Leading evolutionary psychologists and neurobiologists are beginning to converge in their efforts to understand the mechanisms responsible for the human experience of romantic love. As science unravels what was previously a mysterious phenomenon, evidence increasingly points to the theory that love is the miraculous transcendental union of two star-crossed souls.
Renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, is one who is putting his intellectual weight behind the theory. “My original view was that love developed as an adaptive strategy in which certain genes inclined individuals to form mutually altruistic pair-bond relationships to raise their offspring, thus increasing the chances of the genes' further propagation” admits Dawkins. “But there are now compelling reasons to believe that romantic coupling in homo sapiens is a magical gift from heaven, ordained only by the stars”.
Dawkins says scientific advances reveal the naivety of what he calls “traditional folk beliefs” about romantic love. Take the moment when you stare transfixed into your lover’s eyes, for example. While you might think your brain is simply awash with post-coital dopamine, science tells us that you are actually experiencing the first spark of an invisible eternal flame, burning you up from within.
Racing pulse and butterflies in the stomach? What might appear to be the products of a blind biological imperative to procreate are now thought to be the first stirrings of a heavenly tempest, carrying you and your lover away on the wings of passion. “It's a force from above”, says Dawkins.
Working at the cellular level, neurobiologists are probing the chemical structures underlying the romantic experience. Professor Jane Fisher of Cambridge University says the neurochemistry of in-love human subjects differs from what had been predicted by previous studies of coupling in voles and fruit bats: “ Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs” she explains. “Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes. Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers' tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet, a choking gall and a preserving sweet”.
Findings suggesting the transcendental nature of love have been supported by the physics community, with some physicists saying it demonstrates “spooky action at a distance”. In trials conducted at Imperial College, London, lovers were found to be joined by ties stronger than any chains, bonds which defy time and space. “Their hearts are actually connected by invisible strings”, says one researcher.
The process by which people fall in love is also beginning to fall under the purview of science. It is thought that microscopic agents known as Currently Unidentified Passion-Inducing Demonites (CUPIDs) are responsible for love-specific emotions. Researchers think that CUPIDs release tiny darts, which pass through the affected individual’s eyes - what scientists term “the windows to the soul”. After entering the blood stream, the CUPIDs’ darts eventually lodge in the heart, “probably somewhere around the left ventricle”, according to Professor Fisher
While increasingly well-understood at a theoretical level, this process is difficult to observe, says James Larsen, a postdoctoral research fellow specialising in romantic neuropsychology. “Once in a while, two people meet. Seemingly no reason, they just pass on the street. Suddenly it showers, there's flowers everywhere, who can explain, the thunder and rain, but there's something in the air”, he says. “You have no idea how many rolls of film we’ve used up trying to capture that sequence of events”.
Where science goes, technology is hot on its heels. With new breakthroughs in the understanding of love’s miraculous nature, pharmaceutical companies are looking at the possible development of potions, charms and elixirs to address love-related medical conditions.
Global pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has already applied for patent rights to a formula which it is calling Love Potion Number 4. According to a company spokesperson, the potion is the “latest iteration in a series of stardust-based love elixir technologies designed to improve the user's romantic outcomes”. She says the company will continue to develop new, upgraded potions to help consumers realise their heart’s destiny.