions of the heart and true love. It’s just two people enjoying the organic high of one other.